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Upav: Belgian travel agents wants to keep holding their clients’ money…

Congress from October 4th through 7th in Kos (Greece)


Belgian distributors refuse the proposal of clients directly paying tour operators. If this last bastion were to fall then it would be the complete surrender of an economic sector brought to its knees by two or three tour operators. Amongst them, TUI (Jetair) and Thomas Cook who, alone, represent close to 90% of the Belgian tour operators.



Click to enlarge /photo JDL
Click to enlarge /photo JDL
The Upav congress ended this Tuesday in Kos, Greece.

An event that ends with good news, since Jean-Philippe (Pascal) Cuvelier, who was unwell last Monday, made his comeback after spending a day at the hospital.

The president of Upav, diabetic and whose blood sugar level was particularly low, fainted on the boat that was going towards the small island of Kalymnos.

All is well that ends well. That’s it for the “people” gossip.

In other news, the congress was off to a flying start last Saturday with a presentation by the criminologist and writer Fred Colantino on “The Attitude of Heroes”, a saga that balanced Congress’ message of “Don’t be afraid!”

The heroes of our modern times such as Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Productions), Steve Jobs (Apple), Richard Branson (Virgin) or even the successful author Paulo Coelho, that we admire for their courage in business, their visionary flair, and impressive success, didn’t get to where they are by pure coincidence.

They all share one common trait, that we usually call "the stuff of heroes." Whether an Entrepreneur, journalist or writer, the success wasn’t served on a silver platter.

And more often than not dysfunctions and difficulties tied to family, wealth or personality will shape these leading entrepreneurs.

Enough to argue that within all of us, deep inside our genetic make-up, there may be a tycoon waiting to shine…

Boldness was far from lacking during the congress and was expressed all over the round tables that took place Sunday and Monday mornings.

Relationships with agencies, providers, clients, fiscal administrations were scrutinized to the bone by various experts.

2 tour operators already take up 90% of the market

We will focus here on that particular relationship between agencies and providers.

A round table mediated by Baudouin Gillis (former CEO of Carlson Wagonlit travel), who took a break from his well deserved retirement to put on one last fight of defiance.

And we’ll admit that he didn’t lose the high ground on this issue. His ultimate mission (he took on the challenge), was to give an overview of the health level of travel agencies during this workshop called “Don’t fear your providers.”

Agencies could express their complaints and then come up with 3 or 4 positive aspects of their relationships with tour operators.

The title of this workshop is not an exaggeration if we consider the economic situation of our Belgian neighbors.

In fact, in Belgium, unlike France, major anglo-saxon agencies are the maestros in the sector.

TUI (Jetair) and Thomas Cook possess “around” 90% of the market and agency commissions only reach 10% versus 15% in France (and more if involved with Networks.)

In exchange, distributors in Belgium do not handle disputes that can arise during a trip, that responsibility is left to the TO.

From this almost duopolistic control, absolutist and abusive behavior arise. Defeated by their providers, travel agents try to fight for, as best as they can and with more or less success, their entitled space.

The last bastion concerns dealing with prepayments and client balances. Currently, the distributors still deal with them but will that change soon?

As reminded us Bernard Chantoin, legal advisor at ECTAA, the pressure is increasing everywhere in Europe around this issue. But contrarily to what was insinuated, this demand isn’t coming from European authorities.

One thing is certain, the workshop’s participants (around sixty in total) categorically oppose this potential shift which would be the start of ultimate surrender.
For agencies, there is no question of allowing TOs gaining more of their prerogatives /photo JDL
For agencies, there is no question of allowing TOs gaining more of their prerogatives /photo JDL

Rethink the role of the sales professional as a mediator

However, in terms of sales, they want to see more sales manuals that would be constantly updated and would complement brochures to provide retailers with technical arguments to better sell the products.

They request full and neutral access to stocks to avoid price distortions between countries and markets.

In the same vein, they demand that TO’s help desks be open and flexible at the same time as Travel Agencies, because that is not always the case which makes clients angry, as they sometimes have to wait until the end of the weekend to be given specific details.

Finally, to finish the chapter on pre-sales, how to explain and end this absurdity of wanting group travel to cost more than…individual trips?

While the trend may go towards dematerializing travel documents, distributors still demand, at a minimum, travel papers (even digital) on par with the appropriate budget.

“We need a level of documents and information that fits our client’s budget, allowing him, for instance, to have all of the useful and necessary information, even if it's in the format of a digital travel guide…”

However, it must be noted, that the crisis had an impact on the “gifts” given to clients. On this topic, agencies request an extra service rather than goodie bags, hats, or other gadgets…

Access to the lounge, VIP (fast lane) check-in, VIP reception and a free taxi ride for budgets exceeding 4,000 euros.
Work, culture, and friendliness were the keywords of this Upav Congress / photo JDL
Work, culture, and friendliness were the keywords of this Upav Congress / photo JDL

Reduce the dispute settlement dealines

In terms of organization, agency representatives want to stop impromptue visits by sales professionals: no visits in the Travel Agency without a meeting and a set agenda. That’s said!

Furthermore, the role of the sales professional had to be thought about and redefined. The sales professional of the future must also be a mediator, an account manager with a minimal budget allowing him to handle and solve some issues and minor disputes, in other words, the famous “commercial gesture!”

In terms of after-sales services, clients insisted on how the trip location, while it may be handled by the TO, also must be imperatively communicated to the distributor.

Also, it is mandatory to reduce the dispute settlement deadlines that shouldn’t exceed 4 weeks…whereas today they extend to 8!

Finally, the last topic of this series of complaints concerned that of training. What’s the point of spending time to present brochures during an events when all we could do is read them?

However, many approved of intelligent small-group trainings inside the agency. They also agreed on study trips without forgetting DMCs that welcome agency clients in their countries and then come back at the end of the season with full reports.

Broken up by hikes and excursions in the charming little Kos island, land of Hippocrates, the archeological site of Asklipieion, a sanctuary dedicated to the god of healing Asklepios, the Neratzia castle or Kalymnos island, famous for its sponges, the Upav Congress was studious, friendly and technical all at once.

This private Greek company that merged with Olympic Airway, and is represented at the European level by Roland Jaggi, Director of Management Revenue and International Sales, Pierre-Emmanuel Duband France’s Sales Director and Marc Vanhaverbeke, Sales Executive for Belgium, has undergone an impressive development and publishes impressive results for the sector.

Written by Jean Da Luz translated by Joséphine Foucher the 09/10/2014
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