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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski)
Just Just as I teach my kids to take responsibility, I tell my staff that its actions have consequences. Too often when your luggage goes missing, the blame game ensues. Too often when your "reserved" seat ends up being in the back row between two corpulent passengers, fingers get pointed.
I've always been amazed by the almost adversarial relationship that exists between airlines and travel agents. While constantly pampering travel offices with small tokens of appreciation, massive numbers of meaningless memos, promises of partnership and exhortations to "sell" them, when a crisis erupts, it's always the travel consultant's fault.
Well, sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn't. More often than not, responsibility tends to lie in the hands of the airline or travel wholesaler. (To be clear: Yes, travel consultants are human too; mistakes are made, names misspelled, instructions misplaced.)
Yocheved Cohen writes: "In May, a friend and I decided to join an organized tour to Ireland. She made the booking through a company she has worked with in the past to depart July 23. We made our booking by fax, the receipt of which was acknowledged by the agency. For three weeks we heard nothing from the company until, earlier this month, we phoned the company to ask when we should give them our passport details, receive our tickets and finalize payment.
"To our surprise, we were told the tour had been cancelled. After a long discussion with the travel agent, we were offered alternative tours and chose one on the earliest date available, which was only on August 27. We accepted the date and made the booking. We still thought it strange that no one had bothered to inform us the original tour date had been cancelled.
"Then I decided to call the office and speak to another agent. She confirmed the tour was cancelled but offered to find us another tour on the same date or close to it. She succeeded! But we were told we would have to pay a cancellation fine for the [other] tour.
"My question is this: seeing that this entire mix-up was the fault of the travel agent, why should we have to pay the fine if we want to change the date of our flights and take the date of the new tour. We acted in good faith and did everything required of us, giving credit card details, etc., while the travel agency acted unprofessionally and incompetently."
I am certain many of you have had similar experiences. It's extraordinary that some of my colleagues believe they are blameless and that any penalty can be passed on to the consumer.
I pointed out to Ms. Cohen that if she was never informed that there was an automatic cancellation fee, she should not feel obligated, legally or ethically, to pay it.
Moreover, I told her, it seemed the height of chutzpah that she'd had to chase down the agent to find out whether the tour was indeed taking place.
The lesson: In all dealings with an agent or an airline, get everything in writing if possible. Ask beforehand about change fees; investigate what you will lose if forced to cancel. Make certain, again in writing, that your name is correct. Trust me, the Interior Ministry has unique ways of translating names into English. And check that what has been reserved is what you actually want.
Our office insists on sending everything by e-mail to those clients who have computers, forcing the client to take responsibility by checking what we do. We constantly ask clients to confirm that their passports are valid (nonetheless, every week clients inform us that they forgot to verify and are forced to race to get a new one.)
So, use travel agents as your travel consultants, but don't evade your own responsibility. And keep in mind that the power of the pen is mightier than the sword.
How did our complainant fare with my advice?
Yocheved Cohen writes: "Based on your reply, I phoned the travel agent and told her I had consulted someone who works in the industry and quoted exactly what you wrote. She was furious and yelled at me until I asked to speak to the manager of the agency. To cut a long story short, the manager waved her magic wand, found us two places on the original date we had requested, and to sweeten the pill even more, gave us a small discount.
"In answer to your unspoken question - no, I will never book through them again."
So stay vigilant, and fight for your rights.
Next time we'll explore the pros and cons of traveling on an organized tour.
Mark Feldman is the CEO of Ziontours Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at email@example.com.