About 40 years ago, Glenn Wilcox got an
offer that was difficult to turn down. A friend who was president
of a regional bank urged him to move his travel agency, Wilcox
World Travel and Tours, from Boone, N.C., to Asheville, N.C., about
85 miles away.
He said, Move your
family to Asheville and be on our board of directors and open an
office in our new building. Well give you rent free for two years,
Wilcox said. His wife, Pauline, agreed, and the Wilcoxes
Wilcox met Billy Graham, the Christian evangelist, and the two
became friends. Soon, Wilcox Travel was handling travel not only
for Graham personally but for the Billy Graham Evangelistic
Association and its Crusades and conferences worldwide. The first
Graham Crusade handled by Wilcox in 1983 was in Amsterdam and drew
religious market quickly became Wilcoxs core business, with a
strong focus on pilgrimage tours to the Holy Land and other parts
of the world.
Its not something
that you can pick up off the shelf, said Wilcox. We create packages
based on what group leaders want. We have Pied Pipers, such as the
president of a garden club, a preacher or choir directors. We
handle all the operations and act as the tour director. If you have
a good Pied Piper, you dont have to worry about sales.
Also, Wilcox said
much of the group divisions success is attributable to longtime
relationships with overseas operators. The agency has used the same
operators in Israel, Athens and other destinations in Europe for
more than 30 years.
operates dozens of tours each year to Israel and the Middle East
(Wilcox has traveled to the Holy Land 115 times and continues to
lead groups) and offers other pilgrimages to Europe and the U.K.,
specializing in Martin Luther and Baptist heritage.
Once you do one
pilgrimage, you want to do more, Wilcox said. If the pastor has a
following, its a way for him to get really close to his membership.
Its a bonding experience and often makes their Christian faith more
meaningful. You can read about it, but theres no greater experience
for Christians than being where Jesus walked and talked.
department also blocks space on cruises, helping church leaders
organize Bible studies and other customized programs onboard
And every 10 years,
the agency sends about 3,000 people to the Passion Play in
Oberammergau, Germany. Planning is already under way for the 2010
Passion Play season. The agency is buying 45 tickets for each
performance and has an agreement with the same hotel it has used
since 1970, buying all of its rooms from May through
About 30% of
Wilcoxs $18 million in annual sales is group tours, and 30% is
missionary and humanitarian travel. The agency negotiates
missionary fares with airlines. Wilcox Travel uses its database of
30,000 people who are interested in missionary work and blasts
e-mails to inform people about humanitarian and missionary
When the tsunami
[in Southeast Asia] hit, we approached Northwest, and they gave us
a special air fare. We sent 3,000 people there from all over the
U.S., Wilcox said. Church-related travel is an area that airlines
dont do directly because they dont understand the market. Were one
of the few agents that negotiate special missionary travel
Wilcoxs agency was
one of the first 50 agencies to join the American Express
Representative Network, and he is the last of the original 50 still
running his own business. The membership was vital to the agencys
expansion, he said.
I think Amex helped
us have a more global perspective, Wilcox said. Weve been able to
hear whats been happening in places around the world because of
being part of a global network.
Wilcox is now 74
but is still active in the agencys operations. His son, Wallace,
handles much of the day-to-day management. Wallace, who has worked
at the agency for 35 years, got interested in the Internet in 1992,
before there was a World Wide Web. He later bought many Web
addresses -- including HolyLandTours.com, Passion-Play.com and
CruiseReservation.com -- that have been instrumental in generating
traffic. The agency has 19 Web sites in all.
Wilcox Travel has
three full-time employees who do nothing but Internet work,
including Web design, hosting, e-mail blast services and
The agency was
severely set back after 9/11 (and the current Israel-Hezbollah
conflict has created another challenge), but Wilcox said he refuses
to lay off people when business drops, counting on attrition to
take care of staff reductions.
God has protected
us through difficult times, he said. From the move to Asheville and
his introduction to Billy Graham that started the agencys growth,
Wilcox said, Gods hand was in it from the start.
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A pilgrimage to
Viking Travel of Westmont, Ill., operates
tours through its Shared Adventures division. This fall, the agency
is offering a Poland tour, In the Footsteps of John Paul II, led by
Father Robert Hutmacher, a Franciscan friar in Chicago.
Below is a
five-day portion of the 10-day trip, which spends the first three
days in Warsaw and then proceeds to Czestochowa, where this excerpt
Clients visit the
monastery complex of Jasna Gora, which
consists of a Gothic and Baroque church, a Baroque monastery and
fortress. This is where the miraculous picture of Our Lady of
Czestochowa (the Black Madonna) has been preserved. Clients tour
the shrine and celebrate Mass. The group continues on to the
Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial (shown at right) and tours its
Martyrdom Museum guided by one of the Paulinian brothers or
sisters. Dinner and overnight accommodations are in
The day begins with
a visit to Wawel Hill and the Wawel Cathedral. Clients walk along
Kanonicza Street, pausing at No. 21, which once was home to Karol
Wojtyla, who later became Pope John Paul II. Next is the market
square and the Mariacki Church. Following lunch, guests walk
through the Kazmierz Quarter, visiting the Dominican Church and the
Jewish Quarter. Clients also see Stanislaw na Skalce, Polands
second most important pilgrimage site. The day concludes with a
folklore dinner show.
The morning is
spent at Krakows Divine Mercy Shrine, including visits to the
basilica and the new Shrine of International Spirituality, where
Mass is celebrated. Clients are free to do as they please the rest
of the day.
Most of the day is
spent in Wadowice, the birthplace of Pope John Paul II. En route is
a stop at the Benedictine monastery where Wojtyla often prayed and
walked the Stations of the Cross. In Wadowice, Mass is celebrated
at the parish church where Pope John Paul II was baptized. A visit
to the museum in his family home is also planned. Dinner and
overnight is in Zakopane.
A cable car ride
takes guests to the top of Mount Kasporawry, the highest point in
the Tatras Mountains and considered by many the most beautiful area
in Poland. The rest of the day includes a tour of Zakopane and some
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 to [email protected]
with Perfect Itinerary in the subject line.
ranch finds fam trips pay dividends
Fam trips are still a good way to stimulate
bookings. Denise Brandenburg, owner of Specialty Travel Services,
Huntington Beach, Calif., and Sherrie FitzGerald, director of sales
and marketing for the Alisal Guest Ranch, Solvang, Calif., are a
case in point.
Brandenburg was invited to visit to Alisal, a luxurious,
ranch-style property in Southern California. Within a few hours at
Alisal, Brandenburg, who specializes in families and incentive
groups, knew of at least one group she could book at the ranch,
which stretches across 10,000 acres in Santa Barbara
I knew I could sell
this, Brandenburg said. Its ideal for an affluent clientele thats
familiar with a country club atmosphere and would like the
laid-back [atmosphere] of the ranch and seeing the wineries. And
because its in Southern California, its great for my clients. They
can drive and dont have the hassles of going to an
returned to her office and called a family she has known for years.
Within a few weeks, she started planning a family reunion for 30 at
The group had a
cowboy breakfast one morning at Alisals Adobe House, an old cottage
on the property accessible by guided horse ride or hayride led by
cowboys who work at Alisal, which is a working cattle ranch. A
banquet room was made available for the familys evening
home-based agent who was a sales representative for Air Jamaica and
Hawaiian Airlines before starting Specialty Travel four years ago,
said the fam cemented her relationship with FitzGerald and her
staff. They are a joy to work with. It feels like family there. And
thats important in this day and age. Its very cold out there, and I
have a tendency to work with people that I like.
FitzGerald said the
fam demonstrated the importance of showing the ranch to travel
agents. It keeps us top of their mind. There are so many unique
things here that can be difficult to explain unless you know the
Hand in Hand highlights successful examples of agents and
suppliers working together. Send suggestions to [email protected]
with Hand in Hand in the subject line.
My geography textbook, Selling
Destinations, is used by travel schools and even by some travel
agents as a reference tool. To make it fun, I livened each page
with margin notes of unusual information that, Im afraid to say,
are more memorable to readers than anything else.
So, here goes, some
of my favorite facts:
In the late 18th
century, Englands Captain Cook became the first European to
discover Hawaii. Yet a 17th-century Spanish map shows volcanic
islands in the Pacific, just about where Hawaii lies. Theres no
record of any Spanish ship visiting Hawaii before Cook. The map
remains a mystery.
breaking waves covers 3% to 4% of the earths surface.
has the lowest ZIP code in the U.S.: 01001.
In most towns in
Greenland, there are more dogs than people.
Because the earth
spins, if youre in North America youre traveling right now at about
600 to 900 mph.
The Fig Newton is
named after Newton, Mass.
The longest place
name in the U.S. belongs to a Massachusetts lake:
Chargoggagoggmanchauggagoggchaubunagungamaugg, which means You fish
on your side of the lake, Ill fish on my side and nobody fishes in
official state insect is the praying mantis.
New Yorks Central
Park is larger than the nation of Monaco.
the h in its spelling in 1891, but after 20 years of protest the
city put it back in 1911.
It takes the milk
of 50,000 cows to create a days worth of chocolate at Hersheys main
A movie crew
filming a 1912 western brought buffalo to Catalina Island. When the
shoot was finished, the buffalo were left to fend for themselves.
Some of their descendants are still there.
At the Big
Islands Kealakekua Bay is a 5,682-square-foot area that was deeded
to Britain for a monument to Captain James Cook. So you can
literally swim from Hawaii to England in Kealakekua Bay.
originally rocky. Most of its sand was imported from Molokai and,
of all places, Manhattan Beach, Calif.
The most popular
act in Branson, Mo., is Japanese violinist Shoji Tabuchi.
In a 1493 decree,
the Pope decided which parts of South America should belong to
Spain and which should belong to Portugal.
Each year, on the
evening of Dec. 23, Oaxaca holds a holiday festival called the
Night of the Radishes.
The Aztec emperor
Montezuma reputedly drank 50 cups of chocolate a day.
roofs of Bermuda houses help capture rainwater for home use.
The Pacific Ocean
is at the Panama Canals eastern end.
The leader of
Chiles war of independence was named Bernardo OHiggins.
Tours are offered
of the sewers of Paris.
Marc Mancini is an industry speaker and consultant who
teaches at West Los Angeles College.
What to keep in
mind when hiring people
Use your own good instincts, says Alan Hess president and founder
of Hess Travel/American Express in Bountiful, Utah. After several
years of using professional personnel assessments to screen
potential employees, I concluded that I relied on the professionals
in lieu of my own good judgment, and that has led to some terrible
hiring decisions, Hess said. Do not substitute someone elses
judgment for your own. They will not pay for your mistakes. You
Remember that every applicant has three personalities, Hess said.
Dont be seduced by the first two. The applicants first personality
is the one presented on the resume and during the job interview.
The second shows up during the job honeymoon (one week to six
months) and the third is the real one that emerges after the
honeymoon period. The third is the personality that really matters,
and the faster it emerges, the quicker you will know if you made
the right choice, Hess said.
Call references. It is important to call references not given by
the applicant. Find them by looking at previous employers. Find
someone who can give you an assessment. Help them respond by asking
a question like this: On a scale of 1 to 10, how well did this
person get along with co-workers?
Never hire someone you cant fire. Hiring your next door neighbor or
brother may sound like a great idea, but what if it doesnt work
out? The odds are not in your favor. Do you really want to mess up
Thanksgivings for the rest of your life?
Realize that you will certainly make some hiring mistakes, and be
willing to cut your losses. Three months is usually enough time to
generate an honest appraisal of how a person is doing, Hess said.
If an employees performance is falling short of expectations, end
the employment sooner rather than later. Most firing decisions are
made too late.