Perspective – April 2012

Wholesalers make their case

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Ian McMahon

Wholesalers make their case

THE Council of Australian Tour Operators general manager Peter Baily and chairman Rod Eather asked travelBulletin to allocate additional space for this issue’s CATO View column.

It was a request which we were happy to grant as you can see by turning to page 20 where we have doubled the amount of column centimetres we usually allocate to the quarterly column penned by Baily.

As you can also see, the CATO leaders requested the extra space because they felt it was needed to enable them to tackle in depth what they consider is a major contentious issue in the travel industry’s retailer/wholesaler relationship.

That issue is the accelerating trend for agents to use the internet to bypass local wholesalers and source product direct from overseas suppliers. The practice mirrors the consumer behaviour of buying online that travel agents are wont to complain about.

Travel agents have attempted to persuade consumers that they are better off placing their faith in bricks and mortar retailers by adopting the slogan: Without a travel agent you are on your own.

It is a slogan intended to encapsulate the value which agents add to transactions with expert advice during the sales process and back-up if travel plans are unexpectedly disrupted.

It has achieved particular resonance in recent times when travellers have been stranded by circumstances ranging from arbitrary airline decisions to civil unrest in destinations such as Egypt.

And in this month’s CATO View, the wholesalers’ council has turned the slogan around to tell agents: “Without a wholesaler you are on your own.”

It is intended to press home the message that Australian wholesalers provide local agents with the same sort of added value that the agents provide to consumers.

Eather pointed to the wholesaler expertise that is available to agents at a meeting of CATO members in February.

He noted that an award presented by Trip Advisor to one of the hotels his company (Beachcomber) represents was based on 553 reviews of the property dating back to July 2004. He pointed out that his company last year booked more than 104,000 clients and claimed this gave him – and other wholesalers – more credibility than Trip Advisor (travelBulletin, March).

His comments provoked a suggestion that CATO set up in competition to Trip Advisor.

While no one seriously envisages such an initiative coming to fruition, it does, suggest another promotional ploy – “Wholesalers, the travel agents’ Trip Advisor”.

In Baily’s article on page 20, he lists specialist wholesalers’ in-depth knowledge of particular destinations as just one element of the value they provide over online suppliers.

He also points to their knowledge of legal requirements, their role in providing industry training, their supply of promotional material, their compilation of often complex itineraries and quotes, their “after sales” service and back-up.




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