Agency shifts its focus

Last November, Lansing, Mich.-based Craig Corey Travel Service was ready for a name change to finalize its three-year transformation from a traditional full-service agency to a retailer with an emphasis on leisure.

Craig Corey Vacations -- the new name -- may seem a relatively modest change, but the word "vacations" better describes the services the $1.7 million agency had been increasingly providing to clients.

It was time to make that identity change, said the 10-year-old agency's president and owner, Craig Corey, "to reflect our growing leisure sales." In particular, he said, the name reflects a commitment to offer a wide variety of specialty vacation packages. The transformation of the agency's focus had been three years in the making. The conclusion of that project, along with the renaming, also set the tone for the agency's Web site, launched in May at www.CraigCoreyVacations.com.

Craig Corey Vacations is housed in the split-level loft space of a renovated former warehouse in downtown Lansing. The agency designed the site to reflect its philosophy of providing the "best vacation-oriented products available" and emphasized its owner's 27 years of industry experience.

"You have to let clients and prospective customers know who you are and market yourself accordingly," Corey said.

He said that since the agency sharpened its image in November, its cruise and tour sales have gone through the roof, while air has remained flat.

Corey said his agency needed a Web site because "you've got to be current."

On the other hand, he said, "there is a significant market out there that still wants to do business with you in person or over the phone. These are the people who buy the complicated, upscale FITs to Europe and luxury cruises."

Considering his product line, it is no wonder that 40% of his agency's clientele prefer to come in for personal consultations with his staff of four agents. He said the agency does not try to divert its walk-in or phone business to the Web.

Owner Craig Corey, who has a flair for the unusual, savors the atelier-like retail store he has created. The firm gets up to 10% of its clients from cities such as Chicago, Detroit and New York. Despite its long-distance draw, Corey said Craig Corey Vacations remains a locally owned business offering genuine, personal service as well as attention to detail.

"I'm a real stickler about the appearance and image of our agency," he said.

"I demand excellent service from our staff, who greet all customers as they walk in and focus their entire energy on serving the individual."

After all, Corey added, he never wants to make customers work hard to do business with him.

"As in any service industry, it's all about the client," Corey said.

-- Michele San Filippo

Clocking an image

As the final phase of Craig Corey Vacations' conversion from traditional full-service agency to travel retailer, the Lansing, Mich., firm launched a Web site to showcase the reasons consumers would want to do business with it.

One reason could be that the agency is owned by 27-year industry veteran president Craig Corey, who has a flair for attracting attention.

In addition, his new site offers unusual and exotic travel experiences. Touring the castles of Ireland, bicycling in France, camel-riding in the Sahara and small-ship cruising in Alaska are a few of the vacation packages available on the site.

Adding to the ambience of Craig Corey Vacations are its world time-zone clocks, which have become part of the agency's identity. CraigCoreyVacations.com also offers vacation facts and advice, including tips on where to dine in New York, Paris, Chicago and other major markets; Craig's Best of the Best Travel Recommendations, and tips on what to take and how to pack.

The site emphasizes specialized, personal service.

"Our service and attention to detail make Craig Corey Vacations work," said Corey. "It's what customers want and what keeps them coming back."

To market its new site, the agency began using in its advertising an image of the time-zone clocks for Tokyo, New York and Paris that hang on a wall inside the retail store and that, over time, had become the agency's trademark.

In announcing the new Web site to customers, Corey created a glossy, color postcard of the clocks to send to his mailing list of more than 2,000 households.

The idea, he said, was to create a direct-mail piece that clients would want to keep and, perhaps, show off.

Making your e-mail marketing work

Studies show that opt-in e-mail marketing (e-mail sent to clients who actively opt to receive it) brings a higher return on investment than unsolicited e-mailings, direct mail and advertising.

Here are 10 tips on using the Internet to obtain and retain clients:

  • Target e-mail messages. Provide special promotions to your customers based on what is relevant to them. Research has found that targeted e-mail works best.
  • Deliver timely messages. Old news can make recipients think your e-mail is not valuable. Also, send your message when you think it is most likely to be read -- first thing in the morning for corporate clients and late on Fridays for home e-mail addresses.
  • Matt McGill.

  • Make sure it is readable. Not everyone can read messages created in HTML. Present a choice of HTML or text.
  • Personalize your messages. Generic e-mails often go unnoticed. Customize each message with the recipient's name and interests.
  • Keep messages short and concise so you can grab and keep the reader's interest.
  • Include a link. Make it easier for your recipients to respond to your promotions. Include a hyperlink to your agency's site so the recipient can learn more about your deals or make a reservation.
  • Do not send unsolicited e-mails. This is viewed as telemarketing, which could result in negative feelings toward your agency. Encourage registering on your site to receive information.
  • Make it easy to opt out. All e-mails should have an opt-out option at the end of the message to enable recipients to change their minds.
  • Manage your e-mail responses. Appoint someone to monitor all replies. Ensure that recipients who request to opt-out are removed promptly from your mailing list. Also, remove e-mail addresses that don't work.
  • Track and measure results. By tracking results, agencies can see which messages work, what recipients are reading and how to design effective campaigns.
  • Matt McGill is director of business development for the messageReach e-mail service division of Xpedite in Eatontown, N.J. Xpedite is in multimedia information distribution. MessageReach offers services such as tracking, security, personalization and automated administration for high-volume e-mail distribution. Contact McGill at [email protected].

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