TORONTO — A couple of stats illustrate just how much travel advisors with The Travel Agent Next Door have embraced charging service fees – and communicated the worth of their services to clients – in the wake of the pandemic.
One set of numbers is pre-COVD, and the other is from just a couple of months ago.
As company founder Flemming Friisdahl tells Travelweek: “Pre-COVID, in February 2019, we had about $1,000 in service fees on $15 million in sales. In February 2021, service fees were up to between $7,000 and $8,000, with $1 million in sales. So that’s more than 7x the amount of service fees, on significantly less business.”
TTAND has built a service fee capability into its system and now offers its agents the ability to add fees under a variety of different names such as a Planning Fee, Consultation Fee, Professional Services Fee – and also there’s a Change Fee and Cancellation Fee. The agent has the ability to choose the name they want and the amount charged, in either Canadian or U.S. funds.
TTAND is encouraging its members to learn more about service fees with the new training course available on its TTAND University learning platform. The course, which Friisdahl says takes less than two hours to complete, has gone over extremely well with TTAND advisors.
TTAND has also made a series of videos available to all agents – not just TTAND agents – interested in learning more about types of service fees and service fee strategies. The videos can be found here.
Making the videos available free to all agents was an unorthodox approach, but Friisdahl says fees will become commonplace when more agents charge them.
Many travel retailers, host agencies, consortiums and more across Canada are already fully onboard with service fees, as outlined in Travelweek’s February 2021 service fee series.
Among those agents who are hesitant to charge fees, many worry that alerting their clients to a fee structure will drive clients away. If the majority of agents charge fees, the chances of that happening are far less, says Friisdahl.
In normal times, adds Friisdahl, “there’s plenty of business for everyone. Other travel agencies aren’t our competition. Our competition is OTAs and suppliers going direct.”
“MAKE SURE YOU GET COMPENSATED FOR YOUR HARD WORK”
Travel agents have always known their worth, but for some, it’s taken a pandemic – and months and months of exhausting work on their clients’ behalf, almost always for free – for many agents to realize that charging a service fee is the right choice for them and their business.
The need for income beyond supplier commission was brought into stark relief over the past 13 months. While Air Canada’s and ACV’s commitment to protect agent commission, as announced as part of Air Canada’s financial assistance package from the federal government on April 12, was welcome news, agents still face major shortfalls if Canada’s other airlines don’t follow suit. And while agents have lauded cruise lines for protecting commission in the wake of the pandemic and all the cancellations, the same can’t be said for every supplier.
Fees help no matter what happens in the travel industry, says Friisdahl. “Even if clients cancel, or suppliers cancel, agents are still charging the fee,” he says. “The reality is, right now, most agents are living on the Canada Recovery Benefit (CRB). That’s no way to live. Nobody wants to take government handouts.”
Friisdahl adds “With this pandemic it has shown agents how vulnerable they can be if we have to refund files so we have to be sure if this happens again we are better protected.”
TTAND’s service fee capability, offering agents the flexibility to call their fee a Planning Fee, Consultation Fee, Professional Services Fee or what have you, allows agents to tailor their fee schedule to best suit their business. “Each of the agents are their own business owners” and will do what’s right for them, says Friisdahl.
Many agents charge a service fee that gets rebated back to the client if the client books a trip. While some retailers say this can devalue an agent’s work, Friisdahl says he’s all in favour of anything that cuts down on window shoppers. “Even if that’s the way you charge a service fee, it still eliminates the customers you don’t want. That may sound wrong but you don’t necessarily want every customer. It secures income and eliminates tire-kickers.”
Friisdahl says he expects about 80% of TTAND agents will charge fees in the coming months, compared with 20% pre-pandemic. “It will take a while to ramp it up,” he says.
In Travelweek’s service fee series, Friisdahl summed up his thoughts on service fees in one sentence: “As a professional travel agent, make sure you get compensated for the hard work and caring you do for your clients.”
He also had a message for any clients on the fence about doing business with a travel agent who charges service fees: “Like everything in life, you get what you pay for, and if you want a professional travel agent to make your dream vacation come true, down to the smallest detail, expect that they will charge a fee for that service.”
Here’s another way to put it, he says now: “Why would a client value our work if we don’t?”