A good contest

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What makes a good travel agent Web site? The best are "attractively designed and easy to navigate." These are the words of William Welcher, an art manager at Travel Weekly who was one of the judges who narrowed down the preliminary batch of Web site entrants in Travel Weekly's 10th annual Travel Agency Achievement Awards. The winners of this contest were announced at Travel Weekly's Technology '99 conference in Denver last month.

Another contest judge, Eric Francais, a member of the creative services department at Cahners Travel Group, looked for "how easy it was to get information [on the site], and how useful the information was." The ideal site, he felt, was "the one with the best balance of being visually exciting, having a wide range of information" and being easy to use.

And as travel is one of the most popular categories on the Internet, it also helps to have a gimmick to cut through the clutter provided by the competition of thousands of other sites.

Among those entrants with a very specific niche was Condo Centre Online, a division of Euclid Travel in Euclid, Ohio, ( www.condocentre.com), which specializes in condo properties in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean and Europe. No prices are provided in order to encourage prospects to call for a brochure, said Kathy Guard, the site's sales manager.

Cape May, N.J.-based freelance Web site designer Kenneth Burkhard provided more tips on creating a user-friendly site:

  • Navigational bars should be present on each page. "People who are not Web-savvy find it really easy to get lost," said Burkhard.
  • Always include a jump back to the top at the bottom of each page.
  • Graphics are usually an important part of a travel site, so make sure they load fast.
  • If you decide to go to a Web designer, expect to pay from $5,000 to $10,000 for a simple but professionally executed site.
  • Having a new adventure

    Phil Carta's New Adventures in Ocala, Fla., is another Travel Weekly Travel Agency Achievement Awards entrant with an interesting site, www.newadventures.com, as well as a specific niche. New Adventures' forte is travel to off-the-beaten-track, tropical destinations, most of which are islands.

    This site includes a fairly detailed introduction to most destinations featured on its site, along with descriptions of specific properties and packages available. For example, the section on Bonaire includes information on diving, a section on parks and freshwater springs on the island and tips on "getting there and getting around."

    A section with travel articles -- such as one from Travel Weekly on airline pricing -- is updated fairly often to get Web surfers to check out the site on a regular basis, according to Carta. There is also a link to a Web site Carta maintains that is devoted to the Seychelles Islands www.sey.net.

    The Kudos and Award section is a way for Carta to toot his horn, with letters of praise from clients as well as a listing of the awards the site has received. Then there is "a fun card we received from clients" -- a whimsical drawing of a dog with a giant smiling face, with copy reading, "This is how Kyle and I have both looked since the first day of our vacation."

    Charlie Brown's site

    The home page for the Web site of Charlie Brown's Goodtime Travel ( www.cbgt.com) in Colorado Springs, Colo., has a clever graphic to lead Web surfers to the site's various pages: a caricature of the agency's president, Charlie Brown, holding a suitcase, about to step onto a curved "road" dotted with choices -- from "leisure" to "news and rewards."

    Click on the latter and you will find the company's monthly "travel trivia contest." Those who e-mail the answer to the question (This month: "What city is sometimes called the Rome of the North?") get entered in a drawing for travel merchandise.

    The site's leisure travel information -- ranging from adventure to South America -- is fairly general. Each section ends with a line leading information-seekers back to the agents who specialize in that destination. "We keep it fairly generic," said Brown, since the goal of the site is to "let people know what we do and get them to call us."

    The company does not mention rates "because we try to deal with more upscale travelers, so we tend not to push low, low prices," he added.

    Surfers "can't do an actual booking on line," said Brown. "All they can do is send in a request for reservations. You do need that personal touch" that phone contact brings, he said.

    The site has been up since October, and though "we haven't really promoted it that much, beyond putting our Web address in newspaper ads," Brown considers it successful so far.

    "We're averaging about 8,000 hits per month," he said. "That has exceeded our expectations."

    - Winners in the Travel Weekly Travel Agency Achievement Awards for best Web sites were Uniglobe Travel Online, Renton, Wash.; Summit Travel Group, Winston-Salem, N.C.; Nicholas Travel, Chesapeake, Va., and Atlas Tour & Travel, New Orleans.

    I love the Internet!

    Robin Fetsch.I didn't always feel this way. Like most folks who have been in the travel business awhile, I liked the old way of doing things. I had numerous brochures in my comprehensive filing system (otherwise known as the floor of my office). And I was happy using the phone to communicate with clients and suppliers (until about Thursday afternoon!) But I can now say that I view the Internet as a huge asset for the following reasons:

  • It is the great equalizer. Even small travel businesses can operate an appealing and productive Internet site. My home agency receives dozens of inquiries every month from my site -- inquiries that would never come my way otherwise. Some of them actually turn into business!
  • It saves time and money on my FITs. On line, I have ordered tickets to the Vienna Opera Ball and discovered the logistics of traveling between Mull and Iona in Scotland. It is truly amazing how many small suppliers are represented on the Internet.
  • It helps me prepare an attractive information package for clients. To add value to my services, I prepare a detailed packet for each of my clients, including destination information, weather and maps -- all are taken from reliable sites on the Net.
  • It enables me to keep in touch with customers on a regular basis. You can use e-mail to keep your name in front of your clients if you keep messages short, informative and send them only to those who have requested regular e-mails from you.
  • Robin Fetsch operates Specialty Tours from her home in Falls Church, Va. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

    Designing your own cruise manual

    Richard Turen.I am going to bet that no more than four cruise lines comprise 80% of your total cruise sales. Yet, in many agencies, agents fielding consumers' questions about cruises generally consult a brochure written specifically for the consumer.

    But a manual of specific information that may be required in a telephone sales scenario would be a welcome addition at most leisure agency workstations. It just doesn't make sense to be fumbling through an 80-page brochure during a conversation with a potential customer.

    That is why I suggest a loose-leaf manual that consists of the deck plan and itinerary/cost pages of those brochures that you use most often. You may want to personalize some of this information. For example, using the name of a particular ship's captain in conversation may impress a client with your detailed knowledge of the line. Senior officer schedules are normally available through the cruise line's office of marine operations.

    Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a sales and marketing consulting firm, as well as president of the agency Churchill & Turen Ltd. both based in Naperville, Ill. Contact him at [email protected].

    Flying on the cheap

    Kelly Monaghan's book.Though the book "Fly Cheap" was written for consumers by agent and travel writer Kelly Monaghan, it might make interesting reading for agents, as well. For example, the "Ticketing Ploys" chapter provides a sophisticated analysis of all the ways, airline-approved or not, through which agents and consumers can get better fares, from picking the right airport to, yes, hidden-city fares (which Monaghan "cannot in good conscience recommend"). To save money for clients and stay within airline rules, he recommends the "not a back-to-back" ticket, a one-way full-coach segment followed by a roundtrip excursion fare. There are also chapters on frequent flyer miles (which Monaghan calls "a drug") and a good roundup of low-fare airlines.

    Monaghan also continually scores points against airlines and for agents: "Hug your travel agent" is one of the first sections in the book, and he constantly recommends that consumers work with a good agent to get the best results.The book is priced at $14.95 and is available in bookstores and on the Web site at www.intrepidtraveler.com.

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