An advocate of diversification

oshen, Ind.-based Menno Travel Service, a full-service American Express agency, firmly believes in the strategy of strengthening your agency's business mix through diversification.

Ironically, the firm was born in 1980 as a spin-off of a travel desk for the Mennonite religious group -- of which the Amish is a sect -- whose original and only purpose was to provide travel services for its congregation.

Today, Menno Travel Service has three different departments: corporate (50%), leisure (30%) and group and motorcoach tours (20%), with agent specialists for each, according to co-owner and president Douglas Risser.

An interior view of Menno Travel Service's Goshen, Ind., headquarters, which has a total of 26 agents and support staff. "We sell all kinds of travel here, and by doing so have grown large enough to offer specializations in a few strong areas," Risser said.

With no real competitors in a city of about 25,000 in Amish country, the agency has grown from $5 million in sales nearly 20 years ago to $16 million today. It has a staff of 26 and a second, four-agent office in nearby Elkhart.

Risser claims his firm has a "lock on the local travel business" and said that he and co-owner/manager Geoffrey Landis have held off other potential players with their "competitive and aggressive sales strategies."

The agency's corporate business includes meetings and incentives, student travel (Goshen is near several schools, including local Mennonite colleges) and mission travel.

Menno Travel's management team, from left, co-owner/manager Geoffrey Landis, vacation director Deborah Mangas and co-owner/president Douglas Risser. Landis said there is "still a lot of money to be made" in corporate travel, with time-starved executives who are not interested in serving as their own travel agents.

As for the agency's group and tour department, that took hold in 1985 with the launch of its first motorcoach tours through Alaska; Branson, Mo.; Ireland; the Midwest; New England; Nova Scotia, Canada, and Texas.

The firm now serves 2,000 to 2,400 motorcoach clients a year on approximately 60 tours and employs up to five different escorts to handle the tours, which depart primarily from the Midwest.

"Originally, we saw this business as an opportunity to add a new product that could be profitable and relatively low risk," Risser said.

The agency is expanding its group tours to feature a wider variety of activities in a greater variety of places, including Europe.

But at home in Goshen, the agency still caters to the Amish community's need for mass transportation to family reunions across the state and nation.

This, Risser said, has made Menno Travel Indiana's largest seller of Amtrak rail journeys. In addition, the agency is Apple Vacations' top producer in the state.

-- Michele San Filippo

Historic ties to the Mennonites

enno Travel Service in Goshen, Ind., boasts a long-standing tradition of booking travel for missionary groups.

In fact, the agency's founding predecessor, MTS Travel, got its start nearly 50 years ago as the travel desk for the Mennonite Church, whose central committee can be found in Goshen, along with the local Mennonite college.

When MTS Travel was established, it was the city's first travel agency.

In 1980, MTS Travel spun off its Goshen headquarters and created Menno Travel Service as a separate entity, according to agency co-owner/president Douglas Risser. In 1997, Menno Travel bought Four Seasons Travel in Elkhart, giving the firm a second location.

In 1980, Menno Travel, above, was created as a spin-off of MTS Travel. Senior group and international specialist Ron Yoder described the agency's locale as being "a churched region with an evangelical bent to its religious traditions."

Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the agency is linked to several local churches, such as the Mennonite Board of Missions, Grace Brethren International Missions and United Brethren in Christ.

Risser added that because of its early ties to the Mennonites, Menno Travel gets special consolidator air fares for its small mission travel business to Africa, Asia, Central America, eastern Europe, India and South America as well as Third World nations around the globe.

Yoder said, "It generally represents a higher-ticket item, so we have a little more leeway in terms of mark-ups because we often get bulk or wholesaler fares.

"Typically we send mission and service workers abroad," he continued. "It's more like the Peace Corps now for the Mennonite Church and other religious groups in our area."

For example, the agency's mission travel department primarily supplies air but sometimes hotels, guided tours and transportation for teams going overseas to build churches, schools and medical clinics; doctors and teachers providing medical assistance or education, and work-study groups giving donations to these countries.

In addition, each year Menno Travel hosts a two- or three-week Swiss Mennonite tour during the summer or fall that focuses on history and genealogy in Switzerland; Alsace, France, and southwestern Germany.

Rules of resumes

f you are at the point of needing to write or update your resume, here is the first of a two-part series of pointers:

• Most employers look at the first page of a resume, maybe the second, but beyond that forget it. Therefore, you want your resume to spark their interest right from the start, and you want it to be short.

• Do not use a resume template. It is much too restricting.

• Taking it from the top, literally, your name, address, phone and e-mail address come first. However, they don't need to take up the top third of the page.

Nancy Rush.For your name, use a type size slightly larger than the size you use for your text and make it boldface. The address and phone information should be the same size as the text. If you need all the space you can get, consider running your address across one line. Do the same with the phone and e-mail address.

• Next comes your work objective. It's better to keep it general; if too specific, you might be limiting your job options.

• Remember that you are talking about your career, so don't be modest. You want to motivate the prospective employer to meet you. The key is to make everything you say clear and concise. Be certain there are no errors, especially in spelling.

• Use only one type size for the text, but your section headings can be the same size as your name. Also, don't use more than one font style and don't use too many margins (indenting). Keep the style uniform by using the underline, bold and italic features on your computer.

• Your headings are: Career Objective, Employment History, Skills and Education.

You might wish to have a summary of your overall achievements covered under a heading called Accomplishments, Highlights or Summary of Qualifications. Some might choose to add Personal Strengths. These elements come after Objective. Just be careful that what you write there isn't repeated under Employment History.

• After writing the resume, this is a must: Let someone else read it, or maybe a few people. Make sure they can understand what you are saying.

• Read your resume as if you were an employer -- would you want to interview this person?

The second segment of this two-part collection of pointers will take you through the resume itself, item by item. It will appear in next week's edition of Agent Life.

Nancy Rush is the director of the western region for Travel Solutions Group, a travel industry recruitment and placement firm. She can be reached at [email protected]

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