Monday, April 10, 2006

Tour operators face more than just an angry Mr Smith

Jeremy Skidmore, in a comment piece posted on the TravelMole newswire, has raised some interesting points about the role of blogging and, more importantly, customer service.

He says tour operators shouldn’t try and counteract the effect of blogs springing up and slamming them for every misdemeanour by launching their own “laughable” efforts by staff.

It’s very true – some of the staff-led ones are hilariously biased [it would probably not be sensible to link to them from here].

What Jeremy suggests is for tour operators to “up their game” in the way they handle complaints from customers, therefore getting to the route of the problem before the desire to go public and (often) create merry mayhem.

In the meantime his comments have been given a ringing endorsement from head of consumer affairs at the Association of British Travel Agents, Keith Richards.

But is it really that simple? Will tour operators suddenly become experts at handling the woes of customers? [“Ah, yes, Mr Smith, by way of apology for having a disco beneath your holiday apartment in Spain, we will send you and your wife some flowers and a CD of chilled out classical numbers.”]

It could be argued that despite the advances of recent years the tour operators actually still have a long way to go if they want to head off the so-called threat from anger-fuelled blogs or damaging conversations read on consumer forums.

Tour operators aren’t becoming less adept at handling complaints – it’s just that the web-savvy consumer is become more prevalent and knows where to go to get its voice heard.

And it’s not just sites belonging to individuals that wield such power.

Some suggest sites such as Trip Advisor are playing into the hands of emotional users, who in turn can often create controversial content, but can also provide valuable information about a particular product.

Interestingly the UK version of Trip Advisor, which launched in January, will soon allow users to post comments about individual tour operators – a major development for the site – as well as the traditional appeal for praise or criticism of a hotel, location, restaurant or bar.

Tour operators certainly have a challenging time ahead.

Kevin May, editor, Travolution

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