A Mickey media blitz

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Sondra Wilson believes in going all the way--and then some--when it comes to a supplier promotion.

Mouse-ska-teerIn her most recent promo, which she dubbed "Disney Days," Wilson, owner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel/Columbia Basin Travel, based in Kennewick, Wash., engineered a virtual media blitz. Every conceivable outlet was used, with radio spots, a direct mail campaign, newspaper ads and a 30-second TV commercial. In addition, a 30-minute infomercial ran on a local cable TV station twice a day for a month.

She also tied in a "Mickey Treasure Hunt" with the ribbon cutting of a new agency location, decorated her storefront with Disney graphics, offered the chance to have kids' pictures taken with a giant Mickey Mouse cut-out, and arranged for her Disney rep to address prospects at a weekly travel talk held at Barnes and Noble.

"When your message is everywhere, it's really hard for the community to not pay attention," said Wilson. Pay attention they did, with happy results. At press time, with the promo still running, she had generated over $40,000 in Disney sales.

The offer itself was relatively low-key: $25 off a Disney package, a pair of Mickey Mouse ears, and a chance to win a random drawing for a Disney vacation. "We're not offering anything here that's especially unique," Wilson said. "The promotion doesn't have to include a big special to be successful."

Wilson got co-op funds from Disney for a total budget of about $1,500; she was able to handle some of the costs of the promotion through the barter arrangements she's worked out with, for example, the local radio station.

She found working with Disney interesting because of the strict guidelines she had to follow. Every detail of the promotion--from direct mail pieces to the graphics displayed on TV--first had to be approved by Disney's ad department. Still, she said she'd do it again because of the strong back-up she received.

Channeling Sales

The supplier-themed, 30-minute infomercial is one of the biggest weapons in Sondra Wilson's marketing arsenal. The owner of Carlson Wagonlit Travel/Columbia Basin Travel, based in Kennewick, Wash., Wilson now runs them four or five times a year.

Typically, she'll get stock footage from the supplier, which she supplements with commentary from herself and the supplier sales rep.

For example, for a Disney infomercial, the footage came off a training video and included sections on four Disney products. "Periodically we'd break in with our phone number and say 'Call now.'" The local cable station who runs the infomercials handles their production, charging Wilson as part of the total ad package.

"Infomercials can be incredibly successful depending on where they run," said Wilson. The key, she noted, is to find a cable station that's "accessible" on the dial. Wilson is particularly happy that the station she uses is on channel 3, since her major TV stations are channels 2, 4 and 6, and viewers are bound to come across her infomercials while channel surfing.

Time-sharers

 Orlando's Vistana ResortEven if you don't get commission on clients booking stays at time-share resorts, don't consider them a lost cause profit-wise. Studies have shown that while time-share users typically buy weekly units, for example, they actually book trips of about 11 days--and stay in hotels for those extra 4 days, notes a spokesman for Vistana Inc., the Orlando, Fla.-based time-share resort company.

Time-share users increasingly are taking two trips a year, further expanding agent opportunities, he said. So it doesn't hurt to talk to clients who have regularly scheduled time-share stays about their plans.

Another way to work with time-share resorts is to take advantage of their nightly bookings for unoccupied units. Vistana usually pays 10% commissions on time-share transient rentals when vacationers stay in unoccupied villa units, but has a special deal on bookings made on stays at the company's 1,300-villa Vistana Resort in Orlando, through Dec. 19.

Through the 20/20 program, the agency gets a 20 percent commission plus $20 per room night for the agent employee who books the reservation. Clients also get in on the deal, receiving $20 in Vistana Bucks, redeemable on-site. For more information, call (800) 877-8787; if you're making a booking, mention code TW 20.

Dancing your way to profits

By Lisa Gaines

Jacquelyn Wolfer, Scott WinstenOne of the best ways to make money in the post-commission-cuts environment is by focusing on special interest travel, according to Jacquelyn Wolfer, owner of International Tours & Cruises-Fifth Avenue in New York.

The benefits of selling such products are many. "Not only do you not have to discount--you can charge more because people will pay for it," said Wolfer, who earlier this year created a cruise for ballroom dancers.

The cruise netted Wolfer more than just a lot of new business. Along with a number of other cruise-related promotions that took place around National Cruise Month in February, the special sailing helped her agency win the 1998 CLIA Travel Agency Promotion Contest grand prize in the over $2 million in sales category.

Wolfer teamed up with Dancesport, a New York dance studio, to offer the Costa Cruise Lines sailing. The studio, which planned and organized all on-board dance activities, placed posters advertising the sailing and mailed fliers to its members. Included in the cruise were "a lot of features that cost us nothing but attracted people who like to dance," said Wolfer, including group lessons, seminars, cocktail parties, Dancesport shows and an excursion to a famous San Juan dance club.

The agency gave the free cruises offered to group organizers to those dance instructors who were able to sign up at least 15 participants.

That cruise attracted 47 customers and earned the travel agency $17,200 in commissions. Since then, 12 other dance groups have booked similar programs with the agency.

And "it's not just ballroom dancing--it's bridge, golf and tennis, health and fitness" and other special interest groups that have widened the agency's client base, said Wolfer. Cruising, she noted, has provided an excellent outlet for those groups. "You pay one rate, clients are treated like royalty, and cruises have something to offer everybody."

Job Seekers Bulletin

If you're a front-line agent looking for a job, check out Travel 1998, a series of job fairs being held in major U.S. cities beginning in mid-September by Travel Solutions Group (TSG), the Rolling Meadows, Il.-based placement firm.

For agency owners also shopping for good employees, participation in Travel 1998 will be limited to only six travel agencies per city., with registration still being accepted for some cities.

Travel 1998 begins in Somerset, N.J., on Sept. 14; then moves to New York (Sept. 15 and 16); Washington (Sept. 23); Philadelphia (Sept. 24); Chicago (Sept. 28); Atlanta (Oct. 1): Dallas (Oct. 5) Phoenix (Oct. 7); Los Angeles (Oct. 13); Orange County, Calif. (Oct. 14); and San Francisco (Oct. 15).

For further information, check out the company's Web site at www.travelsolutionsgroup.com or call toll free (877) 449-JOBS.

Net News

Information USA

This is a good place to get your hands on contact information for state tourism offices. Canadian agents might find it particularly useful, given that many listings provide toll-free numbers for persons calling from Canada. The site also has some useful links, including ones to Yahoo!
www.information-USA.com

European Visits

This site offers articles about European destinations; a currency converter for European and Middle Eastern currencies; product news from suppliers, and an interesting section called "Miss Elainey's Notes," which features "news and gossip." A new Travel Agents Connection feature enables European specialists to list themselves on the site. There is also a link to an Inteletravel agent recruitment site.

Compiled by Jennifer Dorsey. E-mail suggestions to [email protected]

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