Treating customers like this is unAustralian

Travel agent Sarah Gohlke is unimpressed with how some people in the trade are operating…

I write this out of complete frustration and an intolerance for injustice.  

I work in the travel industry as an agent. I own my own business, I have been in the industry for a long time and as a devout lover of Australia, its fauna and flora and its treasures, I offer experiences to my clients with passion and truth.

I offer good old fashioned service, with a hand shake and introduction and genuine interest in the person who is sitting in front of me… unknowing, excited, ready to spend their hard earned money on a dream that they have relished and anticipated often since childhood.

Australia is known as the friendly country. G’day mate, no worries mate, too easy mate… come in, meet the missus and have a cup of tea.

Can someone please tell me how we are to hold onto this status and encourage people to this country to be embraced by its people and spend their money in our towns and our homes when we have travel agents that are doing the following:

Taking travellers’ passports overnight to hold a price (is this legal? I think not)

Taking $50 off travellers to hold a price, as, they will go up over night, but your $50 will keep the price down

And when the traveller chooses not to travel with this company is told that they are crazy and they can’t have their money back. That the “tour” they held for them wants the $50

Yesterday I heard these stories from six different travellers…

Two young German boys were refused their money back… and told sorry, that’s out policy. There we no documents signed, no agreements made… Just a daylight robbery, of two boys who could hardly speak English.

Rogue behaviour like this is unAustralian and it puts a filthy taste in travellers’ mouths. And it makes the blue waters of the east coast of Australia suddenly pretty murky.

“Want to see the Great Barrier Reef? It will be gone tomorrow unless you give me your cash!”

“Want to go sailing in the Whitsundays? Over night somehow the retail price will have gone up $100 and you will be sorry !”

And sadly, some tourists believe this… and it’s unfair !

So you tell me, what kind of training is going into these ‘sales guns’?

What happened to selling Australia? As the free and pure country… are our agents so desperate that they have to lower to these standards? Taking away peoples freedom of choice.

It has to stop. These practices are ugly and I will say it one more time… unAustralian!

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74 thoughts on “Treating customers like this is unAustralian

  • March 26, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    If you ask WT on the other threads you will find that they educate all of their sales people to a high standard so it couldn’t possibly be true what you are saying!

  • March 26, 2012 at 7:50 pm

    Those examples, above, are a fact of life out there in the chop-shops, where there is a dog-eat-dog battle for business on a daily basis. Of course, Sarah is completely correct, it shouldn`t be like this, but, this is what it has (d)evolved to far too frequently-the backpacker is like a chip thrown to a pack of seagulls…

    Whilst we may say their efforts to save precious Aussie dollars on their holiday make them complicit in this situation, it is a symptom of what high commissions can trigger: everyone wants to cash-in. This encourages the unscrupulous no end and is a blight on our reputation.

    Another situation I find to be untenable is the “no refunds on accommodation” attitude of certain chains when their clients are prevented from reaching destinations due to flooding and other weather events. Despite a late start, the wet has now cut the Bruce Highway a number of times in the last week and a half, causing many hassles with coaches cancelled & bookings cancelled or post-phoned.

    Upon questioning a store manager in Airlie on this no-refunds policy after reasonably advising our guests to seek refunds due to not being able to get to us, my manager was told, in no uncertain terms, that there were never any refunds on accom.

    When my manager said, ok, then what are the trapped tourists booking numbers, so that we might receive OUR money, less the agent`s commission, for their “non-refundable” nights with us, the store manager said “I`m not giving you them”!!!!!

    Well, that`s a nice attitude, isn`t it? Having taken full payment for our business`s product, not only will they not refund the poor buggers who are unable to get through, BUT WON`T PASS ON OUR COMPONENT OF THE TRANSACTION!!!

    Please explain??????

  • March 27, 2012 at 10:19 am

    Everything that you are talking about Scotty comes down to training….
    Its not happening anymore, the only training agents are getting is pressure sales.

    There is no respect taught to new travel agents, there is no customer service being taught…all they big wigs are teaching them is how to get them over the line TODAY without losing them to a competitor.

    Sadly, the way they are being taught is WRONG and the cause of the current state of customer service in the travel industry..

    There is a way to secure sales without taking peoples passports and telling them lies…
    I am so fed up with this in my town that i want to print a SURVIVAL FLIER and hand it out at the bus stops..

    1. never give your passport / drivers licence to a travel agent
    2. if a travel agent asks you for $50 or $20 to hold a price they are lying and they will not give your money back.
    3. If a travel agent tells you that a package price will go up over night they are lying
    4. do your research and dont listen when travel agents slander other travel agents
    5. Make your choice when you want, its ok to think about it

    As for refunds, this comes down to training as well, if your mind is focused on your profit per hour, which is how most of the undertrained “sales people” are paid then you dont want to lose these few bucks…
    However if you have an agent who cares about the future of the industry you would see in a FLASH that your greed will create you more problems down the track…
    WORD OF MOUTH PEOPLE!!!!! My god i cant stress how important this is…GIVE TO GET….How hard can it be?? Cost me bugger all, but gee my customers felt looked after and supported…hmmmm I wonder what message they will pass on about me?

    I can tell you now that if you called me in regards to a refund for trapped travellers you would have got a different story.
    We had a situation the other day with a bunch of travellers stuck in 1770, buses couldnt come in or out, no one could reach the Whitsundays and operators in the Whitsundays wouldnt offer other dates of travel or refund…
    So we worked with local agents and operators to get a light plane to fly them out…we could have said oh, its out of our hands…instead we work even harder to lend a hand..
    This is the AUSTRALIAN way…

  • March 27, 2012 at 11:04 am

    i believe there are three steps,

    1. There should be a governing body that decides if a Travel agency or tour desk can display a certain stamp of approval. The stamp is awarded when the booking desk passes a few tests on standards ie, TCF, skilled staff (customers will soon report any agency that changes its standards). This way customers will know which agency to trust and which to avoid. And they will take notice.

    2. Create/use a new booking system, one owned by a few (no one directly involved in the industry) but managed by many. Management would be a annual subscription. The subscription fee will cover costs of changes to system and also give the member a vote. Decisions on rates/products etc would be put to a vote. Votes first cast by members on issues within area/industry. Once vote has been made, then put forward to all members to be passed.

    3. make the booking system (in step 2) FREE to use for booking desks who have a industry standards stamp (from step 1). Otherwise charge a fee.

    Just my 2 pence worth

  • March 27, 2012 at 1:34 pm

    I think you will find the practises referred to in the above story are indeed being used by an unscrupulous agency. Any agent who works in Byron, Sydney or Brisbane who is worth his/her 2 pence know this agency is completely independent and far removed from anything to do the agencies that have been made reference to on any of these forums.

  • March 27, 2012 at 3:59 pm

    Obvious – they all do it! Everyday, one agent more than the others, but all of them none the less…

    They are told that if they give the agent $50 they will hold a place for them and when they return to get their money back after booking elsewhere have been told no….
    yesterday an agent even dropped the offer from $50 to $20, apparently she said just give me 20 bucks now and i will keep this price for you… When the client refused, she got mad!
    So who is keeping all these price holding fees??
    the sales person?
    Gee I wonder how much the float is over at the end of the night….

  • March 27, 2012 at 9:47 pm

    It’s a wicked practice that they have done for years, isn’t it Sarah?

    Can you still tout in Byron Bay? Why not get a backpacker to stand out the front of the problem stores and hand out your mentioned flyer?

    I feel sorry for the poor suckers (agents) who have to demand the $20 – $50 as they are obviously not getting paid and time will tell on how long they will last.

    Not all agents and operators are bad and there is still an extinct few that do care about the punter.

    Could you please share with us a name and shame of the Whitsunday operators who did not refund when the roads were blocked? I know of at least one group of small volume quality operators who are also facing the same problem as Scotty, they are open dating vouchers and giving back hundreds of $$$ per passenger only for the greedy seagulls (sorry agents) to profit on some poor backpackers misfourtne with the excuse of ‘You should of had travel insurance and it is the wet season’.

  • March 28, 2012 at 2:01 am

    Today I was assisting another easy going passenger organise their dream trip up the East Coast. Exciting right!!!!

    WRONG….as a Tour Guide who loves this Country, I was gutted to find out that my passenger was sold an opened dated ticket for Fraser Island and the Whitsunday’s, with only 2 weeks to travel between Sydney and Cairns. What’s worst is that the Whitsundays boat they were sold only leaves twice a week and the Fraser Island trip requires my passenger to be at a certain place and time one day before the trip. Restrictions were placed on this young traveller that where totally unrealistic!

    Now luckily I know the coast well and in conjunction with the Operators, we sorted out an amazing 2 week plan. A plan that the agent had no desire to construct.

    Good old fashion service means looking after your staff. I strongly believe that if renumeration is prodominately based on commissions, this will be just another day that we will continue to experience for a long time to come!

  • March 28, 2012 at 8:25 am

    Am I the only person who sees the travel agency as a dying industry? Seriously, I find it hard to believe in the ‘information age’ that the industry in still thriving, particularly off the backs of supposedly the most info-savvy generation the world has ever seen!

    To any travelers reading: cut out the middle-man. Talk to your fellow travelers, book direct, save some cash and keep the actual operators afloat! When you can get access to almost the exact same information that agents have from your PHONE, why are people still paying hand over fist for these increasingly average services? Yes, some agents out there know their stuff, have done the trips and arent just fishing for commission and I wish them all the best. But increasingly, they seem to be in the minority.

    Meh, in a few years time the high-street travel agent (backpacker or otherwise) will be going the way of the record store and printed newspaper.

  • March 28, 2012 at 8:47 am

    Most of the contributors here should probably divert some energy towards contacting the ACCC. A no refunds policy is illegal and misleading. And it sounds like you have plenty of evidence to support that the hock-shop in Airlie is advertising this.

  • March 28, 2012 at 10:25 am

    I think there will always be a place for travel agents, technology and smart phones and internet bookings have their place, sure i could order all my clothes on the internet, even my groceries, but i actually enjoy the process of interacting with shop keepers and i like to look at my apple before i buy it..

    It keeps people in touch, it keeps the communication channels of the world open for exchange.

    As for keeping operators afloat, as I travel agent i do this as well and I book operators who look after my clients and keep my reputation clean..

    I can mention one brilliant operator in the Whitsundays who goes above and beyond for my clients, even driving to the airport to pick them up to get to the boat in time. This is who i book, becuase this is word of mouth, this is worth 3 boat bookings on high commissions, because this creates a positive exchange.. This is AUSTRALIAN and this will keep me in business.

    In saying this though, a lot of the travel agents will destroy themselves if they continue to use the ill practices that i have mentioned. And its the old story, one bad apple wrecking it for everyone…

    I believe in competition and variety of choice for travellers, I think they have the right to shop around and get many different inputs and suggestions and make their decision based on this.
    As for the comment of standing out the front of travel shops and touting against the other in a negative nature is not my style, i am only one person and this is not my war.. but knowledge is power and a community effort is required to save all of our jobs and futures and to save the reputation of our industry..

    I love my job, I love show casing Australia, I love making new friends and I do it because of these reasons..
    I will always act on behalf of my customers and I will never lie to them to earn a buck..
    I dont want to be part of the backpacking Australia Mafia..

  • March 28, 2012 at 11:25 am

    @Sarah – Its great to see you have such passion for our industry. You stated that you own your own business, the last time I was in Byron I could not find any independent travel agencies that were not associated with a larger network. What is the name of your agency? It would be great to see if you are indeed independent, however if you are associated with a chain or brand would it be safe to say that your noble practices may stand out like an eagle flying above a bunch of turkeys?

  • March 28, 2012 at 1:06 pm

    Just on Obvious’ point above, and a note to BTN, I think it would have been better journalistic practise to have only run this story with proper referencing of the author’s background e.g. the name/location of her agency. this is common practise for Opinion pieces like this in all mainstream media.

    You’ve given her an editorial spot on the site (and the issues she has raised our interesting) but reader’s should have some context. Or the opinion piece shouldn’t have been run.

  • March 28, 2012 at 1:38 pm

    I work under a brand, I am not independent, i am independent from website travel.. but my shop is owner operated. I sit on this desk 6 / 7days a week…and i represent myself.. and i wouldnt have it any other way :)

  • March 28, 2012 at 2:32 pm

    Hi Janet,

    A fair point, agreed. Essentially this story (and the insurance one) were blog entries also tagged to the opinion section as a one off in order to promote to readers that they can now start their own threads in the new Blogs section.

    Future posts originating this way would only make it into the opinion section if they include the acceptable level of referencing.

    Sarah – I think it’s time to add credibility to your argument and spill the beans on the name of your company.

    Andy, BTN

  • March 28, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Hi Janet, its already a big thing just to expose my name as i am speaking out about practices that are common with all of my competitors..
    already in the town where i live my premises is defaced, someone likes to take a pee on my door every night and this morning i came to find my advertising had been destroyed and defaced…I have local travel agents telling clients a plethera of lies about my company… and i get called some lovely names as i walk down the street in my town by other travel shop workers, simply because I am lifting the bar and it makes it harder for them to maintain dodgy work ethics..
    I wrote this article, as i mentioned out of frustration….

  • March 28, 2012 at 2:51 pm

    Google her. Its not that hard!

  • March 28, 2012 at 3:27 pm

    @Sarah, essentially you are just using a different system under a different brand? When you state independent from WT, what difference would that make to the price of milk which ever system you are using?. Are you suggesting that the system you use would change the way you sell and behave? As a professional consultant surely you must realise that the buck stops with us with the tours we book and how we look after our customers. As a business owner we must take responsibility for how we advertise our products and not to deceive our customers. I was handed a flyer only last week from an agency that that was including a “free” Carlo sand blow tour in one of their packages. On further investigation, this “free tour” was actually someone taking some backpackers for a walk! The “free tour” was not an accredited tour operator, they did not have the appropriate insurance, it was not even something you could find to book as an independent product……….As a professional, you will be glad to know that it has been reported to the ACCC and that they did not look kindly upon “bait” advertising and are about to start investigating this further.
    These are the type of things that we as industry professionals must not accept!

  • March 28, 2012 at 3:32 pm

    Google comes up with a FB page and BTN thread…

  • March 28, 2012 at 3:41 pm

    I am the proud owner operator of a Tribal Travel franchise.
    I use the tribal system and I am very happy with the way this organisation is set up.
    As an owner operator i make my own choices of how i conduct my business and I love the relationship that I have with all suppliers and tour operators..
    I have worked in the industry since i was 22 years old (oh dear thats 10 years, im getting old) and have watched the industry change and in many ways stay the same.
    Since the decline in visitors (backpackers) to Australia i’ve watched the game get dirty… Price wars, commissions, loyalties etc etc etc will always be an issue, but when it’s being unjustly thrust upon tourists who just want a good deal with a great experience, then i get cranky… and I don’t know what to do…. I don’t know how to make it stop or how to change things, except as my Mum taught me, look after your own back yard, be the change you want to see in the world…
    I’m not upset for myself, i am upset for the travellers…
    If my child was out in the wide world backpacking on their own at the tender age of 18 (like a lot of our visitors) although i would be pleased he is learning lessons of life and the world, i would be pretty disappointed if he was being treated the way i see travellers treated in this town…
    I guess i need to bring this up in the hope that a unified effort will result to say, no we won’t tollerate this! Don’t forget suppliers and operators, these are the agencies that are representing YOU….

  • March 28, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    It’s funny Sarah because the director of the company you work for actually founded PeterPans and to quote your companies website “pioneered the package deal in the backpacker industry” – the same package deals that no doubt lead to the war on commissions and the pressure for the hard sells and the bookings of questionable products, to ensure margins are kept even in the discount packages.
    However I must say I admire your attitude and I’m sure word of mouth will do wonders for you.

  • March 28, 2012 at 4:34 pm

    I have worked for other agencies before and used different systems, but i received different training and values in different corporations.
    I am talking about how sales people conduct themselves, that is what concerns me.
    I am not talking about systems and commissions, I am not saying that who you work for changes the current state of commissions….
    I can say that working under the umbrella of Tribal Travel works for me, because I own my own business and I can choose how i train my staff and how i conduct myself in a sales scenario and I can make damn sure that anyone who represents me does the right thing and doesnt use dirty tactics, like taking passports off people..
    I also know that most of the Tribal Travel shops are owner operated and this attitude is relished by all..
    So perhaps working as a franchisee under ANY system and the training and values that are passed onto you could be the way to go in customer service….

    Like i said, its not the system its the training….

  • March 28, 2012 at 4:50 pm

    The brand that you represent is the company that has been advertising non existent tours. These are the flyers that have been submitted to the ACCC and whose response was that of acknowledgement that it was indeed misleading.
    In your eyes Sarah, is this acceptable conduct?

  • March 28, 2012 at 5:29 pm

    Well as far as i know the Carlo sand blow is one of the most gorgeous places i have ever seen, if you sit there as the sun goes down im sure you will be amazed at the beauty of this place and how spiritually enhancing it can be..nice photo opp to send home to mum!
    If someone wants to take me up there for a free walk / piggy bag/ wheel barrow ride/ skip/ hop or jump and have a chat to me about the wonders of the place, chink glasses with me as the yellow sun shines through our hearts, and they dont want a $20 deposit or my passport in order to take me back down the hill, then I would be pretty stoked..!!!
    But yes, i can see how most backpackers would be FURIOUS about this…..

  • March 28, 2012 at 5:31 pm

    Book direct with the operator to be sure to get what you pay for
    Book a hostel in Mission direct with Scotty
    Book sailing direct in the Whitsundays
    Soon the bucket shops will realise they are losing business and smarten up their standards
    Does no one have an insurance policy with a cancellation clause these days?

  • March 28, 2012 at 6:48 pm

    sounds great Sarah, so Joanna, where can I find the details to book direct and purchase one of these, licensed, accredited, fully insured Carlo sand blow tours Sarah includes in your packages for “free”, oh yea I can’t!

  • March 28, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    If a plumber comes to your house, and looks at a problem that needs fixin’, even if they don’t fix it, they want to be paid for their time.

    If you want to get a tattoo, you go into a shop and ask the artist “I’m thinking of getting a tattoo, can you draw it up for me?” “Sure, leave $50 dollars, I’ll draw it, and if you like what you see the $50 comes off the price of the tattoo.” “What if I don’t get the tattoo?” “Then you’ve bought yourself a nice drawing.”

    I think everyone in our industry is feeling the squeeze, and it’s blindingly obvious reading some of the rants and winging that happens on this site. I don’t expect anyone, anywhere, in any industry to do anything for free when electricity, rent, wages etc etc are going up and up and up. Sarah, if you don’t feel like your time is valuable, and you want to spend hours planning out someones trip while they go book the same thing next door for $50 dollars cheaper because you couldn’t close the deal, then I’ll be watching out for you in a few years lining up to collect your centrelink payment.

    Anyone who sells well in this industry doesn’t just do it for the money, they do it because they love helping people, otherwise they would have gotten out by now and moved on to real estate or some other industry, but as business owners if we feel their is something wrong with getting paid for our time we’ve lost sight, or should go work for a not for profit company.

  • March 29, 2012 at 9:15 am

    @a travel agent. A fairly contradictory post. Ever heard of the word “quote”, or even the term “cooling off period?” Or even Flight Centres “lowest price guarantee?” People do get paid if they’re smart and willing enough to win business; by fair or foul means. The aforementioned terms all say one thing: if you like or prefer what we offer over all others you can buy it, but you don’t have to and we can’t make you. And FYI not for-profit companies also quote and compete and make lots of money. It’s what they do with the excess that’s different.

    Its good to see a discussion on service. But unAustralian? What does that even mean?

  • March 29, 2012 at 9:57 am

    well Travel Agent, you are welcome to continue to take deposits to hold prices (as this is how it is explained to customers)
    Or you can be upfront and say, there is a $50 charge for quotes..If you book this will be taken off the price, if you dont I will be keeping it..

    Then you wont have angry customers who feel like they have been decived…and I wont have to listen to all the stories and try to defend our industry..

    Me personally, I do quotes for free, if the customer likes my service and my product and are comfortable to book with me, then i get paid…
    If not, they will go elsewhere and i will have no one to blame but myself and will have to have a good hard look at my skills…

  • March 29, 2012 at 9:59 am

    Sarah you state ” most of the Tribal Travel shops are owner operated and this attitude is relished by all..” is this why the owner of the George Street Brisbane Tribal Travel who is a blood relative of the owner of Tribal Travel sold out and rebranded the store as a Travel Bugs?

  • March 29, 2012 at 10:11 am

    A young Australian Girl was given a question at school one day, what does it mean to be Australian…

    What does it mean to be Australian?” So she took the question away.

    She went to see her grandfather, Johnny Lin who ran a Chinese take-away shop. “What does it mean to be Australian? Can you tell me Pop?”
    “Well Matilda, Australia’s a country Where people listen to what I have to say. You’re lucky to live in a democracy Where they don’t give your freedom away.”
    So Matilda walked away thinking about what her grandfather had said. Then as she walked past the footy field she saw her brother near the changing sheds.
    “Hey, Shane!” yelled Matilda. “Got a minute? I’ve got a good question for you! What does it mean to be Australian?” “Fair dinkum!” he said, “and true blue!”
    “You know, Matilda”, Shane said, “it’s about football, and cricket and surfing, you beaut! It’s about beaches and boardies and barbeques and drivin’ in a rusty Holden ute!”
    Matilda thought about what her brother had said as she walked past Australia Zoo. She found her friend Bindi soon after, feeding the kangaroos.
    “Oh Bindi, what makes us Australian?” “Well, Matilda, as my dad used to say… By Crikey! It’s gum trees and goannas and good old Botany Bay!”
    “It’s the Barrier Reef and the Kimberleys
    The Olgas and Uluru too. It’s drought and rain and sunshine and skies that are crystal clear blue!”
    Mr. Weaver, Matilda’s neighbour, was gardening when she passed by his house that same day. “Mr. Weaver, what does it mean to be Australian? I’d like to hear what you have to say.”
    What It Means To Be Australian? “It’s the Anzacs”, said Mr. Weaver, “and Kokoda. It’s about never giving up in a fight. It’s about standing up for your mates when there’s hardship and always trying to do what’s right.”
    As Matilda went inside she looked thoughtful. Her mother said to Matilda, “What’s up with you?” “Mum, what does it mean to be Australian? I really don’t have any clue!”
    “Well Matilda, it’s people, it’s our family. It’s the community we participate in every day. It’s the Girl Guides, the Wilderness Wanderers and the Salvos. It’s the tuckshop ladies and the CWA.”
    “It’s our history, our culture and our folklore. It’s the first inhabitants of our great land. It’s welcoming people from every nation Living in Australia is grand!”

    When Matilda went to school the next day she presented her findings to her teacher and her class. She said, “I feel proud to be Australian knowing all the great achievements of our past.”
    “We’ve fought for the freedom of others in distant and far-off lands We’ve accepted people from other countries and given them a helping hand.”
    “Our marvellous flora and fauna our country fills me with awe. We’re a nation of sporting lovers and barbeque freaks galore!”
    “We always lend a hand to our mates and come together as one. We fight for what we believe in. It’s great to be Australian!”

    from the mouths of babes….and yet, the travellers who put the bread and butter on our tables are being treated like BEEP !! That is whats Un Australian Greg…

  • March 29, 2012 at 11:53 am

    That reminds me of the blonde-haired surfy fella, a father of three kids, cooking a few snags on a public bbq at Manly on Australia Day, when he glances over at an Asian man cooking some honeyed chicken wings at the bbq next to him.

    He looks back to the kid`s play area, where the Aisan feller`s kids are playing on the monkey bars with his three kids. He notices the Asian feller`s wife back at the picnic table, preparing some chopped up vegies for the stir fry, and smirks, then glances over to where his wife is tossing a salad at another table.

    Grabbing his beer, he looks out over the sand to the breaking surf, wanders over to the Asian bloke and proudly says “You know, it was Australians that invented the bbq, hey, mate?”

    Looking up, the Asian bloke squints up at the burly blonde feller and, surprised, exclaims “Geeze, did we? I`ll be blowed!” and went back to turning his chicken wings.

  • March 29, 2012 at 12:25 pm

    I have to agree with Gordo: I`ve said similar before, too. I mean, why do modern travellers NEED agents to inform them of where and what they should see and do, when they have the world at their fingertips with Google/tripadvisor/facebook, etc????

    The reason, Gordo, is THE COMMISSION LEVELS ALLOW THE AGENTS TO DISCOUNT!!!!!!!! In this modern Australia of 2012, with the Aussie currency still riding high on the mining boom and source countries in the red, our visitors are more price sensitive than ever before. Thus, it`s ALL ABOUT PRICE.

    I`ve posited my thoughts on the chicken-or-the-egg, goose-that-laid-the-golden-egg scenarios on here many times. I find Sarah`s attitude encouraging, but A Travel Agent (ATA) confirms my misgivings about this ‘new’ industry.

    Yes, A Travel Agent, you ARE a new, niche industry: prior to the break-out years in the early noughties, backpacker travel agents were a minority group, wielding power only over the larger tours and hostels that were desperate for bums-in-beds, whilst the vast majority of the industry, especially the owner-operated, Mum and Dad businesses thrived without needing the middle man service you offer.

    The invention of agent-designed computer booking systems that could be used by hostel reception desks at a reduction in paperwork and, especially, invoicing hassles, changed the scene to where it now finds itself.

    Looking at it like a pendulum, the amplitude was in the tourism operator`s favour from 1980, the equilibrium point was reached by agents around 2006-7, after which the amplitude has swung about as high to the favour of the agents as it can go in 2012. The only way now, is back to equilibrium or beyond….

    The fact that ATA seems to have let his/her valuable time enter the equation to the detriment of the client is testimony to where the whole thing has gone wrong.

    We operator`s accommodation houses and tours are 100% based on pleasing our guest/client: if they don`t, we don`t get paid…. unless, of course, we go for volume & offer a massive commission to people like ATA, who simply isn`t prepared to waste his/her time, when time is money, and will sell our sub-prime product purely for the net commission he/she will make.

    In a nutshell, Gordo, that IS the problem and it must be solved equally importantly by agents, as well as operators, because, folks, it is nigh impossible to arrest the descending amplitude of the bob of a pendulum.

  • March 29, 2012 at 12:36 pm

    Hey Anon, I cant tell you why he made that choice, its none of my business!!
    But I can say from experience its never a smart business choice to work with family!
    If i worked with my brother we would be busting out wedgies and “im telling mum”” within a week! ..
    Nice joke Scotty ! :)

  • March 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm

    Following this thread and watching various comments by Travel Agents is an interesting one. Before working in tourism I spent number of years in various sales roles. From my time I noticed basically 3 different types of salespeople;

    The shark type – “Time is money, get the sale”
    The customer service focused – “The right product for the right person, good service gets sales”
    And lastly the person just earning an hourly wage – “how much do I have to discount this so I can get out of work at 5 o’clock?!”

    With some of the recent comments on the role of agents, commissions’, discounting etc it’s plain to see how that these 3 types of people are operating in our industry, sometimes to its benefit and sometimes to its detriment.

    @Gordo, you’re bang on in your comment from the 28th. The travel agency is going to shrink, considerably, as travelers become more techno savvy and operators develop new and innovative ways to attract direct business.

    But there will always be room for an agent. Some customers need a helping hand; they aren’t sure what to do while they are here or how to go about organizing it. They need some they can TRUST to recommend things to them and have the knowledge of how to organize it.

    If I was a travel agent now, I know which type of sales person I would try to be to keep my job……..

  • March 29, 2012 at 3:11 pm

    Errr, thanks Sarah – I think. Any chance of getting that in 100 words or less and relating it to customer service?

  • March 29, 2012 at 4:07 pm

    in a hunderd words or less, try to be a good person, who is honest, who does things for the right reason and conducts themself with pride.. help out where you can, promote our country as a friendly destination, with bend over backwards attitudes…
    I think if we all stick to the Australian way as outlined above, customer service will be improved..
    Treat your customers like they are your Mum, or your kid sister, that’s what i do! I really, really want to get them a good deal, matched to the things they want to see, in a safe environment, with good tour operators, sleeping in clean beds and with a telephone number on which they can reach me should they need any help…
    no more haggle, banter, bribe, trick… just stick to the traditions that make us Australian..

  • March 29, 2012 at 4:25 pm


    I find you conversation uneducated, full of contradictions and with no depth. To be honest I don’t really understand why you needed to chip in with a story that is pointless.

    But here we go!

    I agree with you in regards to some of the practices used by select agents and it’s not right. I find your comment funny though as you also take deposits on sales.

    Your Comment – “I am so fed up with this in my town that i want to print a SURVIVAL FLIER and hand it out at the bus stops”

    Sarah, is this flyer going to be handed out at the same time as your non compliant (ACCC) bait advertising discount tour cards that your touts hand out at the bus stop already???

    Or will you hand them out on the beautiful Byron Bay Beach as you currently do with your touts and cards??? As a local I love spending my morning walk finding your flyers on the beach from the day before.

    You say that you want to give the Backpackers great help, good old fashioned service and the trip of a lifetime that they have dreamed of since childhood. Great, that is positive to hear! I truly believe you want this as do the majority of agents. But in the end you want the sale also and if that means you will discount a sub par product to get the sale. That is what you do? Right?

    You only opened your store earlier in the year at the peak of summer. Great timing and well done. Your impact was noticeable for sure, and it was not for the fantastic sales you were making, but the instant price war on the street, sub standard products being pushed and sold, quoted prices that fail to be fully inclusive and the $1 coffees that you were selling (local cafes were so happy with that). Sorry what business are you in again?

    So not only have you been driving prices and quality down in regards to tourism, it seems you are interested in undercutting the coffee industry also.

    So here is my advice to you – Before you start attacking your competitor with partial facts, please make sure you have your own house in order, and please don’t waste anymore of our valuable time with topics that are really a chance for you to have a rant!

  • March 29, 2012 at 4:51 pm

    Sounds good, Sarah, just let Greg know that the same values cover our cuzzie-bro`s, the Kiwis and he`ll be sweet-as with it, oww!

  • March 29, 2012 at 5:02 pm

    I believe the $50 that is taken is called a “commitment deposit”. If the customer wants to sit in front of an agent for hours, chatting and getting some information, there should be a cost.

    I worked in the travel industry and wasn’t happy when tyrekickers would come in and seek out information, make me do all the work then take the quote elsewhere. I’d ask for a commitment deposit if the quote was complex.

  • March 29, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    As much as I also despise underhanded sales tactics I can understand what may force the hand of some agents to employ these in order to help close a sale. Now, the RRP for a Fraser Island tag-a-long tour is $375-$389. This is a staple product in many of the kids east coast adventures. On your company website it is advertised at $338.25 (discounted). On your shop window this same product is advertised at $289. Now I think its fair to say that the net rate for the product you advertise would sit around the $260 mark. You are prepared to offer this product to the market at 10% straight off the bat without even entering into a negotiation. I truly believe this behaviour is bastardising the product. So when other agencies are trying to make a reasonable return you have cut the guts out of it leaving no one to make any money. All this really does is drive down net rates or drive up commissions because for agencies to compete and remain profitable they will be requesting cheaper nets from suppliers. This is how the whole cycle began all those years ago when the big agents entered the market with their cut price philosophy. Your product advertising should only be something that encourages dialogue, from there its up to you. Lift your prices, allow operators to increase theirs rather than driving them down and don’t become another discount driven agent.

  • March 29, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    Now we are getting somewhere with commissions debate Scotty, Kevin etc.
    It is amazing that when commissions are mentioned on a thread, it goes straight to the top in comments.
    With the last couple of comments, a single franchised Agent is being outed with specific questions and specific answers being requested and given. In this case Tribal Travel.
    Please ask similar questions and for gawds sake get an answer of Matt Mccourt, not Mell or Selina and we will have a conclusion to the age old debate.
    Possibly we need to get everyone together and agree upon a self imposed charter to get this across the line?

  • March 29, 2012 at 5:52 pm

    what a load of rubbish , how can you rip off paupers ? backpacker arrive here with 100 dollars and leave 6 months later with 120 dollars and a t shirt , after living off garbage in bins ,spending nothing and spending the whole time hanging around with their c o nationals which would make you wonder why they went to a different country in the first place , pauper tourism is a waste of time , and only suitable for Bali where the scum who go there are actually unemployed . ivan milat is the only one doing something about these creeps and now he is imprisoned they have free rein to pollute our country ,

  • March 29, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    Starting to think this thread is being used to draw our attention away from more important recent topics.

  • March 30, 2012 at 10:08 am

    @Illuminati, it was an opinion piece designed to promote the use of BTN’s blog, as was pointed out by Andy somewhere north of here. Anon Elephant mentioned a charter, maybe. What might be better is a best practice guide as a benchmark for operators doing business with travel agents (which must also benefit agents). Or a blog on best practice for growing B2C trading. And this may be best situated under a blog heading to make room for current events in the news section.

    The commission discussion still has a long way to travel. It may have been merely a short-term distraction for WT and Peter Pans. They’ll probably want to see the back of it. On the other hand they did show some of their cards, they did engage the audience, and they did leave the door open for future discussions. And we aren’t going to get anywhere if we stop talking. Its going to take time and patience.

  • March 30, 2012 at 10:17 am

    Coffee anyone? YES PLEASE!

    Well all I can say is that im pretty proud of myself today, seems that for an uneducated person i have managed to open and run a successful business!
    God I love this country!!

    Net rates on Fraser Island have barely changed since 2002, a small jump of say $25.00, what has changed is the retail price…from memory (and i am geting on a bit so forgive me if im wrong) but it used to retail at $299.00 ??

    So retail prices are going up up up, and your commission is going up up up!
    So, Im working with the same net rates as WT (on some things) but you are taking more more more than me!

    Your getting cranky here, because me dropping my prices to a realistic 10% cut, which is what all the operators seem to be crying out for, is taking away YOUR high profit margins!…

    So now, if we had a realistic retail price adjustment, we could sell products at full price and take 10%..

    So am i part of the problem or a step towards a solution?

    Now when a customer spends their money with you, they pay more, they may spend the same amount of money at my shop, but probably get 3 more products…so we spread the love further…!!

    Yes thats right Mr Backpacker you can have that dive course you thought you couldnt afford..

    I wont be able to buy a brand new Audi, but it puts shoes on my kids feet and I can pay my bills…and i get to work for myself ! YAY…happy days

    Yes i have run a special on Fraser Island alone for two weeks, no im not making much money on it, but I have had to do this to compete with Peterpans $529.00 deal that has been on your A frame since i moved to this town.

    So 3 days and 2 nights Fraser + 2 nights accommodation in Rainbow Beach
    RETAIL ON YOUR SITE: $389.00
    2 Days and 2 Nights Sailing Whitsundays
    RETIAL ON YOUR SITE: $364.00
    TOTAL RETAIL: $753.00
    Thats a saving of …….$224.00
    So you tell me what you are selling Fraser for??
    come on !! Get real !

    This is not what i started this blog about, i started talking about heavy handed sales practices and now you are turning me into a scapegoat to take the focus off you…
    Nice try!

    As for flyers, I dont tout on the beach, I do it at the bus stop…
    There are some companies in town that tout on the beach, so perhaps you have us confused ??
    My shop is a travel booking service and internet CAFE…not uncommon to serve refreshments…
    And i still have not heard a single complaint from my backpacker clients who when they book a tour here or have come off an over night bus get a nice hot fresh $1.00 coffee! What a treat! its kind of the same as free surfboard hire in a hostel, its just another little thing to make them feel comfy and welcome!
    As for locals who want to buy one, its $3.00…
    And we dont really get locals, they prefer to buy at a coffee shop where they sit down and read the paper and have a muffin..

  • March 30, 2012 at 11:42 am

    Sarah, you are misguided in your thoughts I have anything to do with team yellow. I cannot comment on an A frame advertising a $529 package, however I would be surprised if this package is often booked. There is another company that advertise a $499 package and I know for sure no one books this, however it opens dialogue to engage in a travel talk. Net rate for Fraser in 2002 were $90 (with local fees of about $70 to pay on arrival), total to operator of $160. This included 2 nights accom at the hostel. So yes, nets have increased over $100 (and rightly so).
    With regards to owning a successful business, congratulations on this, being Australian means anyone can have a go. You will truly discover the success of your business after a few years of trade. If your commissions on the tours you are booking are paralleled with what you are happy with from your Fraser special then I may suggest over the coarse of a year, business might struggle. As far as I know, you have to pay 3% for the privilege of hanging your signs, this would equate to nearly 30% of your gross profit. I hope you are a getting your monies worth?
    Advertising a $375 stand alone bread and butter product at $289 is actually a 22% cut not a 10% cut. This becomes the new retail price. I would bet $1000 that anyone that books that tour at any other of your stores at close to rrp would be gutted to see it advertised at your price. This does not lead to a happy Mr Backpacker.

  • March 30, 2012 at 12:06 pm

    While everyone spends their time on this site, wicked are taking all the customers!

  • March 30, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Illuminati wants to change the subject, and, yes, Sarah is now under attack, not the practices she made the focus of her blog. Others may see it as a case of people living in glasshouses throwing stones, however, I find it illuminating to hear such concerns FROM a largish-franchise in Byron and that`s what is refreshing.

    As Greg Cole noted above, these commission threads are drawing lots of comments simply because this is seen as the biggest issue/threat in the industry, Illuminati et al, whereas Hostelzoo and bed numbers in Perth are of interest but not as much as what affects ALL OF OUR bottom lines. (Perth`s accomm situation is worthy of comment, as it is just another serious side affect of the mining juggernaut, but it can keep: let`s not spoil the “engagement on sorting commission” mood…)

    As I`ve posted on here before, I truly believe the agency industry would still be economically viable at a NZ-like set rate of 15%, simply because you would sell more, as long as the reduction in commission level resulted in lower product prices, maybe for an agreed period of 12-18 months, for a start?

    As for complaints over selling coffee & free tours, come off it!!! How about all the van parks, motels & resorts which are trawling into the backpacker pricing to fill empty rooms, despite not meeting the council requirements for multi-share accom? What about the proliferation of van hire companies, some of whom are decidely non-compliant??? Complaining about $1 coffee for agent`s patrons is going to open one huge can of worms: if that happens, I reckon everyone will go hard & the council & courts will be absolutely jam packed.

    Let sleeping dogs lie, Coffee Anyone, and, Illuminati, let this & the other threads on commission reach a serious conclusion, please.

  • March 30, 2012 at 1:54 pm

    I just had a pie without sauce. Is that unAustralian?

  • March 30, 2012 at 2:58 pm

    @Holy cow – I’ve seen wicked’s Sydney George street shop – either all the customers are one person a week or that comment is completely invalid!

  • March 31, 2012 at 5:20 pm

    Yes Greg it is unaustralian to have a Dogseye without horse ..

  • April 1, 2012 at 10:04 pm

    As an Ex-Peterpans/ Travelbugs Agent and knowing the way the business model works, it’s hilarious that a Tribal Travel Branch Owner is complaining about the way that Website Travel works. Although I don’t agree with everything in Website Travels’ policy, when I was an Agent, I ensured all my customers left knowing the full terms and conditions of what they had bought. Most hardly listened and just wanted to run out the door without any care until a problem struck.

    If a customer lost any money from their package, for whatever reason, all the money lost could be recovered from Travel Insurance with a letter supplied by Peterpans/ Travelbugs explaining how much was lost and the reason for that. Customers who simply didn’t have Travel Insurance was strongly recommended to buy some. If you buy a trip to Las Vegas and miss your flight due to whatever reason, does that mean that the flights and hotel bookings can switch to another day at no extra cost???

    If you want to look at bad tactics and bad sales techniques.. Don’t keep a narrow mind to the big boys.. Others are just as bad with a high number of mistakes and lack of knowledge mixed with high pressure to secure the sale.

    The problem your looking at Sarah is not just isolated nor is it exempt from the brand you also represent and work under.

  • April 2, 2012 at 10:12 am

    Good grief. $50 for the privilage to speak to a travel agent, really?. I know what it is like to spend hours with a client arranging their travel and activities to only have them leave the shop and not spend a cent, stink. I also know that if these people are looked after and treated well chances are you will form a relationship that will see them spend their money with you. Of course this does not happen all the time and sometimes you get time wasters, should everyone be charged to cover the few?.
    Every person who walks into your shop has the potential to spend money, if you are not converting a large proportion of these into sales you need to look at your pricing, your products and most likely your staff. I am no longer an agent, if I was I would still do my job for free, ask if they wanted a coffee (for free) and do what my job is (for free).

  • April 2, 2012 at 11:21 am

    Wow…..Sarah – what have you started here!!

    from an opinion piece about about unsavoury sales practices with examples that probably make us all a little uncomfortable, this thread has rolled around a whole range of vaguely related topics. Reading through, it’s also a bit dissappointing to me that we somehow end up with some pretty personal attacks whilst ignoring the main theme of thread that started it all.

    So just going back to original topic – Sarah – I agree with you in terms of how some of these sales tactics negatively impact the overall customer experience of Byron / Sydney / Cairns / etc…in fact how they potentially negatively impact backpackers view of all of Australia.

    We can argue amongst ourselves for as long as we like about who is undercutting who with commissions etc.. but let’s remember it’s the positive customer experience that generates the WOM, referral work and ongoing revenues that we all really desperately want. It’s not just price – a crappy cheap tour does plenty of reputation damage to us all, whilst a great (but pricier) tour can generate huge good will ! So whilst the commission argument has huge merit, let’s not lose sight of the core issue of customer service that started this thread.

    Sarah – if you are serious about your “Survival Flyer” – let me know, if it helps promote ethical and customer service focused/customer friendly business practices, then I’m happy to help..

  • April 2, 2012 at 12:40 pm

    Just walked down the street in Alice Springs and the brand new travel shop due to open soon is being graffitied as we speak with the immortal words “Damn Cheap Travel”
    Now I understand what you are all going on about! Why start a company and advertise that you will sell damn cheap travel even before you have opened the door? Shoddy sales technique enabled by very high commissions allows them to do it.
    The Rock Tour will meet them on the front foot and not accept any bookings from them. If we do then it will become a discount war in Alice Springs and we all end up selling at stupid prices.
    This action will only work of course, if they are not a WT agent as we won’t know what they are discounting!
    FYI it is Wicked Campers.

    Watch this space!

  • April 2, 2012 at 1:21 pm

    Wicked Travel has nothing to do with Wicked Campers…just so you know.

  • April 2, 2012 at 4:04 pm

    It would seem that the problem of “unAustralian” selling practices is a complicated problem which will not be solved by finger pointing. The fact is there is no real governing body that has any real authority over agents bar the toothless TCF and the “whatever” ACCC.

    The thing is that Matt has already put out there a solution to this. Agents need to get together and write up a charter which states acceptable minimum standards that they agree to abide to. This will lead to a code of best practice, which would wean out agents that don’t/won’t fulfil this charter. Legitimacy would be brought back to a much maligned industry.

    Agents do not need a watchdog creating red tape which will not fix anything. Get together discuss and create a standard that is refereed by industry, as you know better than anyone what is best practice in your own industry. Raise the bar and stop complaining.

  • April 2, 2012 at 5:54 pm

    @Raise the bar, how will you stop customers shopping with those that don’t sign the code of practice? You can’t legally bar them. Wouldn’t a good approach also involve the customers? Giving them a voice through a feedback site or social media. Attached to the strategy is also a brand or logo – and not TQUAL as I think this is also toothless.- recognised by informed customers. So its the customers, not the other agents who hold you to account, and you give them a place to talk to each other that all signatories can monitor.

  • April 3, 2012 at 11:56 am

    Greg the point is not to “bar” agents, its to create a best practice that is self regulated by particating agents. It then gives suppliers and customers confidence in those participating agents that they have a standard by which they must operate within.

    I have an agent group that consistently lies to their customers about my product (which they cannot sell) even though I have called the owner of this agency on numerous occassions pointing out some of the absurd lies, even taken him on board to see for himself. Even to this day I get customers coming in to our office telling us what their agents had said to them.

    This a problem in the industry not only for me but for lots of operators, yet this rubbish happens every day. It paints our industry as being devisive and confuses customers. We see on this forum countless gripes about unsavoury tactics in selling and undermining of each other. So by setting up an association would give the participating agents a real guide line of what is ethical and what is not, which in turn would give customers and suppliers confidence in those agents.

  • April 3, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    @RTB, have you heard of AFTA? They have a very well thought out and presented code of ethics.

    Check the member database. It might surprise you to see who’s there. But like AFTA says:

    “AFTA encourages all members to embrace the AFTA Code of Ethics as shown below, in the interests of good business practice, however, it is acknowledged that this is not legally binding or enforceable by law.”

  • April 4, 2012 at 9:40 am

    I have a dream that agents will one day operate in a nation where they will not be judged by their commissions but by the content of their character.

    Martin Luther King

  • April 5, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    @ raise the bar…I had this same problem, where a certain booking agent was giving their clients a brochure from one tour, a ticket for another and my phone number on the ticket…
    so i had the hideous job of telling the customers when they rang me at work, sorry, im from a travel agency, your not booked onto a tour..please call your agent..
    I called the agent and they played dumb…
    So what is happening is they cant actually book the tour, but are promoting it and letting me deal with the aftermath…
    this is excactly the kind of behavior that has to stop…!

  • April 7, 2012 at 11:46 am

    @RTB, Martin Luther King Jr.? Agent commissions? Famous black civil rights leader?

    C’mon, show us some of your best practices. Just for fun.

  • April 11, 2012 at 10:59 am

    @RTB#60, It is a shame that nothing has changed much over the last 15 years in this regard and whilst for all the good intentions and hopes of most involved in this forum and industry, nothing will change any time soon as there will always be a certain level of unscrupulous activity.

    My suggesstion based on experience is to embrace the negativity! It seems that by already not allowing certain agents (assuming those demanding high%) to sell your product you have taken an initial step to regain some semblance of control over your business.

    Back in the late 90’s, a small biz I worked for took the major leap to sell direct and refuse sales from all agents. Much to the disdain of the industry and local agents the move was very successfull as our primary marketing concept was essentially Word Of Mouth based upon product quality.

    Our most succesfull sales technique was based on honesty and credibility in a non pressure environment. When clients entered our office and asked “why is your tour cheaper then the rest?”, we immediately took the focus off the price and spent time talking about the tour, where it visits and what they could realistically expect. Then would explain why the tour is not cheaper but better value! On many occassions we would actually challenge the prospective clients to go off and compare what we had told them and what the high pressure agent told them.

    Of course, given that our office was staffed by guides who new every minute aspect of our tours, 95% of those clients would return to book with us and were astounded at the pressure, deals and lies about us that were being espoused by agents.

    History reveals that once the biz was sold and went back to paying % it went broke, but in the meantime so too did some of the agency chains. Unfortunately though most of the agents left were some of those unscrupulous ones, and some of those are even members of AFTA, TCF and QTAL(gold tick), so even with having a code of conduct to ascribe to it doesn’t mean that any of this behaviour will be stamped out.

    Whilst embracing the negativity may not be what the industry figureheads would prefer, at the end of the day you have to do what is good for you and your business!

  • April 11, 2012 at 1:22 pm

    there are great operators who are doing a great job and people are singing their praises – we get them everyday! We are blessed to have the best crew! its a pretty easy formula,

    the internet will bring rogue operators undone Sarah, we all have to keep the faith that soon they will be a distant memory and hopefully the agents that control the bookings will stop booking crap product NO matter how much commission they choose to pay – honestly doesn’t it make sense if you have to pay ridiculous commission its because your product is not worth the money you are asking for it

    it is so interesting that people don’t understand the clients want wonderful personal experiences and when you deliver that your beds, boats, buses etc fill up and you will reap the rewards and so will the whole of Australia – this is a pretty fantastic destination why don’t we all strive to be the best we can be the rewards are endless

  • May 10, 2012 at 9:57 pm

    Obvious’-ly you are in the travel industry, selling tours? maybe PPans / using WT/ Travel Bugs, Wicked/ Indi Travel.

    I think we all need to walk freely to the carlo sandblow with a latte and relax for a while, haven’t you got better things to have a go at on here.

    I could have sent numerous letters to the ACCC, council and DERM and then post on here, but seriously I have better things to do.

    You can comment but do you have the real balls to reveal yourself…… excuse me if you are a Lady!

  • August 30, 2012 at 5:30 pm

    It is the depths of winter and now is a time of reflection. Sarah, you have made many claims on this site. I am wondering how things are working out for you under the banner you chose to represent. I imagine a struggle with stores closing, oz net discounting to Indians etc. we would all love to hear an update.

  • August 31, 2012 at 3:34 pm

    Looks to be closed down. 2nd shop in a few months. Not a great look for the brand, get your money while you can.

  • September 1, 2012 at 1:58 pm

    Looks can be perceiving. Wicked shops and travel bugs stores closing down, also few peterpans only open few days a week. I’ve never had an issue getting funds from tribal

  • October 4, 2012 at 10:21 pm

    Beat them with professionalism and customer service.


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