A balanced clientele

hen Wendy Adams says she "does rock 'n' roll at night and corporate travel during the day," she doesn't mean she's hitting night clubs while on business trips.

Instead, Adams is on the telephone and in front of her CRS, handling a full load of corporate travel clients during the day and a rock band at night.

The 14-year veteran travel agent's unusual mix of clientele is a good balance, she said.

For one thing, the bands' peak travel periods are during the summer, when business travel falls off.

And band members go to bed in the wee hours and wake up in the early afternoon. The Web site for the rock band Cracker.By the time they've had breakfast and decide to make or change their travel plans, Adams is wrapping up handling more routine corporate travel business.

Between rock bands and several corporate accounts spread across the U.S., Adams generates about $1.3 million in annual sales from her office in her home in Montrose, Colo., where she runs Park Avenue Travel.

Adams started in travel in 1986, when she was hired by longtime Bank of America corporate travel manager Ruth Baney to join the bank's on-site travel department in San Francisco.

From there Adams went to Corporate Travel Services in San Francisco, where she worked on the Chevron account, and then to Blue World Travel, a San Francisco agency that specializes in chartered theme cruises for African-Americans.

It was at Blue World that Adams got her first taste of handling bands and musicians.

She enjoyed the change from corporate travel, even though, she is quick to say, there are more headaches and difficulties in having to contend with many last-minute changes and special needs of entertainers.

"I get bored easily, so when I did corporate travel all the time I got bored. This gave me something different to do," she said.

In 1995, Adams decided to return to her home state of Colorado, joining Park Avenue Travel as a partner. But with the commission cuts, her partners decided to quit the business.

Adams was determined to make a go of it on her own and bought them out, moving Park Avenue Travel to her home.

By then, she had established relationships with several tour managers for bands -- and they continued to give her their business.

At one time, she handled five different bands who toured sometimes as many as 330 days a year. Today, she has pared down her music client list to one band, Cracker, which tours regularly.

She is an avid fan of Cracker, a group she started handling "when they were a garage band touring with a U-Haul."

She regularly joins the band at their concerts when they perform in Colorado.

"It's the only band I've worked with that doesn't complain about service fees," she said.

"Most [bands] are under pressure from record labels to cuts costs."

-- Laura Del Rosso

Glitter but little gold

t may sound glamorous, but handling entertainers such as rock bands is anything but, according to Wendy Adams, owner of Park Avenue Travel in Montrose, Colo.

For one, most rock bands don't travel first class. They are on a budget set by their record companies.

Several of the entertainers and bands balked when she implemented service fees and left her as clients. Some have returned.

Adams charges $15 per airline ticket for regular clients.

For group hotel bookings in which there is no airline ticket involved, she charges $25 for the group.

If there are airline tickets, the hotel fee is waived.

Then there are the headaches of coordinating six or eight band members plus the crew -- each person flying from their homes in different areas around the country to a central location to board the band's touring bus.

Park Avenue Travel Logo.There are dozens of hotel rooms to book, not only for the band and crew, but for girlfriends and family members joining them at various stages of the tour.

There are limousines and constant calls at all hours for itinerary changes.

"These are high-maintenance and low-profit accounts," Adams said. "To book a hotel room, the minimum [amount of work] is five phone calls plus two faxes."

On top of all the work, she said it is difficult to compete with large travel agencies that specialize in the entertainment industry.

They often can develop better relationships with suppliers than she can with her small annual sales volume.

Then there is the problem of the bands themselves.

There is some truth to the stereotype of the rock band tearing up hotel rooms with all-night parties, she said.

"I've had bands that trash hotel rooms, and I just won't handle them anymore because they're not responsible," she said.

How does she know when she gets a band whether or not they will be responsible?

"I really don't know, so I don't put them in hotels that have granted me favors" until she gets to know the band, she said.

"Then, if I have problems with the band and let them go [as clients], I don't lose my relationship with the hotelier."

Asked for advice for agents interested in capturing this type of business, Adams said: "Don't do it."

She said traditional corporate travel is more lucrative and easier to handle.

Adams, in fact, has been so swamped running her one-person shop that she hadn't had a vacation for more than three years until she took a few days off to attend the recent Institute of Certified Travel Agents forum in New Orleans.

Even at the ICTA forum she worked.

"I hooked up my laptop and issued tickets at home in Colorado using the SabreNet platform," she said.

"I can e-mail my clients their itineraries using Sabre VirtuallyThere. The only problem is that I have to be back in the office before Tuesday for the ARC report," she said.

In addition to running her home-office agency, Adams also is a mother of four children, ages 23, 20, 7 and 3.

Life's little bumps

ere's a lesson we all keep learning: No matter how diligently we plan our schedules and intentions, life puts little bumps in the road to make us realize that we're never totally in charge.

For months, I carefully had mapped out my travel schedule because my wife was pregnant and my presence was requested at the birth. We consulted the doctor, and I planned my last trip two weeks before the due date, allowing plenty of extra days.

Dan McManus.I felt confident and proud of myself for juggling my professional and personal obligations so expertly. On the last day of my last scheduled trip, I received the call: The baby was coming.

Thanks to an expert travel agent, the efficiency of CRSs, the mobility of cellular phones and a little help from God, I was in the air within 20 minutes of the call. Unfortunately, that wasn't fast enough. The closest I got to the birth was via the satellite phone on the plane.

My new daughter is healthy and looks like her mother, so I'm blessed. But she reminded me that the only thing you can count on is that change happens, so be flexible.

For business owners that's an important lesson. Marketing plans, budget projections and sales goals are all vital to keeping any business healthy and prosperous, but these aren't etched in stone. Good managers have to be ready to change directions.

Those bumps in the road can be blessings in disguise. Sometimes they jar you out of complacency or make you take a different track, one that proves far more profitable for you.

So the next time something (or someone) plays havoc with your carefully crafted plans, don't wail, "Woe is me!" Instead, consider the possibilities.

You probably needed the jolt, and you might be headed toward a better solution.

Former agency owner Dan McManus is president of the McManus Group, publishers of business management advice. Contact him at [email protected].


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