Steve Jones’ say
OH, the challenges of being a wholesaler in today’s travel industry. Barely four months ago Creative Holidays closed its doors. And now, another established player, Garuda Orient Holidays (GOH), has brought the curtain down on its 35-year-old operation. It hardly needed general manager Beanca Daluz to spell out the reasons. The nature of the industry has changed, she said which, as more people book online, “has made it difficult for travel companies to survive”. Creative – and many others – can testify to that. Yet it’s only half the story. Competition is increasingly tough for everyone, that much is obvious. But what links the demise of Creative and GOH is that both were generalists, selling packages to destinations that consumers are comfortable booking online. The truth is unpalatable, and however ruthless it sounds, no one needs the likes of Garuda Orient Holidays anymore. But it’s not all doom and gloom for the more traditional elements of the industry. For those firms who are able to differentiate themselves and offer something new or unique, or specialise in destinations that need the expertise or reassurance of a wholesaler, the future may not be quite so dispiriting or bleak. The closure of GOH is regrettable. But it needn’t be a cause for too much hand wringing among wholesalers. Just so long as their product remains relevant. MEANWHILE, flicking through the TV listings on my annual trip back to the Old Dart, I happened across a current affairs program called Dispatches. Titled the Truth About Cheap Flights, the 30-minute documentary took Flight Centre to task over what appeared to be unethical and immoral practices adopted by some of its UK staff. The program alleged the agency quoted higher airfares to older, less informed customers (those who had not researched online) while an undercover reporter recorded staff discussing ‘seat blocking’, which involves accessing airline booking systems and placing cheap seats on hold so they are no longer available. These could well be isolated incidents – as Flight Centre insisted they were. We can only hope that’s the case. Weighing up a customer, quizzing them on their knowledge before seeing what mark up they could get away with is clearly unacceptable and does nothing to instill trust in the wider agency community. The Dispatches program inevitably sparked concern from other agencies that reputations other than Flight Centre were tarnished. I’m not so sure. But even if that is true, it is right to expose unethical practices even if it’s inconvenient for those who play fair.
What links the demise of Creative and GOH is that generalists’ both were