Agents explain how they introduced - or even doubled - service fees during the pandemic

Agents explain how they introduced – or even doubled – service fees during the pandemic

TORONTO — For so many travel agents across Canada – wary of losing clientele if they introduced a fee schedule – the pandemic has been the ‘aha moment’ for service fees.

How many travel agents? Here’s at least one statistic from The Travel Agent Next Door that points to the sharp uptake: Overall services per million in sales at TTAND are up 300%, says TTAND founder and CEO, Flemming Friisdahl. TTAND is so committed to the service fee message that in 2021 it released a video with service fee tips and ideas for all travel advisors, regardless of affiliation.

Host agencies and consortiums, including TTAND, TPI, Vision Travel, TravelOnly and many more, have worked for years to encourage their members to value their own worth, literally, with service fees.

It took a global event of catastrophic proportions to get more agents onboard with service fees. And now there’s no looking back.

Travelweek spoke to four travel advisors about their service fee strategies. All have made changes to their fee schedules over the past two years – from starting service fees from scratch, to doubling existing fees.

While the details of their fee strategies vary, their motivation is largely the same: to finally earn what they know they’re worth.

NEW TO FEES: SARAH BOVILLE, BAREFOOT TRAVEL

Barefoot Travel’s site lists the planning process which the agency’s team provides to clients, along with a link to the Professional Fee Agreement that clients receive after the initial conversation, says agency owner Sara Boville.

Along with the fees came a new system of booking appointments.

“The pandemic taught me that my time is valuable, as is my knowledge, so not only have fees been implemented, with the amount of the fee dependent on the type of travel, I also have set hours with appointments outside of those hours,” Boville tells Travelweek.

FEES FOR TRIP-BUILDING: JODI FOX, VISION TRAVEL

Calgary-based independent travel advisor Jodi Fox, part of the Vision Travel network, used to only charge fees for air-only, hotel bookings and the like.

The fee made up for the minimal commission on those bookings. But Fox realized that her true value as a travel advisor lay in her skill with putting together complex itineraries for her clients.

Fox specializes in creating bespoke and unique itineraries for clients in destinations such as Africa, South America and South Pacific – as well as small ship and expedition cruising – and she now charges fees for all of these bookings as well.

“I realized that the full service I provide is where I provide my worth as a travel advisor and that a large fee should be charged no matter what the required components are,” Fox tells Travelweek, adding that her fees now “reflect my professional services, not the transaction for an air booking or hotel.”

She has a directional professional fee list that changes with each client request. “Usually I based the fee more on the length, and would charge a higher fee for a 15-day journey versus an 8-day journey. For something like an customized African Safari I would charge somewhere between $300 – 500.”

Asked if there’s anything she would do differently, Fox just says: “Charge larger, well-earned fees sooner.” She notes that no other industry offers clients advice for free.

FEES FOR LEISURE TOO: HEATHER COHN, TTAND

Travel advisor Heather Cohn has always charged her corporate clients service fees. Now she’s including leisure travel bookings in her fee schedule as well, after she stepped in numerous times to help clients with bookings gone wrong.

“I have always collected service fees from my corporate clients but felt it was more important than ever as I received calls from leisure clients that booked online – some were previous clients that didn’t want to bother me to book just flights,” says Cohn.

“Unfortunately they got taken – with fraudulent fees, misconception of what was being booked and who they were actually booking with, or no service when they questioned their reservations. I had to intervene with the airlines on their behalf to try and sort things out – hence service fees.”

Cohn adds: “I also gained new clients with exactly the same issue – they booked thinking they were processing their reservation with the airline and a third-party intercepted – again I had to intervene and charge fees because of the time spent solving their issues.”

She sees service fees as “a way of telling your clients that your service in fact is worth something and not just a provider of information then to be booked elsewhere.”

DOUBLED HER FEES: CHRISTY SCHMIDT, TPI

Pre-pandemic, Manitoba-based travel advisor Christy Schmidt – who specializes in travel to South America – typically charged $100 per adult, $80 per child and $40 per infant. Over the past two years she increased her fees to $200 per adult, $180 per child and $50 per infant.

The TPI-affiliated agent says she makes adjustments as needed. She’s dropped her fees per child to $150 – $160 in some cases, as she has a lot of clients with large families.

“During the pandemic, I came to the point in which I realized that my expert services were worth more, since I work so hard to keep my clients up-to-date with the requirements of travel to make their travel experience as smooth as possible, avoiding any hiccups on their day of travel. Therefore I basically doubled my fees.”

 


For the full story check out the April 28, 2022 issue of Travelweek here.