Look, I have been an independent travel agent for the past eleven years. Yes, we have our favourites, but being independent comes with the great advantage that I can match the right product for the right client – be it with a mass-market vertically integrated tour operator or a small Aito specialist operator.
I can’t confess to being a big seller of Virgin Holidays, the Indian call centre put me off many years ago, but they have always been useful for a certain demographic of client and that’s great. I wouldn’t turn away any business, even if I did have to price match against a 10% online discount. But it’s the brand people are looking for.
Yes, Virgin is one of those brands which people relate to and understand in travel. The reality though being that the ‘Virgin’ brand is just a franchise, and each individual part is separate from another. You only have to look at the three Virgin branded airlines around the world, Virgin Atlantic, Virgin America and Virgin Australia to see how poorly they work together. All individual in their own right, with no continuity of product.
The most common misconception is Virgin Holidays is ‘Virgin Atlantic Holidays’ – that really isn’t the truth, many other tour operators get the same allocations on Virgin Atlantic flights, and are often cheaper if you are clever. There are other choices, and there will always be other choices – just look at what happened with BA Holidays.
To be told that Virgin Holidays want to ‘own their customer’ is wrong, you can’t own a customer. You can earn their loyalty, but in the end everyone has a choice.
The rhetoric sounds alarmingly like Ryanair, who have long held a dislike to agents pushing people to book directly to get a ‘better service’. In reality it is because they are able to sell more products directly to customer, with a likely hood they would be able to bite. Us agents tend to bypass this, and sell our own additional products if required – more often than not because it is better.
It really isn’t a great loss. We have some great tour operators with whom we work with, and have a close and special bond with. Not only are they competitive on price, but able to give the choice needed for a customer to make an informed decision from a range of different carriers or products. Those operators also support us, and give us the same pricing as you will find online.
Booking with a professional travel agent is still the only way to get unbiased and honest advise when arranging your holiday.