If you’re building dynamic packages, you need to ask the right questions of flight, transfer and accommodation suppliers, says Linsey McNeill

So you’ve decided to start building your own dynamic packages, but which suppliers should you use for flights, accommodation and transfers?

With so many to choose from, it can be difficult to know which ones are best. Here are 10 questions you should ask before making up your mind.

Q: How good are customer satisfaction levels?

Does the operator regularly double book hotel rooms, leaving clients without beds for the night or switching them to alternatives at the last minute? Find out by asking for the company’s complaints-to-bookings ratio.

“A dissatisfied client costs you money, not just in potential loss of future bookings but in the time taken by staff dealing with a succession of anonymous call centre staff with degrees in passing the buck,” said Apartments Abroad managing director Ian Thirlwall.

“You do not want staff tied up dealing with over-bookings or quality issues when they should be pursuing their primary role – selling.”

Q: Does the supplier act as the principal?

If not, you must take all legal responsibility for the product and, if things go wrong, the client will come back to you for compensation.

“Working with a provider offering principal assurance is the most dependable way of ensuring your customers’ protection,” said somewhere2stay managing director Stuart Jackson.

“In the event of a problem, a complaint or even a claim there will be peace of mind knowing the principal will investigate and pursue the complaint.”

Q: What kind of star-rating system does the accommodation supplier use?

“Agents need to be aware that it’s not unknown for accommodation providers to adopt their own rating system based on their own criteria, which may not necessarily be one the agent is familiar with,” said Jackson.

“Ask yourself if the hotel rated as a four star on a website is really an officially rated four star, and will your customer trust you with their booking again if the quality doesn’t match up to the promised rating?”

Q: Where has the product come from? Is the supplier directly contracting rooms or flights, or is it merely diverting product from another site?

“It’s very easy to put up a website fuelled simply by feeds from hotel groups,” said Thirlwall. “These kinds of operators are not only offering limited choice but detract rather than add value to the transaction.”

Jackson added: “A supplier with its own contracting staff will be more in touch with the suitability and quality of its properties. It will also write its own hotel descriptions and have more control over its star rating system.”

Q: Is commission built in or can you add your own mark-up?

Going with a supplier that allows you to add your own mark-up will give you the option of increasing your profit margin where prices permit.

Myles Gleeson, general manager of transfer supplier Taxis Abroad said: “It’s easy for agents to get a flat-rate commission but it might not be the best deal for them or their customers.

“If they shop around, they’ll find they could get much cheaper net rates – in some cases up to £200 less for an airport transfer – which will allow them to give their customers a better deal and a bigger slice of the profit for themselves.”

Q: Is this a reputable supplier?

With so many new companies operating in cyberspace, it’s difficult to know which ones are established and which are here today, gone tomorrow.

Checking for ABTA bonding is a good start, but also look at various online forums for feedback on all companies you plan to work with. “Don’t go with someone who just started last week,” said Gleeson.

Q: Does it provide resort reps?

Medhotels.com group trade commercial director Carl Burrows said: “Our in-resort infrastructure has lead to a complaint ratio of just 1%, compared with some other accommodation-only suppliers which have a rate as high as 20%.”

Q: Does the supplier also sell direct to the public and, if so, how do prices compare with those available to agents?

You don’t want to spend ages building a package for a customer, only for them to discover that they can get it cheaper if they book

Try to work only with those suppliers that offer unique product through the trade or have a no discount policy for those who book direct, such as consolidator Teleticket and Superbreak.

Q: Is there a call centre for back-up, how easy is it to get through, and can it confirm bookings instantly?

Superbreak sales director Ian Mounser said: “We have an average waiting time of less than 12 seconds.”

Q: Can the supplier offer a speedy and effective XML booking facility through the main system providers such as Traveltek?

This will enable you to take live bookings on your own website, making it a more user-friendly, faster means of building dynamic packages.