TORONTO — Bringing in service fees can seem like a daunting to-do, especially if you’re starting from scratch.
That’s certainly the case in ‘normal times’, to say nothing of right now, almost one year into a pandemic. Vaccinations are happening and that’s great news but the travel industry in particular is still looking at a long road ahead, and many retailers may feel completely overwhelmed at the thought of tackling service fee strategies.
The host agency, consortium and chain execs we spoke to for this final instalment of the Service Fee Series say they are ready and willing to help agents and agencies looking to make service fees a reality for their business.
This week, in Part 4, we ask: What support do you offer to agents looking to bring in fees? And, if you had to sum up your message re: fees in 1 sentence, what would it be?
We also check in with a travel agent who has successfully implemented service fees at her agency. In this edition, that’s Amy Hare, a travel agent with Independent by Flight Centre based in Fernie, B.C.
QUESTION: What support do you offer agents who are looking to bring in service fees?
Many of the execs we spoke to are pulling together plans to launch new service fee programs, with an eye to introducing these initiatives to members in the coming weeks.
Asked if The Travel Agent Next Door has support for TTAND members looking to set up a service fee schedule, TTAND founder Flemming Friisdahl said, “Yes 100%, and in fact we will be launching a program, with full terms and conditions to support the agents that wish to charge fees. So either a booking fee, service fee or a commission protection fee if the clients or supplier cancels.”
Independent by Flight Centre GM Lee Zanello says IFC is working on updating a fee plan that agents can choose to charge if they wish. It’s a plan that offers some additional value-added service elements.
Mike Foster, President, Nexion Travel Group – Canada says he’s hosting a Service Fee Working Group for Nexion Travel Group – Canada advisors, to help them fine-tune or build a service fee strategy. Support currently available includes coaching, networking, and the group learning that comes from connecting with other entrepreneurs tackling this issue, says Foster. “Also, our accounting team provides the support to manage fees, and we also provide the tools to charge clients’ credit cards.”
He adds that sister company, TL Network, and parent company, Internova Travel Group have also added to their service fee training programs. “We offer a comprehensive training library consisting of both live and recorded webinars on best practices to charging service fees,” says TL Network Canada VP, Christine James.
TPI President and CEO Zeina Gedeon says TPI has developed several specific training sessions designed to help TPI advisors implement fees. “We also have a guide published on ways to introduce a fee to your existing clients, along with scripts to help our advisors along. We do one-on-one coaching with our advisors to get them comfortable but most importantly confident in charging. We have also recently introduced an easy way for our advisors to charge fees, the advisor can manage the act of charging their client through our automated fee charging system,” she says.
TravelOnly is planning a new roll out of service fee training in 2021, says TravelOnly’s VP Sales & Retail Development, Ian Elliott. Current support includes specific training webinars regarding service fees. “We strongly believe that by making service fees available to reference on every advisor website, it makes it easier when speaking to clients,” says Elliott. “Although it isn’t an absolute requirement, the advisor at least has a benchmark and policy they can point to when discussing why they are charging service fees. This makes it less about the individual agent and more about the collective organization, which can make it easier to explain.”
Elliott adds: “We know that charging service fees is not comfortable for many advisors so our business development team is always available and happy to help advisors set their own service fees and help with a communications plan or booking form that is clear to all parties.”
Direct Travel has also held trainings to help agents articulate their value proposition and position, when explaining service fees to clients. “We have also established recommended initial fee levels though this is quite an individual decision, specifically for independent travel advisors,” says Direct Travel’s Senior VP, Leisure Marketing, North America, Stephen Smith.
Direct Travel has also developed tools including secure online forms that make it easy and safe to present and charge fees to clients, he adds. “Finally, we have provided a sample fee agreement for advisors to provide their clients – something very helpful for any advisor trying to get started charging fees.”
Earlier this month Transat Distribution Canada (TDC) announced it would offer its entire network, including franchisees and corporate-owned agencies, as well as its agent@home program, a revised professional fee grid.
“We will be launching a brand new training program to equip our entire network: our franchised agencies, members of our agent@home program and our corporate agencies,” says TDC’s General Manager, Louise Fecteau. “This training is based on a completely different approach than what we have always done up to now, and is orchestrated around the customer experience. For us, this approach was the logical continuation of the campaign we launched a few weeks ago on the added value of doing business with a travel professional.”
QUESTION: If you had to sum up your message re: fees in 1 sentence, what would it be?
“As a professional travel agent, make sure you get compensated for the hard work and caring you do for your clients.” — Flemming Friisdahl, founder, The Travel Agent Next Door
“Service fees is a model of doing business that invites clients to have a better buying experience because their advisor will perform the due diligence essential in today’s current environment.” — Stephen Smith, Senior VP, Leisure Marketing, North America, Direct Travel
“Be clear with your objectives for your fee schedule, model it to ensure it supports them, and always remember that you must deliver value at least equal to your fees, in your prospect’s view.” — Mike Foster, President, Nexion Travel Group – Canada
“A free service is a service without real value.” — Louise Fecteau, General Manager, TDC
“All other professionals charge for their service, why shouldn’t you?” — Christine James, VP, Travel Network Canada
“Now, more than ever – you bring so much value to your clients! It’s time to recognize that!” — Zeina Gedeon, President and CEO, TPI
“If you won’t charge service fees after this pandemic, when will you? There has been no better time to justify your value.” — Ian Elliott, VP Sales & Retail Development, TravelOnly
“The work you do is valuable and now, more than ever, that value should directly translate to income towards running a profitable business.” — Lee Zanello, General Manager, Independent by Flight Centre
IN HER OWN WORDS: A SERVICE FEE SUCCESS STORY
Independent by Flight Centre
BACKGROUND: “I’ve been a travel agent for 14 years. With the odd exception on files that were non-commissionable, I only recently implemented service fees since COVID. Up until now, I had always wanted to remain competitive with the online market.”
RATIONALE: “With the ever-changing COVID policies, travel disruptions and schedule changes, each file I have had lately has simply been far more work. My most recent client, for example, has had 9 exchanges on her ticket! After the extreme stress during the initial COVID craziness, I also realized just how valuable I was to my clients during that time.”
FEE STRUCTURE: “I am still sorting that out. I have had very few bookings since March and for now fees have been based on the commission level on the booking, and the time I will spend on the file (taking into account the likelihood of changes or cancellations).”
CLIENT FEEDBACK: “Not yet. I was initially hesitant to tell clients I was going to start charging fees, but all were very understanding and more than happy to pay. Some even offered to pay a fee before I mentioned I was implementing them. Clients know what we have been through this year and want to support us. They also realize the value in using an agent, now more than ever.”
ADVICE FOR FELLOW AGENTS: “This is the perfect time to start! Booking travel is so complex right now, and travelLers want professional advice and peace of mind. My clients know the work I have done, and continue to do, on their cancelled trips and are extremely appreciative. I have no doubt they will be accepting of service fees on future bookings.”
Travelweek’s 4-part Service Fee Series includes these past instalments:
Part 1 features travel agent Elizabeth Rodgers from Journeys by Elizabeth in Belleville, ON.
Part 2 features travel agent Ashley Doell, a travel consultant with TPI in Warman, SK.
Part 3 features Lola Vassiliadis, cruise specialist / owner of Cruise Holidays of Oakville and Cruise Holidays of Lawrence Park in Toronto.