Hiring a third-party travel vendor can be a daunting task. It requires placing trust, money, and the most important producers or customers—in the hands of someone you likely don’t know very well. In a perfect world, these vendors would have your best interests at heart and would operate as if the program were their own.
As we all know, this isn’t always the case, so what that inevitably means is that you must do your due diligence when entering into these partnerships.
You can choose to assume that all travel vendors or travel agencies will know how to navigate this uncertainty and make the best possible decisions for your company and your attendees. But you shouldn’t. Do you know what questions to ask a current or potential travel vendor to make sure they’re prepared to help you in extenuating circumstances?. If you aren’t asking these questions now, you’ll probably be at a disadvantage if and when an unforeseen macro headwind disrupts your program plans.
There are a number of things you should be prepared to ask your travel vendor, but most of these can be boiled down into three key questions:
When you hire a travel vendor to manage your group travel arrangements, you probably assume that they will negotiate on your behalf if and when those plans go awry. Unfortunately, in the best of situations these vendors may not have the relationships necessary with airlines, hotels, restaurants, transportation providers, or DMCs to effectively renegotiate the pre-arranged terms of your trip.
In the worst situations, these vendors may not be interested or motivated to help you recoup your losses. In either case, it’s up to the travel vendor to go to the various parties and request reimbursement for unforeseen rescheduling or cancellation, and they may simply be reluctant to do this.
What’s important to learn is just how creative and aggressive your travel vendor is when it comes to renegotiating. Before entering into an agreement, you want to be asking what they will do for you if something happens and your group can no longer travel. Will they find strategic solutions that allow you to work around difficult circumstances, or will they leave you, the client, holding the proverbial bag? You’ll also want to make sure there are no hidden fees in your agreement, as these can be the real reason one vendor seems “cheap” while another does not.
In challenging and unpredictable times, it pays to have a travel vendor who can guide you through turbulent waters. That’s why it’s so important to find out what kinds of strategies and best practices your travel vendor has in their toolbox when you’re in need of some advice.
As the client, you can’t be expected to have all the answers—that’s why you’re paying somebody else. So, is your travel vendor able to be flexible and add different items to your policy? Do they have the ability to move your trip to various locations, or provide guidance on destinations, hotels, etc.? In many cases, these agencies may only tell you what you want to hear, encouraging confirmation bias. “Are you sure Destination X is still the right call,” you may ask, “even with this potentially disruptive event on the horizon?”
Of course, you want the answer to be “yes,” because the alternative would be highly inconvenient. But what you don’t want is for your travel agency to tell you “yes,” when they know the answer is “probably not.” In other words, you need to make sure they’re providing you with the “cons” of your decision as well as the “pros,” and sound advice if you ask for it. This is where it pays for the travel vendor to have strong relationships with local entities, or even better, boots on the ground. After all, it’s hard to accurately assess a situation when your information comes from news reports alone.
As we’ve all seen, the travel industry can be one of the most precarious sectors of the global economy. When a crisis hits, you’ll want to know not just how your travel vendor plans on handling it, but if they are even prepared to handle it. What kind of liquidity do they have if their business comes to a standstill? For most travel vendors, their entire business platform depends upon the consistent and effective functioning of global travel, and disruptions in one part of the world can have profound consequences in other areas.
Does your vendor have all of their eggs in one basket, or are they prepared to withstand a prolonged downturn? And more importantly, do they have your trust? Because if they don’t, and things are unexpectedly turned upside down, not only may you be out the money you’ve spent on your current trip, but you may also need to find a new partner for the future. Potential switching costs should also be considered in the event of a worst-case scenario.
When we plan a trip, we like to imagine all the ways it will go well—the restaurants we’ll visit, the experiences we’ll have, and the memories we’ll make. What’s less fun is preparing for things to go wrong, which is why less than 40% of Americans buy travel insurance.
The same can be said for planning a group travel program. It might seem like the best solution to find the cheapest travel agency available and have them conveniently organize your trip. But without asking the right questions, it can be hard to anticipate exactly how your travel vendor will respond to various upheavals in the industry—the exact types of situations both you and they would prefer not to think about. But think about them you must. Because at the end of the day, when it’s your money and your business that’s on the line, it pays to ask the hard questions, especially when the answers aren’t always what you want to hear. This is why all companies should be evaluating their vendor relationships to make sure they’re partnered with creative, proactive, financially stable companies that are committed to helping their clients withstand difficult times.