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14 Dec, 2003

WTM 2003 Report 10: Calling All Travel Agents

While many in the travel & tourism industry are trumpeting the usage of the Internet to facilitate direct bookings, at least a few companies and organisations continue to believe in the distribution role of travel agents, and still want to do business with them.

From the World Travel Market 2003 in London. 10th in a series of dispatches taking an in-depth look at issues, policies, strategies and trends as well as new products, processes and ideas that emerged at one of the world’s largest travel trade shows.

1. CALLING ALL TRAVEL AGENTS: While many in the travel & tourism industry are trumpeting the usage of the Internet to facilitate direct bookings, at least a few companies and organisations continue to believe in the distribution role of travel agents, and still want to do business with them. Here are some which said so in their media kits.

2. TRAVEL INSURANCE DEBUTS AT WTM: British travel agents will have to pass a certification course in selling travel insurance next year. A new source of revenue will open up, but one not without complications, especially in an age of terrorism and travel advisories.



Here is a list of companies and products whose media kits included specific references to new products and policies targetted at the travel agent.


OctopusTravel told travel agents via its press release that “at a time when commissions are being cut by other industry sectors”, it is giving them an opportunity to earn more commission and open up a new revenue stream by selling its new line of apartments and villas.” Agents now have access to OctopusTravel’s full inventory of over 2,000 apartments and villas worldwide, in addition to the 19,000 hotels, and 1,700 sightseeing tours already available across 112 countries.

Ray Mason, Managing Director of OctopusTravel, said, “OctopusTravel is showing its commitment to the constant development of booking systems for agents. We really do encourage travel agents to make use of the Internet, combine it with good old fashioned customer service and give customers a good reason to continue visiting High Street agents.”

All apartments, hotels and sightseeing tours show real time availability and offer instant confirmation for bookings. As soon as a booking is paid for, a voucher can be printed from the site – which the customer can present on check-in at the apartment, hotel or tour.

Apartments featured on the website have full independent reports, images, detailed layouts, floorplans and maps available online giving an unbiased view of exactly what customers can expect on arrival. Comprehensive additional information provided includes key extras such as pick-up points and driving directions from the nearest airport. Clients even have the option of requesting specific facilities such as swimming pools, pets welcome and golf nearby.

Besides booking accommodation, reservations can also be made for over 1,700 tours and excursions worldwide. Agents can give customers a detailed description of everything available at a destination, details of meeting points, the languages a tour is available in, and the times and the duration of each trip. For many tours, the customer can see maps and flash graphics of the route. Agents will receive 10% commission on all bookings made through the new apartments booking system.


The Australian Tourist Commission (ATC) abolished joining fees for the Aussie Specialist Programme (ASP) on 1 July, prompting another 133 UK travel agents to register and qualify, or roughly 30% of the total number of qualified Aussie Specialists.

Queensland and Western Australia operate their own programmes to work alongside the ATC model, and the latest State and territory to follow suit is Tasmania, which launched its Tassie Specialist Programme live on the Internet in early November 2003.

Wholesale agents like Gold Medal Travel and Travel 2, an Australian specialist, have also developed their own versions, and the ATC wants to further expand the programme to other wholesale partners. According to Amy Sullivan, Industry Development Manager ATC: “These days, consumers expect travel agents to know so much about everywhere they sell, and the ATC wants to help them fulfill their customers’ requirements. The ASP equips agents with a basic knowledge of how to sell Australia effectively and how to find out further information. Abolishing the joining fee has opened up this invaluable resource to every UK agent”.

Benefits of being an Aussie Specialist include free listings on the ATC’s consumer website at www.australia.com and in the ATC’s free Essential Australia travel guide. Agents receive regular industry and product updates, newsletters, invitations to Australia events and membership of the Aussie Specialist Travel Club that offers retailers personal discounts on travel to Australia, and sales collateral including window displays, giveaways and a chance to win a trip to Australia with Qantas Airways. At WTM 2003, agents could even register free online for ASP at the Australian Stand.


Alamo Rent A Car has launched alamo.co.uk, its first global website specifically for UK travellers. Designed to complement Alamo’s existing reservation routes, customers and agents can log on and book vehicles in over 850 locations worldwide. Although the site is primarily aimed at consumers, travel agents can use the site to offer customers useful information on car rental abroad, including fleet availability, driving safety tips, local weather and mapping for each location. 10% commission is payable to agents who book through the site.

All rates quoted are guaranteed and fully inclusive, ensuring there are no additional costs on arrival. Visual depictions of the fleet available and rates for the chosen destination and dates, are provided up front and unprompted, allowing customers to see what their options are.

Sally Hinds, Marketing Director for Alamo comments, “alamo.co.uk is more than just an online reservation service. The site offers a whole host of useful information to help customers find their chosen destination, travel safely and enjoy their trip. We believe alamo.co.uk will be a useful tool for travel agents and we are keen to develop the site further to create links to travel agency and travel information sites as well as special promotions with other travel organisations.”


Hertz car rental used the WTM to promote its streamlined ‘Three Step’ Internet booking procedure for travel agents. The activity centred around the ‘Hertz Haven’ which was themed in the style of a time-tunnel, taking visitors through the ‘ages’ of car rental since Hertz’ formation 85 years ago.

The Internet was accessible through an Internet pod at the ‘Hertz Haven’ where visitors were able to see how to make a booking on the travel agents’ section of the site. Also at the WTM, Hertz launched its ‘Car Rental made Easy’ booklet and the Hertz tour operator training CD. The 12-page booklet is a complete guide to the Hertz ‘World on Wheels’ all inclusive pre-paid product and explains car rental terminology, how to book on-line and provides a snapshot of the Hertz world-wide fleet. The CD contains similar information but is aimed at the net-rated business, as a training, rather than selling, tool.


Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces has launched a dedicated section for travel agents on its website www.tajhotels.com. It claims to be “among the first hotel companies in the world to allow users of its website to create their own itineraries.” The section allows travel agents to confirm reservations instantly; book any of the published itineraries, and choose from a wide choice of packages; custom-make itineraries of 3 to 6 hotels. To gain access to the functions, travel agents have to complete the online registration form. Travel agents who are not on the Taj credit list need to guarantee their reservations via credit card.


The Dubai-based hotel group Jumeirah International is offering travel agents a chance to sell vouchers for its new Dine-Around programme launched in August 2003 in response to growing demand from leisure and business travellers for greater flexibility and choice whilst dining abroad. The vouchers are available to guests staying at any of their Dubai properties, including The Jumeirah Beach Hotel, Burj Al Arab, The Jumeirah Beach Club, Emirates Towers Hotel and The World Trade Centre Hotel. Dine-Around replaces the traditional half-board option, enabling guests to dine at over 30 restaurants from Lebanese to Argentinean and Japanese to Mediterranean. Vouchers can be used for any meal in the participating restaurants. Guests will also be given a restaurant guide listing restaurants and respective meal options available to Jumeirah International Dine-Around guests.


Choice Hotels Europe has launched a Group Bookings Brochure of group travel rates for 2003 – 2005 with prices starting from just ú28 per person per night. The new Groups brochure features over 105 hotels in the UK and Ireland and offers a comprehensive price guide. Colin Pelling, Group Sales Director for Choice Hotels Europe commented: “The range of Choice Hotels, from premium economy to four star standard are designed to provide tour operators, handling agents and group organisers with accommodation and facilities to suit all guests. We can meet the needs of most tour operators with hotels in cities, in resorts or close to major road networks.” The new brochure contains guidelines tariffs for groups, which is negotiable.


The Whitbread Hotel Company, which operates 60 Marriott hotels in the UK under a franchise agreement, is targeting Coach Operators with an incentive to encourage them to feature Marriott Hotels in their new 2004 brochures. The incentive is designed to increase both bookings and awareness of Marriott as an emerging operator in this market segment. Marriott will give away a DVD player to each Coach Operator who includes three Marriott Hotels, which the operator has not featured before, in three separate UK destination features in their new 2004 brochure.

Paul Dunn, Travel Trade Sales Manager for Marriott commented: “The coach market is a key market that brings in key bookings. There is a great deal of competition around the country but we are hoping that this incentive will generate further awareness for Marriott Hotels in the Coach Operators market.” To inform Coach Operators of the incentive the Marriott Sales Team contacted them directly and since the launch, both Arvonia Coaches and Holmeswood Coaches have received a DVD player after featuring three new Marriott Hotels in their respective 2004 brochures.


Travel web design and development specialists, Netizen, brought out a “web doctor” to offer free Internet advice at a ‘daily surgery’ on their stand at WTM 2003. Netizen’s Technical Marketing Analyst, Rowan Wilkinson, provided specialist search engine optimisation and online marketing advice. The ‘search engine surgery’ offered an overview of the heath of the site, highlighted potential problem areas and gave an insight into current search engine performance.

According to Mr. Wilkinson, “Over 20 million people in the UK use the Internet to search for travel and accommodation. You are giving business away to your competitors if your website can’t be found.” Advice sessions took about 15 minutes and no appointments were necessary. Consultations were free to anyone attending the show and companies were given a ‘health checklist’ for their web site to take away with them.

Loic Robertson, Sales and Marketing Director at Netizen said the ‘check up’ was designed to help companies find out how to maximise business through their websites. “There are some well-designed and attractive sites in the travel sector but poorly set up for search engines. lf they don’t attract the visitor numbers then of course sales will be affected.”



“Travel Insurance: Rip Off or Rip Up?!” was the provocative title of a seminar on helping travel agents sell insurance, believed to be the first time such a seminar has surfaced at the WTM. Adrian Clark of the Tourism Society chaired the discussion with Doug Weston, general manager sales of Ketteridge Holidayguard Travel Insurnace and Stephen Lawrence, managing director of Holidayextras.

The issue is coming to the fore because the Association of British Travel Agents requires all its members who sell travel insurance to ensure that each member of staff involved in every retail or other outlet has achieved the ABTA/C&G Certificate at Level One by 31 December 2004. It also requires at least one manager or other member of staff, preferably two, in each outlet to have achieved the ABTA/C&G Certificate at Level Two by the same date. This means that hundreds of British travel agency staff will be sprucing up their knowledge on selling travel insurance.

During the discussion, the following points emerged:

  • The primary dilemma is that while insurance is potentially new line for travel agents, it is fraught with complexity and potential legal problems. The UK government is also moving to regulate the industry to ensure that the rights of all parties involved are safeguarded.
  • Though the primary job of the agent is to sell travel, not to sell insurance, the agents still need to ensure that the customer knows what they are buying. In the past, it used to be just a question of ticking a box on a form. Today that is no longer the case, and insurance companies are working to ensure that they have someone on hand to answer questions. A list of Frequently Asked Questions has been developed.
  • For the agents, it is a potentially new revenue stream and opportunity to add value, but they are now going to have to work a lot harder at explaining and selling it. At the same time, they will also face competition from other sectors of the industry who will be selling it directly.
  • More insurance companies getting involved in the game will mean lower prices. Travel insurance can take many different forms, from baggage loss and sickness to car theft and injuries. This means agents will face the challenge of creating the right policies for the right customer with the right cover and the right price, raising the fundamental question how they will differentiate.
  • Consumers have to be weaned away from the culture that “it won’t happen to them.” At the same time, coverage has to be provided such that does not turn consumers off from the holiday altogether. They also have to be helped to understand the fine print. Insurance “is not the world’s most attractive thing to sell. The customer will either fall asleep or walk out of the door,” was one comment.
  • In future, travel insurance may well be bundled together with other forms of insurance that is renewed annually like house, car, etc.


At the WTM, at least one company, First Rate Travel, including in its Press kit some advice and information for travel agents about selling insurance. One release focussed specifically on the latest fear: Becoming a potential victim of terrorism.

First Rate Travel Services, established in 2002 as a joint venture between Post Office Ltd and the Bank of Ireland Group, claims to be the first travel insurance provider to announce that it would automatically include terrorism / war cover in its travel insurance service. The announcement followed the October 2002 Bali bombing and an increase in the number of customer enquiries regarding the detail of their cover.

On 21 October 2002, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw made a statement to the House of Commons in which he stated that as part of future policy, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office would “work urgently with the insurance industry and others to see how between us we can ensure that the pain of victims of terrorism is not made worse by financial hardship.”

Travel insurance is being offered by First Rate via an agreement with Bishopscourt Affinity Solutions. According to First Rate, inspite of the heightened awareness of terrorism, holiday travel companies remain positive and are encouraging UK travellers that it is safe to travel as long as they take out the necessary precautions and travel to ‘low risk FCO destinations’.

It offered consumers “a number of simple and practical steps” to ensure they have taken sensible precautions:

1. Always check with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) to see whether your intended holiday destination is considered to be safe;

2. The FCO website will also link you to the advice given to US citizens – it is worth cross checking to see what the US government is saying as well;

3. Make sure that you keep checking the site until you go – situations can change;

4. Make sure you’ve taken out proper travel insurance to make sure that if anything were to happen, your policy will cover all medical expenses;

5. If you are going backpacking, try to buy a ticket that will enable you to be flexible with your travel plans should the FCO advice change after your departure;

6. Obvious as it may sound, it is advisable to avoid countries and regions reported in the news as being unstable.

According to Jayne Westwood, Marketing Director of First Rate: “Recent events have prompted many holiday makers to rethink the level and type of cover that they want from their travel insurance policy and to seek greater levels of cover to match the uncertain times in which we live. Our aim is to give consumers the travel policy components most suited to their holiday and provide them with the peace of mind to enjoy their holidays to the full.”

Certain individuals will be watching world events even more closely – the Armed Forces, emergency services workers or government employees may be subject to leave being cancelled and emergency orders to return to duty. In these circumstances, the First Rate Travel Insurance policy will cover the costs associated with either the cancellation or cutting short of a holiday.

First Rate travel insurance enables travellers to pick ‘n’ mix different levels of cover based on destination, holiday cost, medical condition, holiday activity and existing possessions. Examples of First Rate’s terrorism cover include:

  • All medical and personal accident costs being covered if consumers are caught up in an act of terrorism / war (ceiling cost between ú5 and ú10 million, dependent on level of cover taken out);
  • Any costs associated with transporting consumers to another country for medical treatment, e.g., if they were injured in the Bali bombing they would be covered if they needed an air ambulance / treatment in an Australian / British hospital;
  • Transport and accommodation costs would be met for one family member / friend who was travelling with the injured party to stay with him/her whilst they received treatment;
  • First Rate’s Gold Cover makes policy-holders eligible for: ú300 on their return to the UK for a home-help / nanny whilst recuperating; ú500 towards a recovery holiday if they had had surgery during their holiday; Free private medical consultation on their return to UK if they had undergone surgery during your holiday;
  • The service does not cover nuclear, chemical and biological warfare or if consumers travelled to a country that the FCO advised against visiting before they departed.
  • All occupations are eligible for this insurance service although First Rate’s offering is solely for leisure travel and not for business travel.
  • If consumers are overseas when war breaks out, the policy does not cover them for cutting short their holiday (unless they are a member of the armed forces, emergency services or administration government employees, who are covered by a special clause in the event of a recall to duty).
  • War is defined as invasion, acts of foreign enemies, hostilities or war-like operations (whether war be declared or not), civil war, rebellion, revolution, insurrection, civil commotion or uprising, blockade, military or usurped power.


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