‘Agents must be super-customised’

Daqqaq with the global sales team: The Marriott’s PTA programme offers a preferred commission status

Samir Daqqaq, vice-president, Marriott Global Sales Office, tells TTN that the brand’s 26pc growth in 2005 is in no small measure due to travel agents

So how did your global sales team do in 2005?
The last financial year marked the beginning of several new trends for us, and for the industry. Our growth rate was 26 per cent over 2004-2005, despite the the political situation with the War on Terror, the 2004 tsunami and threats of bird flu, earthquakes and hurricanes.
One global campaign that had a positive impact on our revenues, the Marriott Revive promotion introduced the new crisp and clean look – with soft white luxurious sheets, a selection of pillows and plush mattresses, all designed for relaxed sleep – across our properties worldwide. The industry on the whole also benefited from an emerging consumer preference for short haul holidays over long haul holidays. What makes it remarkable is that this trend will continue to dominate the patterns in the travel industry for several years from now. 

How important are travel agencies in the overall scheme of things for Marriott?
We have very strong relationships with travel intermediaries – travel agents, travel management companies and the like. Travel agents account for 65 per cent of all Marriott’s business – across all brands. We are also the only hotel company to develop a hotel sales training programme especially for agents, called Hotel Excellence! Approximately 4493 travel agents in the Middle East, Africa & Subcontinent alone have successfully completed the programme and are certified by Marriott as hotel sales specialists.

Could you elaborate on the programme?
We are committed to providing training programmes and services to ensure every agency’s continued success. These include the Preferred Travel Agency (PTA) programme, Double Commission Guarantee, Travel Agency Services Desk, Fam-Tastic programme, Single Image Inventory, etc. Having a Hotel Excellence graduate is the first step in becoming a PTA. Our PTA programme offers a preferred commission status and special benefits for participating travel agencies.
Hotel Excellence was developed because training for agents about hotel products has been almost non-existent despite surveys showing that a majority of customers consult with agents specifically to get hotel advice.
This comprehensive six-to-eight hour self-paced programme addresses the training needs of travel agents at every level.

I believe you’re paying out some healthy commissions?
The reason Marriott continues to be the top partner for all travel agents is the size of our investments in transferring our knowledge. We are the only hotel company worldwide to offer a double commission guarantee to recognized travel agencies. Our double commission programme (through the Centralized Travel Agency Commission payment system) guarantees that an agency making a reservation at a commissionable rate using a valid IATA, ARC, TSI, or TIDS number will have the commission check processed within 15 business days of the guest’s checkout, or Marriott will double the commission. We also have a website designed especially for agencies, offering services such as the ability to track commissions, manage commission direct deposits, make commissionable bookings and take the Hotel Excellence exam online.

OK. How much, really have online bookings taken away from agents’ sales?
We expected to see some impact, given consumers’ increasing preference for online bookings. Instead, while customers are using the internet to research their options, people still prefer the traditional bricks and mortar travel agencies. People will continue to use a travel agent because they like the personalized service and feel confident the agent will help them if they need it.

So agents are turning into travel advisors now?
Yes. Both leisure and business travellers have more and more access to information, and agents have to strive to give the customer more choice and value for their money. Also, since short haul travel is a norm now, the traveller is looking for more customization. The key is to ensure that the customer at no time feels you are selling him the easiest or most profitable travel solution. In fact, we are entering an era of super customization, and the agent can stay ahead only if the business invests in technology and its people.