Several decades ago, I was working for Princess Cruises as their vice president of sales for the East Coast and the Midwest. “The Love Boat” television series was taking off, so we were in the ironic position of selling a fleet that was often sold out.
One afternoon, while I was attending meetings in our Los Angeles headquarters, I found myself with a few unscheduled hours. I went looking for our small customer service department and asked the kind lady in charge if she had any records of the complaints we had received about our ships during the past two years. She smiled, asked me to wait a moment and came back with an armful of files (this was pre-computers). I was escorted to an empty conference room and was told to “have at it.”
Almost two hours later, I emerged from the room. I had pads and pens and lots of notes, but it all boiled down to this: We “manufactured” cruise vacations. And we received our share of complaints. But 91% of the complaints we received had absolutely nothing to do with our product; they were all related to transportation to and from our product. This 91% of complaints had to do with air arrangements to and from our ships. Just imagine that you are in the dream-fulfillment business and you have to deal with that Reality Check.
And you know what? Forty or so years later, almost nothing has changed. Well over 90% of the issues our guests experience as they travel the world are directly related to their air arrangements.
When we launched our firm in 1987, we agreed that we would never issue an airline ticket. Why in the world, we thought, would we ever want to be involved in the segment of the industry that generates over 90% of the complaints, frustration and, often, anger?
We realized that there were, as in every field, true experts who dealt exclusively with air ticketing. We made the necessary contacts, and today our guests have exclusive access to the top air specialists in the nation, firms so designated by special awards from leading consumer and industry publications.
Clients get to work directly with these air specialists, and our firm still receives referral fees on every booking.
When it comes to air, our role is more consultive: We try to place our guests in the best possible hands given their unique flying needs. But we also think it is our responsibility to our guests to keep them informed about the very latest and best air strategies. We take that portion of the process very seriously.
We created a living document we call our Air Strategy Report. We are continually updating it. It is designed to be an insider’s guide to how the air industry really works, and we have collected special phone numbers to get around long res lines, ratings of the world’s airlines and airports and advice about how to handle actual scenarios that our clients may encounter when flying. We try to make every guest an industry insider when it comes to air planning. We want our guests to know more than most travel agents about the air process.
I learned a valuable lesson in that Princess conference room 40 years ago. We know what is most likely to impact the trips we plan in a negative way. When you can devote 100% of your energies to planning the non-air details of your client’s travels, magic comes more easily. And you will, I promise, sleep much better.