Unsure of how hotel groups work with agents? Katie McGonagle finds out
When was the last time you played Chinese whispers? If you’re thinking of a playground or primary school, you’re wrong – it was probably just this week.
Every time you book clients into a hotel, it can feel like a little like starting that chain of whispers off – you put in a request for a ground floor room or a bottle of bubbly on arrival, but you never quite know if your message will get through to the people who need to know.
That’s why many of the world’s hotel chains, big and small, have agent sites and UK sales teams to provide invaluable training, advice on what’s on offer in each resort, and ideas to maximise your sales.
Here, we take a look at the resources available from a handful of hotel groups – a small sample of the many chains – to find out how they work with agents to make sure the message gets through.
Train to gain: Sandals runs online training programme sellingsandals.co.uk, and has a team of business development managers who can arrange presentations or full-day training courses in-store. They also host Sandals on Tour quiz nights across the country, where agents who have completed the online training compete in a pub quiz-style evening with a five-night holiday for the winning team.
See it yourself: Sandals takes an average of 300 travel agents on fam trips each year, but can also arrange a free day pass for agents holidaying in the Caribbean and offers concessions.
This is on top of a ‘sell and go’ reward programme, Sandals Luxury Included Stars, in which agents earn stars for their bookings. Each star equals one night in a Sandals, Beaches or Grand Pineapple resort, available upon reaching at least five stars or, if enrolled as a whole agency, 10 stars. The number of stars allocated to each booking increases with the level of training they have reached. At a minimum, agents must have done online training within the past year and registered their bookings at sellingsandals.co.uk; but if they attend a Sandals MasterClass and a roadshow each year, they will earn two points per booking instead of one, and if they can also write a simple marketing plan with their business development manager, that increases to three.
Something special: Agents can communicate special requests to their business development manager or the agency sales team, who can pass this on in their weekly emails to each resort listing forthcoming UK arrivals. This can include pre-booking excursions, dining and special experiences, all of which earn agents commission.
Find out more: Email email@example.com or visit sandals.co.uk/tas
Train to gain: Belmond’s travel trade extranet, belmondpro.com, offers fact sheets on its hotels, trains and river cruises with ‘in the know’ tips, plus training videos demonstrating a typical guest experience. The sales team is also on the road for training and trade events.
See it yourself: Belmond offers discounted agent rates for trains and cruises via Touchdown, plus the London sales office will try to facilitate requests for hotel stays as far as availability allows.
Something special: Agents can book one-of-a-kind experiences ranging from a hot-air balloon over the pagodas of Bagan in Burma, a Shaman marriage blessing next to Machu Picchu, or a private tasting at Burgundy’s 33 Grand Cru vineyards.
Any special requests should be channelled through the London sales office who will flag them with on-property management.
Find out more: UK sales manager Manisha Rathod can arrange in-agency training and support agent bookings, and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org.
Train to gain: Starwood’s travel agent site has been incorporated into new loyalty programme SPG Pro, which launched this week, offering valuable information on all the Starwood brands, training modules and a booking portal.
See it yourself: SPG Pro offers agents the chance to earn Starpoints on every booking they make, even for customers, which they can use towards room upgrades or SPG Moments experiences in their own holidays. Every $3 of eligible stays will earn one point; those who have earned ‘elite’ status by booking enough nights (earn one eligible night for every 20 nights booked, and reach gold status once you’ve clocked up 25 eligible nights within a year, or platinum if you reach 50) will earn a point for every $2 they book.
Something special: The Luxury Collection Concierge and W Hotels’ signature Whatever/Whenever service can cater for special requests if agents speak to the reservation team when booking.
Find out more: Visit spg.com/pro for all the details.
Train to gain: Neilson is launching a travel agent booking site next month, agents.neilson.co.uk, where agents will be able to book Neilson products online, manage bookings and amend details. A training programme is currently in development, along with a review of agent incentives and commissions.
See it yourself: There are already three educationals under way in the final months of the year, taking Thomas Cook and independent agents to The Retreat Beachclub and Messini Beachclub, both in Greece, and ski educationals focusing on the new Neilson Hotel Del Clos in El Tarter, Andorra. Another round of Beachclub educationals starts in May 2015.
Something special: From next month, the agent portal will allow agents to make special requests or arrange extras for clients.
Find out more: Neilson will soon begin twice-weekly newsletters on its Beachclub and ski product to keep agents abreast of updates. New business development manager Lindsay Dixon and her team can also help with questions about the resorts, commission or any other queries, on email@example.com.
Train to gain: Existing agent web portal AMRagents.net is being replaced with a new site focused on the UK market and due to go live next month at AMRagents.co.uk (the old URL will continue to redirect agents to the new site).
The site will offer information on the hotels, brands, all-inclusive packages and destinations, plus useful tips on agent promotions and incentives, and learning modules to become AMR Master Agents.
See it yourself: Agents can book their own holidays at a heavily discounted rate via the site, and those who have become AMR Master Agents get even better deals of up to 55% off the best available rate plus extras such as complimentary day passes and incentives. Media page amresorts.com/mediasite also offers virtual tours of each resort, which can be a useful selling tool.
Something special: Special requests can be met by contacting senior business development executive Sarah Spooner at firstname.lastname@example.org, who will pass the information to the relevant people at AMResorts’ 35 hotels.
Find out more: Visit AMRagents.co.uk.
Train to gain: Centara has an online training course available at centaraambassador.com, in addition to in-house training, selling guides, fact sheets and videos available on Centara’s website.
See it yourself: Travel agents can take advantage of industry discount rates known as ‘Seeing is Believing’. Check prices and availability online at tinyurl.com/centarab2b.
Something special: Extra requests can be made at the time of booking or via Centara’s UK representation company Avenue Sales & Marketing, who will pass details on to the relevant resort. They will always try to accommodate requests for special occasion breaks such as honeymoons or anniversaries, or requirements such as interconnecting rooms.
Find out more: For specific requests, email email@example.com or call 01474 872727.
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