Meetings & Conventions: Planner's Portfolio February
Back to Basics
BY MARTHA JO DENDINGER,
Selecting a Travel Agency
A qualified partner will do more than just get your people
to the meeting
What would a meeting be if you couldn't get your attendees to
the destination in the first place? Unfortunately, all the
regulations, routes, fare hikes, passport problems and visas can
complicate getting from point A to point B. One of the most
important (and least appreciated) suppliers in meetings management
is the travel agency. Choosing the right one can make the
difference between planning a dream event and planning a
In the past few years travel agencies have begun to offer many
additional menu options, like "meeting planning services" and
"destination services," blurring the line between travel agencies,
destination management companies and touring companies. Still,
choosing a competent travel professional is vital because making
group travel arrangements is a full-time job in itself, and most
planners already wear a dozen hats.
But how do you choose a credible agent? The following tips
should help narrow the field.
Start the selection process early. The
availability and costs of transportation can influence site
selection. A good travel agent will be able to provide a cost
analysis of several destinations and lift analysis of the carriers.
A company's ability to supply you with this information is a sign
of a competent travel agency that is serious about the meetings
industry. Agencies can also help with setting up transportation for
site inspections and negotiating with carriers for meeting
Determine what services you really need. Does
your small meeting need only reservations and ticketing for 10
people, or do you have a citywide convention requiring an official
carrier to be named, airport reception desk manned, discounted
fares negotiated, shuttle service scheduled, specialized ground
transportation arranged and customized tours coordinated?
Incorporate all of your meeting's specifications into a
transportation request for proposal.
Look close to home.Your organization may have
an internal unit or a preferred travel agency to handle corporate
travel. Start here. This company may provide some or all services
required for your meeting and can introduce you to other potential
Consider splitting the job. Most agencies can
handle the basics of reservations and ticketing, but some may not
have the clout or contacts at the destination to handle ground
operations and will subcontract for these services. If you go
directly to a destination management company or shuttle bus
company, you may get the same or better service while saving
dollars and middleman headaches.
Get several bids. Remember that "travel agent"
is a generic term. Look for those who are members of the American
Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). Employees with the designations
Certified Travel Associate (CTA) or Certified Travel Counselor
(CTC) have completed certification programs and should conduct
business with a high level of professionalism. If your meeting will
be held overseas, choose agents who have completed a destination
specialist program for that region of the world.
Remember, not all agents are equally competent in handling
meetings travel. Some equate it with "group travel" and don't know
the differences. Look for agents with memberships in industry
organizations like Meeting Professionals International, the
American Society of Association Executives or the Professional
Convention Management Association, or those whose meetings agents
are Certified Meeting Professionals.
Check their work. Ask for a list of meetings
the company has handled and what services they provided for each.
Pay particular attention to the number of attendees, destinations
and points of departure, and special amenities that were provided
to the attendees and the meeting sponsor. Customized ticket holders
and bag tags, coupons for inflight services, destination brochures
for attendees and special cargo rates are services that should not
be overlooked. Also determine if the services were supplied by
in-house staff or subcontracted. Then check references
Keep the lines of communication open. Once
you've made your selection, include the travel company in the
planning of the meeting from the beginning. Get advice on
destinations, carriers, etc., during site selection. Ask for
photographs, brochures, posters or canned copy for your promotional
campaign. Consult the travel company (or companies) during program
development. If most flights arrive midday, for instance, schedule
registration and opening sessions accordingly.
Be sure to require periodic reports of usage, costs and savings.
After all, you should be able to treat the agency as your partner,
but you still need to closely monitor the travel portion of the
Martha Jo Dendinger, CMP, is an independent meeting planner
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