f Bruce and Yaling Fisher had listened
to popular opinion three years ago they never would have opened
Honolulu-based Hawaii Aloha Travel. "Everyone said we were crazy,"
said Bruce. "There was so much negativity out there."
It's not as though the couple didn't know a thing or two about
what could go wrong in business. "I ran a small Internet marketing
company that got 'dot-bombed' in 2000," said Bruce. "The Internet
business started collapsing around us, and advertising revenue was
drying up." Yaling had left a job as a product manager for Fremont,
Calif.-based Synnex Corp., a computer hardware distributor, to move
to Hawaii to marry Bruce that same year.
However, Bruce and Yaling noticed one bright spot hidden in the
collapse of the Internet industry. A travel company with a link on
a Web site that Bruce managed was producing an inordinate amount of
activity. "We noticed a lot of people booking travel from this
site, and that's when we decided to become travel agents," he said,
adding that they planned to focus on selling Hawaii to travelers
coming from the continental U.S. -- and they would capture that
business by using the Internet.
"We knew we couldn't compete with local Hawaii agencies [that
sold outbound travel], so we concentrated on bringing people in
from the mainland to Hawaii," said Bruce.
They reached out to a variety of Hawaii hoteliers, host agencies
and wholesalers. "We found every player in the business," said
Bruce, including a host agency Hawaii Aloha Travel uses
occasionally for air bookings and nine wholesalers that account for
90% of the agency's business.
The Fishers realized that their business model would demand high
volume rather than high ticket sales. "Having the best prices,
especially for Internet customers, is key," said Yaling.
She researched and analyzed pricing issues while Bruce
investigated ways the agency could lure prospective travelers to Hawaii
Aloha's Web site.
"I used the Internet to research all of my competitors' fares
and rates," said Yaling. "Once I had that information, I contacted
the vendors directly and found out their distribution channels.
That led us to more wholesalers competing with each other -- which
gives us the opportunity to shop around for the best price and
Yaling conducts comparative cost analysis on a daily basis. Not
a single price quote is given to a client until Yaling ensures that
it is the best price available.
"We compete with Hotwire and Orbitz," she said, "and 90% of the time I can beat any
price a person can find on the Internet. If I can't beat it, I can
Bruce, meanwhile, studied search engines and how they rank Web
sites. He knew one thing for sure: In order to be successful Aloha
Hawaii's Web site would have to appear high in the search engine
listings. By meticulously researching the three major search engine
sites -- Google, MSN and Yahoo -- he discovered he could code his sites to make
them even more search engine friendly.
He also made a concerted effort to keep pace with the changes in
search engine technology. "The search engines use very
sophisticated algorithms and logic designed to give the end user
relevant information," he said.
By keeping pace with technology, Bruce has been "able to keep
Hawaii Aloha's Web site rankings consistently in the top five for
major keywords that bring us qualified customers." Each of the
agency's five Web sites is designed to attract specific search
engines and search-engine users.
Hawaii Aloha Travel also uses "pay-per-click" marketing strategy
whereby it pays for every click that a search engine sends the
Although clients' first encounter with Hawaii Aloha Travel is on
the Internet, the sale is closed voice to voice by either Bruce or
Yaling. "We know that agencies have to provide excellent service,"
Bruce said. But even before the voice contact, clients are provided
with an abundance of travel information and services on the site,
including a live chat room where they can receive instant
"When a user comes to our site we can engage them in a live chat
session, or they can request a chat session by clicking an icon on
the site," said Bruce, adding that the Web sites' sales conversion
from the live chat feature is quite high.
All things considered, the Fishers, who run the agency without
any staff, believe they have a bright future in the agency
business. Last year, Hawaii Aloha Travel produced $1.5 million in
volume, and the Fishers expect to bring in at least $2 million this
The couple said some of their supplier partners have commended
them for thinking outside the box. But, as Bruce is quick to point
out, "We were never in the box in the first place."
The Perfect Itinerary
Reefs and rain forests in Australia
abrielle Warncke, an Australia
specialist affiliated with Central Travel in Toledo, Ohio, is an
expert in designing highly sophisticated South Pacific itineraries.
This trip is a portion of 21-day itinerary.
Clients stay at the Four Seasons Hotel in Sydney's Rocks
District, a 19th-century village. They'll be treated to sweeping
views of Sydney's harbor from their hotel rooms. The day begins
with a walking tour of the district, complete with a private guide.
Travelers then stroll to Harbour Bridge for a three-and-a-half-hour
climb to its apex.
The venue for lunch is the Harbour Kitchen in the Park Hyatt
Sydney, which is located under the Harbour Bridge. Lunch is
followed by an hour-long helicopter tour of the city. That evening,
clients dine at Jordan's Seafood Restaurant in Darling Harbour and
then attend a performance at the Sydney Opera House.
DAYS 2, 3 and 4
Clients fly from Sydney to Proserpine for a cruise aboard a
ProSail yacht or catamaran that explores the Great Barrier Reef's
Whitsunday Island. A chef prepares all meals onboard. "Clients may
have the opportunity to help plot the course they sail, including
where they might want to stop for snorkeling or diving -- or for a
picnic lunch on a deserted island," said Warncke.
Clients fly into Cairns and drive an hour-and-a-half to the
Daintree Rainforest near Port Douglas. Accommodations for the
evening are at the 50-room Silky Oak Lodge in the rain forest.
Guests can choose to stay in Treehouse accommodations or Riverhouse
accommodations located on the Mossman River.
During a four-wheel-drive tour of the rain forest, clients will
visit the Mossman Gorge, where they can take a swim or join the
driver in a rain forest walk. They then travel on to the Daintree
River for a river cruise. The guide will help travelers spot
wildlife, including birds, snakes, frogs, flying foxes and
Clients then hike up to the Alexander Range Lookout for stunning
panoramic views of the area, followed by lunch in a tropical
orchard. That evening, dinner is an entertainment event called
"Flames of the Forest," which takes place on the edge of the
Daintree Rainforest and includes native performances that vary by
night. Hors d'oeuvres, champagne and a three-course meal are served
under the stars in a forested area lighted by candles.
Hand in Hand
At her Service
ven though Darlene Ravin is an
Argentina specialist, she insists that she wouldn't look nearly so
good in the eyes of her clients if it weren't for City Service
Travel, a Buenos Aires wholesaler that serves as a Virtuoso on-site
Ravin, a Virtuoso agent who is an independent contractor
affiliated with Andavo Vacations & Cruises in Greenwood
Village, Colo., credits a City Service sales rep, Connie Garcia
Villaverde, for helping her build her business.
"Unless you live in Argentina you don't have the inside
knowledge of how the country works," said Ravin.
Special requests are a breeze with Villaverde's help, Ravin
"I had Orthodox [Jewish] clients from New York who were
traveling to Buenos Aires and wanted to be able to walk to temple
on Saturdays," she said. "How would I know which hotels are close
enough to walk to the synagogue?"
Villaverde knew exactly where the clients should stay. "She
recommended not only the best hotel in Buenos Aires but also the
closet one to a synagogue."
Other clients wanted to take an intercountry wine tour via car.
"They wanted to drive through Mendoza [Argentina], through the
Andes to Santiago, Chile," said Ravin.
That idea was quashed when Villaverde pointed out that car
rental firms will not permit their cars to cross national borders,
Ravin sends City Service an e-mail with an itinerary request,
which Villaverde prices out for her. "Once it's accepted by the
clients, Villaverde confirms all the ground arrangements and the
hotels," she said.
For her part, Villaverde believes her extensive product
knowledge keeps her on top of her game. She and other City Service
staff meet twice a month to share tourism news, including hotel and
She and other staff continuously travel throughout the country,
visiting all its regions and properties to ensure they're one step
ahead of any developments.
In the end, she said, she serves the client. "Agents are our
Hand in Hand highlights successful examples of agents and
suppliers working together. Send suggestions to Agent Life editor
Claudette Covey at [email protected].
Marc My Words
our clients' vacation is
supposed to be a fantasy come true. But sometimes, despite your
best efforts and meticulous planning, things go wrong. Perhaps the
hotel loses the reservation. Perhaps the cruise ship is delayed in
port for repairs. It could be anything -- and it could turn a
client's fantasy vacation into a bitter disappointment.
Moreover, complaints may be a big factor in today's
unpredictable travel environment.
clients' natural instinct will be to come to you for satisfaction
-- even when they know you aren't at fault. You can't turn back the
clock. But there are things you can do:
• Fix your clients first. Focus your first
efforts on their feelings. The problem they encountered created
emotions that must be addressed. Reassure them that you're on their
side and that you share their frustration.
• Listen. Offer them the opportunity to vent.
Resist the temptation to give a logical explanation. At this point,
that isn't what they need.
• Acknowledge their feelings. Let them know you
understand and express agreement with valid complaints.
Unreasonable demands can be handled later, when emotions cool.
• Ask for details. As the clients begin to feel
you're on their side, get clarification of any points you're
unclear about. Then summarize the problem to be certain you really
understand what went wrong.
• Propose a solution. In most cases, if a
supplier is at fault, you'll need to contact the supplier to help
craft an appropriate solution. Let your clients know that you'll
make finding a solution a priority.
• Thank your clients. You want them to know
that you care about the quality of the products you recommend and
that their complaint has actually been valuable to you.
Marc Mancini is one of the industry's best-known speakers
and consultants. He teaches at West Los Angeles College.
To highlight your value as a travel agent
1.Show what you know. Continuing
education is of enormous value to the agent, according to Peter
Friedman, a luxury travel consultant with Unique Travel in Delray
Beach, Fla. "Your expertise is why the client walks in the door in
the first place. If you don't have at least the knowledge of travel
they do, then you are doomed to failure."
2.Provide quality service. Give the
client your full attention, keeping initial meetings relaxed and
unrushed. "Take time to profile your clients," said Friedman. Find
out what types of vacations they have taken in the past, and what
they liked and disliked about them. And if you don't know the
answer to a question, don't fake it. "The savvy client will know
you're faking the answer," said Friedman. "It's OK not to be
perfect. If you fake an answer, you've lost the client."
3.Illustrate your cruise knowledge.
"Value for clients is getting what they want -- not what they think
they want," said Friedman. "A client rarely knows what they really
want," he added, and cruise clients are no exception. Once you
determine their needs, explain how, for a minimal cost increase,
clients can upgrade to a higher category of cruise line. Describe
the features of the more upscale line and how those features are
worth the fare increase.
4.Illustrate your knowledge of land
tours. "The skill of reading a tour brochure, and what it
really means, is not something a layman can do really well,"
Friedman said. For instance, only experienced agents can interpret
such details as which destinations or attractions on an itinerary
are drive-bys and which are actual visits.
5.Explain the services you provide that
Web suppliers often can't deliver on. "Stress to clients that
the Internet cannot help clients solve any problems before, during
or after their vacation," said Friedman. "We had a situation at
Unique Travel where an airline ticket was issued in November and
the airline inadvertently canceled the reservation. Because the
ticket was booked through the agency, we were able to rectify the
situation." A client booking online might not be as fortunate, he