Agent Diary: ‘Luxury’ operators without high levels of service won’t be used again

Swords Travel co-director Mark Swords learnt a lesson about post-sale service with a recent VIP booking

Since starting my own business, I’ve definitely learnt a few lessons about the suppliers that we use. Some we have had real success with, but there is also the flipside,where we’ve used operators or hoteliers and it has been a complete and utter fail.

Don’t get me wrong, every company makes mistakes. And if you handle that mistake correctly, it can lead to a fruitful relationship in the long term.

Post-sale concierge

The majority of our business now is at the higher end, and with that comes higher demands from our clients. As a travel agent, we are totally reliant on choosing the right operator to meet the customer’s demand and the overall experience they would expect.

Gone are the days when we could just book a luxury hotel and business-class flights, then give the clients their tickets and send them on their way. Nowadays, the post-sale concierge is a huge part of the service that we offer.

“As a travel agent, we are totally reliant on choosing the right operator to meet the customer’s demand.”

We have a dedicated concierge that ensures none of these requirements are ever overlooked. It also ensures that we step up and offer suggestions and experiences the client wasn’t expecting and which enhance their travel experience. Over the last few years, the industry has been flooded with operators which claim to offer this type of luxury travel experience, but in reality many are just mimicking a mainstream product with luxury wallets and nice paperwork.

There really does need to be a minimum offering and standard for tour operators working in the luxury sector, and maybe some kind of criteria-based rating.

‘Luxury’ let-down

I recently called out a self-assessed ‘luxury operator’ as we had a high-profile client flying with Emirates via Dubai from Barcelona in first class, which was booked with them.

My request to the operator’s concierge was that as part of the client’s contract we would supply him with a VIP meet and greet on departure from Barcelona, and on transfer through Dubai. After two days of chasing this tour operator, the response that I received was: ‘Sorry, we can’t offer this in Barcelona. We can do it in Dubai, it’s £100 each, but we don’t know what it includes.’ The level of care and knowledge was just not there.

“This operator calls itself ‘luxury’ but ultimately they don’t have the product knowledge.”

Basically, this operator calls itself ‘luxury’ but ultimately they don’t have the product knowledge and really don’t care about the booking after the sale has been completed.

My lesson was well and truly learnt: don’t use this operator for any future high-end clients.

In the end, I went to my trusted ‘go-to’ operator – with whom I had not booked the original itinerary – and they gave me all the information and sent me all the links I needed to book it direct.

Top of our game

As we continue to progress in this competitive market, we find there are so many innovations online and ways for clients to find information. As luxury agents, we really do need to be at the top of our game when offering clients experiences and post-booking care, as this is ultimately what differentiates us.


Abta’s ad is the wrong message

I’ve just heard a radio advert, telling consumers to make sure their holidays are protected. My first thought was ‘great’ – an advert recommending consumers use a reputable agent. But no. This was an Abta advert, telling consumers to use an Abta‑approved company.

The advert said you must check the Abta website, and if an agent isn’t a member, then they’re not legitimate. But many agents nowadays aren’t Abta members, including ourselves, and this does not make us any less reputable or legitimate.

I understand why Abta is advertising – it must have been hurt by recent failures – and it’s not the sole brand of financial protection. ‘Atol-protected’ is heard more often on radio and TV, and the Travel Trust Association is the only 100% financial protection model in the market.

If Abta were to have a message to consumers, it should have been one of solidarity to build confidence in the travel industry – not defining who are Abta members and who aren’t.

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