So, what would you do?
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It was a fairly typical week, with the usual mix of urgency, impossible hours, creative challenges, reviewing trips and planning others, extending courtesies, taking on new clients, sending others elsewhere. There were also a few pauses to count
One day I kept score, knowing I would
be writing about aspects of my week: 23
phone calls, 47 emails ( 19 of them requiring written responses) and seven requests
from suppliers for appointments.
But this column is not about my schedule. It’s about three conversations one day
last week that were anything but relaxing. I
want to share them because they illustrate
the pressures and the changing environment in which we work.
In the first case, a certain Mr. J and I
were having our third conversation about
an 11-day vacation with his family in Italy.
He was scheduled to leave in 14 days. His
flights were all set up. He had learned of
us in a newspaper article, had filled out a
new-client application and had paid his application fee.
We were finalizing his needs, talking
about hotels, when the conversation took a
“I like to stay in really nice places,” Mr. J
said. “But I’d like to keep the costs around
$500 a night for hotels.”
I said he could not stay at top-end properties along the Amalfi coast with dinner
arrangements, private guides and sightseeing for under $1,700 per night. This was,
by the way, a family of four traveling on a
budget of $20,000.
Then the bomb.
“Richard, remember I told you that I
have not used travel
agents for my past
trips? Well, the rea- REALITY CHECK
son is that I bought
a travel agent card
from a friend, and I’ve been using it to get
agent rates all over the world. A lot of my
business friends and associates do this, and
the hotels don’t seem to have any problem
with it. I’ve never been questioned. I use
it in Hamptons and Westins all the time. I
just didn’t think I had the time to use it for
this trip, but if it will help, I can fax you a
This little revelation came out after my
office team and our affiliates in Italy had
posted and they were calling to thank me.
Instead, they demanded “the rest of
the money” and threatened that not only
would we lose their future business but
would make certain that their friends never
booked with us again. They had net contract supplier rates in writing,
and that was all they were willing to pay.
“I could have booked this on
the Internet,” she said. “Why
would I ever pay for something
that is marked up?”
The third conversation was
with a gentleman from California who has been a client for
years. He and his wife have become friends, and I’ve been to their home.
They had just returned from an escorted
tour to South America where they met a
“lovely couple” from the East Coast.
“Richard,” he said, “in confidence, they
suggested that I was being ripped off by
booking through your firm.”
He went on to explain that his friends
booked with an Internet-based company
that essentially rebates commissions on
most of the world’s top tour operators.
They apparently live on the override or
“By the time this fellow on the tour finished, he had us all convinced that we were
just paying more money than we needed to
by buying escorted tours at the prices in the
brochure,” he said. “I want to stay with you,
but I don’t understand how this fellow got
the same thing for so much less.”
After I hung up, I went online. Sure
enough, at the top of the Google search engine results were several firms advertising
discounts on high-end escorted tours that
supposedly don’t discount their products.
The next time you are sitting around
a campfire, roasting marshmallows and
exchanging travel agent war stories, you
might want to throw my three conversations into the mix and ask, “What would
spent hours on this last-minute
The second conversation took
place hours later and was even
less relaxing. I had sent a family
on a $35,000 trip to Italy. They
stayed at some of the finest small
Relais & Chateaux-type proper-
ties, and we set up a number of Richard Turen
special events, including a cooking lesson with a well-known chef in the
About a week into the trip, I got a call
from neighbors of my clients who were
traveling on their own in Italy and wanted
to join their friends for one night in their
hotel and take the private cooking lesson
with them the next day.
I called the operations folks in Italy
whom I had been using and had everything
set up the next day. The chef had agreed to
take on another couple, a suite at the property was available and all was confirmed.
The quote was accepted by the client, and
credit card authorization was approved.
Then the neighbor I had booked as a
courtesy called me on her return to say
that she had been given a receipt at checkout for 400 euros less than she had been
charged. She wanted the difference returned immediately. She knew nothing
about us or our firm, only that her friends,
already traveling, had said to contact us.
I contacted the
hotel and was told
that the desk clerk
had apparently given the guests a copy
of the net/net contract rates. It was all a
mistake. Our charge had been correct. The
guests never should have received a bill,
since they were fully paid. But they had
stood at the front desk, I was told, and demanded a copy of their bill. The net rates
were all the desk clerk could find.
We immediately decided to reimburse
the guests 200 euros on their credit card as
a gesture of goodwill. When they called me
the next day, I thought it might already be
Contributing editor Richard Turen
owns Churchill and Turen, a vacation-planning firm that has been named to
Conde Nast Traveler’s list of the World’s
Top Travel Specialists since the list be-gan.Co ntact him at rturen@travel
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thing negative about my former employer
would mean I’d have to give back the meager severance pay I received when I was let
The travel industry is in bad straits, like
everyone else, and under siege from complaints by consumers. The last thing it
needs is to have more bad publicity.
Mr. Pestronk, some of your information
was simply wrong, and your morality was
simply disgraceful. I hope you fare better
when the bell tolls for thee.
Name and address withheld
at the request of the writer
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