A specialization in southern Africa

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When Judy Udwin began her travel career 25 years ago, she knew two things: I liked dealing with people and making their dream trips come true, said Udwin, a southern African specialist at Century Travel in Atlanta.

I felt that in order to learn the business, you couldnt go into a specialty straight away, said Udwin, who was born and bred in Zimbabwe. I wanted to know how the travel business worked. I needed to learn.

She got a taste of a little bit everything. I worked in corporate travel for three months and absolutely hated it, she said. It was too dry.

Udwin knew she loved selling southern Africa. So she took it slow, beginning the specialization process by taking friends to the region when she and her husband went back to visit. I knew the terrain, Udwin said, and people wanted to come back there with us. The response was overwhelmingly positive, prompting Udwin to focus on the niche.

Now, southern Africa is all Udwin sells. I felt I couldnt do justice to do the whole Continent, she said. I knew that others could do Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda better than I.

She attributes much of her success to contacts on the ground, including, family members. Thats how you go that extra mile, she said.

A case in point: A man in his 80s contacted Udwin for a trip to South Africas Cape Town to research family members who had immigrated there from Lithuania. He wanted to find his family, and he didnt know if they were dead or alive, she said.

Udwin booked him in a guesthouse where she knew hed receive the proper attention: the Clarendon House, which is owned by Shirley Epstein. She looked after him, and even took him to her house for dinner one night and to the doctor when he had a problem with a sciatic nerve.

Udwins brother-in-law was able to find the grave site of a relative and took him to the cemetery.

He also found some living relatives there as well, she said.

Contacts also played an important role in a wedding party for 35 people at Cape Towns exclusive Ellerman House, which Udwin found through a Cape Town contact and has visited personally on one of her many visits to the city. Knowing the property and knowing the people at the hotel gave me full confidence to use them, said Udwin.

This was no ordinary wedding. Andrew Young, former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was a guest who also married the couple.

The Ellerman House took care of the food and wine. Through my own contacts, we organized the flowers, African drummers, marimba band and wedding cake, said Udwin. The planning of the event caused such a stir that Top Billing, a South African lifestyle television show, filmed the event. The wedding party were all still in South Africa when they featured it on TV, said Udwin. It was very exciting.

While the couple stayed at the Ellerman House, Udwin booked the wedding party at the five-star Cape Grace. Again, contacts helped make the stay memorable. One night we had a whiskey tasting at the bar and for the women we had champagne dessert in the penthouse with a local jeweler who showed a diamond collection, she said.

Udwin supplies her ground agents with cell phones, which, she said, makes clients feel more comfortable knowing they can call her in the U.S.

Before clients leave, she strongly encourages them to explore the culture of the region.

I try to get them interested in the culture and people, she said. Its not only about safari.

Udwins encouragement appears to have paid off. One couple traveling in Zambia were so touched by the people they met that they founded a local school in Livingstone, the Mulwani Basic School. And, on a regular basis, other clients bring suitcases full of clothing for the locals.

In Udwins view, her clients return home realizing what she has known all along.

They love the hospitality and warmth of the people, she said. It comes through at every safari camp and hotel. Its the people who make the destination.

TravelWeekly.com wants to hear your story. Think youre a good candidate for an upcoming Agent Life? Contact Claudette Covey at [email protected], and please include your agency name, agency location, telephone number and e-mail address.

Perfect Itinerary

A sojourn in scenic Scotland

Claire Schoeder, a U.K. specialist at Atlanta-based Century Travel, designed a Scotland itinerary that begins in Edinburgh and heads north to the Scottish Highlands. It is a portion of a longer itinerary.

Day 1

Travelers check into the Scotsman in Edinburgh, a favorite of Schoeders. It is a newer, centrally located hotel located in an old newspaper building. Some must-see sights include Edinburgh Castle, the Scottish Whisky Heritage Center on the Royal Mile, St. Giles Cathedral, the Royal Museum of Scotland, the National Gallery of Scotland, and the Scottish National Portrait Gallery. The site for dinner is Haldanes, an elegant and intimate restaurant situated within a Georgian Townhouse in the citys New Town.

Day 2

Clients pick a rental car at Waverly Train Station and head toward the Inverness area. The drive takes them through Stirling (where Mary Queen of Scots was crowned), Perth and Pitlochry. Schoeder also suggests a stop at House of Bruar for shopping and lunch. They check into the six-room Boath House near Nairn. That evening, they dine at Boath Houses restaurant.

Day 3

Clients spend a full day on an excursion that takes them to John OGroats and Mey, the site of the late Queen Mothers Scottish castle. This is a beautiful drive and the roundtrip will take most of the day, said Schoeder. They dine at the Blackfriars Pub in Inverness.

Day 4

Travel agent Claire Schoeder says theres plenty to see on the picturesque Isle of Skye.Travelers head to the Isle of Skye. The driving time is not long but there is plenty to see, said Schoeder. Sights include Beauly, to visit ruins of a priory; the Loch Ness Monster exhibition at Dumnadrochit; and Urquhart Castle, one of the most photographed sights in Scotland. Clients check into the Kinloch Lodge, where breakfast and dinner are included in the stay.

Day 5

The day is spent touring the Isle of Skye, which is well known for its spectacular scenery. They can visit the Old Man of Storr (a rock formation near the highest point on the Isle), the ruins of Duntulm Castle, Dunvegan Castle, the Talisker Distillery and Armadale Castle, with its Clan Donald Visitor Center and partly ruined castle.

The Perfect Itinerary is an example of an itinerary an agent crafted his or herself, not available anywhere else, but can be duplicated by other agents to sell to their clients. To send an example of an itinerary youve customized, e-mail Covey at [email protected].

Hand In Hand

Dialogue leads to lucrative deals with Carnival

The art of conversation may be lost on some people, but Scott Grody isnt one of them. Nor is it lost on Susie Nixon, a Carnival Cruise Lines business development director. The two will tell you that simple, open communication has resulted in promotional ideas that translate into lucrative business for the agency and cruise line.

There is a smooth and open flow of creative communication between the business development director on up to the top, said Grody, vice president of Fugazy International Travel in Boca Raton, Fla. It lets us take ideas from the cradle to the grave, if you will.

An example: Grody and Nixon were sitting at a table at local event. We just talking about what was going on in our worlds, said Grody. That casual conversation laid the seed for a film-themed cruise, Sea You at the Movies.

Connections also came into play. Fugazy President Yvonne Boice, who sits on the board of Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla., knows Jonathan Krane, whose 40-plus films include Swordfish, Look Whos Talking Now and Primary Colors. Krane is the executive director of the Krane Academy of Motion pictures at the university.

He agreed to film his latest movie, Dancing on the Edge, with Fugazy clients acting as extras, with some in speaking roles, onboard the cruise.

An onboard auction, meanwhile, will raise money for Kranes academy as well as the Palm Beach International Film Festival.

The five-day cruise is set for Dec. 1 aboard the Sensation. Fugazy said 300 people have already booked. Retailers from other agencies wishing to book clients on the cruise can do so, earning 10% commission.

For Nixon, working with Fugazy International is a pleasure and productive. The key is working together to build new business, she said.

Working with an account like Fugazy, said Nixon, gives her enthusiasm and excitement in developing new ideas. Im so grateful for their support and loyalty.

Hand in Hand highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working together. Send suggestions to Covey at [email protected].

Turens Tips

Strapping on the mailbag

 By Richard Turen

This week, Ill address your telephone and e-mail questions:

Q: I am starting out in the business and I want to get into commission-based sales. I know there are many ways to do this, but how do I know Ive selected the right agency?

A: Create an intern position and work for free for a few weeks to get the lay of the land. Talk with the sales office handling those products you think you are mostly likely to sell. Check out the agencys consortium. Giving out a business card to your acquaintances from an agency you may not stay with is a time-consuming mistake.

Q: What can I do when a good client finds a better price on one of the big cruise sites?

A: This is happening less often because most of the major lines embrace a level playing field approach. But the ability of Internet sites to get the word out quickly is a marketers dream. That problem will not go away.

You attack on two levels. First, try to sign price-protection agreements. Demand price protection. Set a policy that requires all competing offers to be given to you in writing on company stationary. That will eliminate many problems, as most of the Internet sellers are unwilling to price-quote in writing. 

Reserve space for your client and show them the hard copy of the cruise lines invoice. Explain that they are entitled to see the cruise line confirmation in writing and that any other quote is illegitimate.

Finally, ask if the quote includes gratuities. If the client says no, then include the gratuities so you dont lose the sale.

I dont believe you should ever let a good client walk away with a better price from someone else.

Q: Which consortium is the best?

A: The choice of a consortium is one of the most critical decisions a business owner will make. The options have changed as often as the names. What were once commission factories are now sophisticated marketing organizations. It is this aspect of the competing organizations that I would examine most carefully. As a member of one of these organizations, I really dont want to share my bias in this space. But I would look carefully at the segment of the market you are going after. That will reduce your choices.

You might encourage 20 or so of your best clients to review marketing materials of your top two consortium options. You will find this a productive exercise.

Q: I have been a successful brick-and-mortar agent for the past 11 years. I am now thinking about working out of my home. I would want to maintain my current volume based on a 40-hour week. Do you think this is possible?

A: No. The percentage of clients who want to deal with a home-based doctor, lawyer and accountant is less then the percentage that wants to visit face-to-face with a professional consultant in an office setting. On average, and knowing nothing about your situation, I assume you would still be successful, but you have to anticipate losing that percentage of clients seeking a professional setting.

Q: At what point do you think an agent should ask for the deposit? This is the one part of the sales process that makes me uncomfortable.

A: If asking for a deposit makes you uncomfortable, you might try government work or something less stressful. Most of the pros I know have little trouble establishing their worth and asking for deposits. The classic advice is to ask, Will you be putting your deposit on a credit card or writing a check?

I dont follow this advice. I try to refuse deposits when they are offered, and I suggest that the client think about it overnight. This goes against industry wisdom, but I feel that the majority of our clients have had bad experiences with agents at one time or another. They need to feel that you are on their side.

Q: How do you turn a sales call into something productive? District sales managers (DSMs) just waste a lot of my time.

A: The single best thing you can do is build a marketing plan template designed for your agencys needs. Every sales meeting ought to end with a contract between you and the supplier for future cooperation. This contract will force you to think about the meeting in a what can I do for you, and what can you do for me manner.

Richard Turen owns the vacation planning firm Churchill and Turen in Naperville, Ill.

Five Things

Misconceptions about the Hispanic travel market

1. Generally, the Hispanic market cant afford vacations. The numbers dont lie and the opportunity is clear, said Rick Kaplan of WeCan Partners, a Travel & Hospitality consulting firm in Los Angeles. Hispanics are this nations largest minority, and in 2004 they controlled $686 billion in spending.

2. Language is a barrier to success in this market. The facts say otherwise, said Kaplan. It is of course better to have bilingual agents and online tools that give Hispanic buyers a choice of language. In reality, the most significant travel sales potential exists with second- and third-generation Hispanics, who predominantly speak English, Kaplan said.

3. Hispanics do not buy what traditional shoppers purchase. That is far from the truth, said Kaplan. When you eliminate first-generation immigrants from the equation, Hispanic buying habits mirror those of their Anglo contemporaries in every way, especially when it comes to purchasing specialty products and services.

4. Hispanics dont shop online. The reality is that on a per-capita basis, there are more Hispanic households online than any other consumer group, and this group also has the largest adoption of broadband of any market segment, said Kaplan. In fact, Hispanics are the fastest-growing Internet user group with annual growth north of 8%, Kaplan said.

5. Hispanics will not respond to direct mail travel offers. Although response rates will improve if you are sensitive to creating a bilingual piece, proper targeting of an English-only piece to second- and third-generation Hispanics can deliver incredible results in the direct-mail arena, said Kaplan. Direct-mail offers to the Hispanic market currently drive significantly higher return on investment than do comparable pieces to traditional Anglo buyers. Properly targeted, well-designed direct mail has the highest recall factor of any marketing medium within the Hispanic marketing space, Kaplan said.

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