Kim Sorensen’s “Meet the Press” type interview with Travel Weekly Editor in Chief Arnie Weissmann turned out to be very civil, even if it was loaded with some pretty pointed questions. The 20 minute segments consisted of three heads of home agent groups in back-to-back-to-back conversations which filled the hour. Participants could also ask questions as Scott Koepf, president of NACTA; Kim Sorensen, president of YTB; and Van Anderson, co-president of Americas Vacation Center talked about each of their prospective companies.
Arnie opened Kim’s segment stating that whenever he writes about YTB in any of his columns he is bombarded with e-mails and much of it is “highly emotionally charged”. I can’t argue with that point of view and have experienced the emotions surrounding our company for some time.
I do believe Arnie did articulate very well just why emotions get so charged concerning the Traditional base. The problem as Arnie see’s it, and I would agree, is that I was once a consumer of travel and now represent myself as a “Travel Agent”. The perception of course is that I don’t take travel as seriously nor have I invested the time and energy into qualifying myself to the same standards the Traditional Base did in order to be considered an equal in their eyes.
Right or wrong, and I’m not going to get into my personal views concerning this perception, that’s seems to be a very accurate description based on what I’ve seen from the most outspoken Agents but I do have to give Arnie credit for defining what the core issue is regarding our Traditionalists.
Kim did address the issue that we are not competing with the traditionalists and those of us who are “greenies” who join YTB simply point people to their web site and let friends, family, neighbors decide for themselves. If someone like myself wants to take our YTB business to another level, YTB and the industry as a whole has the proper training and tools in place to accommodate us that regard.
I think back to my first days of being a “greenie” with YTB and where I am today, and thanks to the training provided both by the company and the industry, I have a very nice niche in the travel business and do consider myself a “Travel Agent” today. I have every intention to learn and grow both my knowledge of the industry and my business. I think I’ve mentioned before some time ago, that I looked at becoming a Travel Agent at one time, but didn’t “qualify” back then either. YTB both opened the door for me and enabled me to create my own path into the industry.
Part two of the question concerned the California complaint of labeling YTB one of those “pyramid schemes” and of course questions surrounding the classic misconception of how our business model is mathematically impossible.
Kim answered this question admirably in stating the MLM model has been in existence for a number of years and pointed out that A.L. Williams started out in 1977 and is now part of Citi Company, known as Primerica. To this day they still recruit new Reps into their business. While some can’t get past how MLM is mathematically impossible I’m still waiting for someone to PLEASE provide just ONE company that has run out of people? When you look at Tupperware, Avon, Mary Kay, Amway, Pre-Paid, Fuller Brush and all the other companies out there that have not only been around for decades, but still thriving with new recruits day in and day out, you have to wonder how much longer this myth is going to continue to be an issue for some.
Kim was also asked just how many RTA’s there are. Based on our business model and the shear numbers we have at any given moment, Kim quoted 120,000. Again, I believe this stems from the fears and misconceptions of the words “pyramid scheme” and the mathematical impossibility. Those of us involved in it need to be just as focused as they are about just how many we have actually in the business.
Questions of if we would ever drop the MLM business model and become more traditional (legitimate was also used) came up several times during the conversation. Arnie even came right out and asked if YTB will simply ignore the concerns (phobias) about our marketing methods. Based on what I’ve seen over the last year, I wonder if they think we’re getting tired of being pummeled as the pariah of their industry. Unfortunately, one cruise line, a $25 Million complaint or very pointed public questions are not going to cave us or force us to change our model. The summit panel and the attendees didn't seem to comprehend that Kim, Coach, and Scott built a business with Primerica for 20 years and that same model awarded A.L. Williams / Primerica the number one spot 23 out of 25 years.
Kim did state that YTB intends on building and being competitive in a very large scale using the Network Marketing business model. It was very clear that this change has never been in question.
Next came the questions from the attendees. The first was how the company intends on controlling our Reps and RTA’s with all the YouTube and Craigslist misinformation out there. Kim did agree that there is some pretty lame postings and information out there. (So do I for that matter.) We have systems and checks and balances and dedicated staff in place to control that, and I’ve personally seen instances that when asked, people do take posts down or delete videos.
Just a matter of reference to our critics who read this by the way; when you see something taken down, or corrected, acknowledge it as a good thing and don’t ridicule the person for not having the guts to stand up to the company with this free speech garbage. Damming us if we do and damming us if we don’t isn’t how this works kids. If you want it taken down, don’t egg them on and try to be the example for once concerning professionalism and ethics.
Next came a question of how YTB could be “growing like gangbusters” if the number of RTA’s is actually declining. Again, this stems to the phobia about the MLM side of our business, and while the focus is purely on recruiting for them, I loved Kim’s answer to this. YTB has spent $30 Million in the last 30 months investing in our 120,000 square foot Home Office, purchases of surrounding land and property in the area, new technologies, new accounting software, booking and marketing platforms, booking engine upgrades and enhancements, and expansion into International markets. Furthermore, even with a decline in the number of RTA’s YTB has doubled our production with Carnival over last year and we still have almost a full quarter to go in 2008.
I realize growth only means one thing to some, and that’s how many get involved in the pyramid. Smart business people and trade magazines like Travel Weekly recognize what real growth is.
A question that was pretty cut and dry consisted of the Rep overrides of the RTA’s. That was part of the clear separation between Rep and RTA that both legal analysts and our critics have such a problem with. It was quite clear and direct, that this however is not our practice.
One comical note towards the end was one attendee question that asked why Royal Caribbean and Disney terminated their relationship with YTB. No, that’s not a typo, and yes this attendee actually asked if Disney has made the same mistake that Royal Caribbean did. Kim did note that this was news to him as well and wondered if Nadine Goodwin would be calling with some type of exclusive scoop. I think mentioning Disney was more wishful thinking much like wanting us to change our business model than a blatant attempt to misinform the audience.
And finally a question was asked, why so negative? We never got an answer to that, mostly because it was directed toward the traditionalists and not Kim. The point of this “Meet the Press” type interview was an attempt to help them relieve some of their constipation surrounding the MLM side of our business model. Kim was willing to put himself and our company on the line to help them. Not many people or companies would subject themselves to what was building up to be and certainly turned out to be a fairly uncomfortable environment.
What I am grateful for was the opportunity to get our side of the story out there without the blatant hostility. As I type this, I’m sure there are others crafting plenty of hostile remarks concerning the interview and our Travel Company President. You can count on that, which provides more assurances that some have no desire to have their phobias or personal misgivings about our model resolved.
Not everyone is going to like our model, nor does everyone have to. Direct Sales is a big industry and it’s getting bigger every single year. There’s no question that YTB is not only the biggest Travel MLM out there, but it’s also the most talked about. With our continued growth in travel, and just a little more of this kind of publicity and press from Travel Weekly, we’ll remain a clear target for critics and advocates alike. Like the Travel Weekly Power List and our #26 spot, YTB appears to be right in the middle of it for now.
For those of us in YTB out in the field, it’s up to us if we want to forge ahead or fall back. From what I’m gathering from Kim in this interview, Kim has no intent in hiding out or falling back.
Labels: Critics, Kim Sorensen, MLM Myths, Travel MLM, Travel Weekly, Virtual Summit, YTB Travel Network