Travel agents’ success depends on aligning themselves with agent-focused partners who do not undermine them with aggressive online discounts, says Miles Morgan

One of the most important things travel agents need to do is align themselves with supplier partners.

In my business, we are working harder than ever to cement stronger relationships with suppliers we value and who see us as an important part of their distribution.

Some other suppliers view us simply as somewhere to distribute brochures and then sell direct. Operators that discount aggressively online are clearly not agent-focused, so why support them? I have no problem with their approach but they have no place in the proactive part of my business.

Favour your friends

Some agents have not adapted to this new climate. I walked into an agency in Ireland where eye-level brochures were from suppliers whose products would be cheaper online. What impression does it give your customer if they see the products sold 5% or 10% cheaper online? They regard you as expensive – so don’t do it!

Operators need to make up 
their minds on their strategy. Kuoni used to discount online but stopped and are now agent‑friendly and deserve our support. Virgin Holidays, on the other hand, has an agency sales department, advertises in our trade press but persists with online discounting. It needs a clear strategy one way or the other before it gets my business!

Change your policy

When Carnival UK cut commission to a totally unrealistic 5%, we voted with our feet. It’s no good moaning behind the scenes, you have to change your sales policy.

We are having a very successful time selling cruise despite not proactively supporting Carnival UK. Hats off to Readers Offers Limited, the biggest seller of Cunard worldwide, who switched sales policy overnight and recorded its best year ever.

It took us a short while to get our sales teams switch-selling. Next year I hope to be supporting Carnival UK again when the relationship will hopefully work again for both companies.

We have a core of excellent relationships but introduced four new suppliers in September. Our staff love the new suppliers, but most importantly they understand which customers to sell the product to and are already selling all four strongly. We do book suppliers outside our core list. But our driving force is happy customers: if we cannot satisfy them with a supplier from our own range we will sell someone else.

Ensure your success

Some people might say this supplier-partnerships approach does not square with being an independent agent. For a modern agent today, it does.

We still sell all Abta operators and always will do, but for all the reasons outlined you have to move with the times.

None of this is new but in 2013 it is more important than ever. Pricing is increasingly transparent and customer retention is crucial, but your customer’s holiday enjoyment is the most important thing of all. Pick your own partners to ensure your future success.