For some travel agencies religious travel is a
niche, but at MTS Travel in Ephrata, Pa., it is the tail that wags
the dog. According to Cindi Brodhecker, MTS Travels business
development manager, 75% of the agencys business derives from
churches, development organizations and not-for-profit
The companys history tells the story. In the 1940s, MTS was part
of a humanitarian organization called the Mennonite Central
Committee, whose primary purpose was to transport members to Europe
to help with post-World War II reconstruction.
From those beginnings, the company evolved into a separate
business, eventually growing to its present status as a 13-office
agency with branches nationwide.
While individual offices tend to have their own set of
specialties, Brodhecker said, religious travel continues to
dominate the business model.
From the beginning we were fulfilling a need, and as those
organizations we served grew, we grew, she said.
But when Brodhecker refers to religious travel, she doesnt just
mean one group or one destination, such as leading Christian
pilgrims to Lourdes, France, or to Israel.
Instead, the company takes a nondenominational approach,
offering its services to several religious groups as well as
Not all clients are looking for a stroll through religious ruins
or even a spiritual retreat; a significant percentage are
missionaries working in the field.
A life change
Brodhecker, a former homebody with an accounting background,
credits a midlife crisis for bringing her to her present
Looking to add meaning to her work, she joined the travel
I started at the motorcoach end of travel and, just to give you
an idea, when [colleagues] began talking about their next trip to
Branson, Mo., I didnt know where Branson was, Brodhecker said.
She no longer considers herself geographically challenged. In
fact, Brodhecker takes pride in the fact that she and the agencys
staff know the ins and outs of some of the most obscure
destinations that attract missionaries.
We also know the routing the missionaries will probably have to
use, whether visas are necessary, what the luggage requirements are
and if there is a medical team traveling, how to handle additional
luggage, Brodhecker said.
Were not a household name, but we send more people to Nairobi
from North America than anyone else, she said.
The travel agency also sends many missionary travelers to
Zimbabwe and Azerbaijan.
But getting travelers to their destination is only part of the
package, Brodhecker said.
Its more complicated than just calling the Zimbabwe Hilton. Its
putting tents up in the field and making sure there is access to
water and petrol, she said.
Airline contracts, developed over the years, are an important
ingredient in the companys success, noted Brodhecker.
The agency can also help negotiate humanitarian rates as well as
special fares for clients who want to visit their family, friends
and partners in the field.
A tightly knit team
The most important factor in the success of the agency is the
staff, according to Brodhecker, who touts their years of experience
and, in some cases, their firsthand missionary experience.
The ones we keep are the ones who love what they do, she
In addition to serving missionary and humanitarian travel, the
company sells religious tours and FITs, such as to the Oberamagau
passion plays in Germany.
This is a project that all our offices coast-to-coast would work
on as a team, she said. The advantage of having offices coast to
coast is that there is always someone available in different time
All MTS Travel offices are linked by a common telephone service,
a feature that was useful during last years storms in Miami and
We were able to close those offices, send the staff home to
safety and transfer their calls to other offices, Brodhecker
While noting that the companys expertise in religious travel
would be difficult for a full-service agency to duplicate, she
stressed that the key to selling any niche is to follow ones
passions. She suggested asking employees about their interests --
do they play golf, sing in a choir or bird watch? -- then taking
advantage of that expertise.
Brodhecker also stressed the importance of marketing. She
attends up to 30 conferences a year as a supplier, including
meetings of medical missions, national religious broadcasters and
denominational groups, such as a Seventh-day Adventist conference
that draws 70,000 attendees every year.
Regardless of the niche they choose, Brodhecker urged agents to
forge strong relationships with their contacts and learn about
their specialty in depth.
Organizations are so diverse, and you dont want to lose
credibility, she said. Its not a good idea to get involved in
something you dont understand.
Think youre a good candidate for an upcoming Agent Life?
Contact Felicity Long, Agent Life editor, at[email protected]. Include your
agency name, agency location, telephone number and e-mail address
in the message and put Agent Life in the subject line.Perfect ItineraryA customized itinerary through the heart of Turkey
Earl Starkey, a travel agent with 28 years
experience, has been named Conde Nast Travelers Best Travel Agent
for Turkey every year since 2001. Starkey is an independent agent
with Protravel International in New York, and he also operates
Sophisticated Travel, with offices in New York and Istanbul.
Following is a portion of a customized Turkey itinerary:
After breakfast at the Four Seasons Istanbul, a guide will meet
travelers for a full-day tour. Sites include the 19th century
Dolmabahce Palace, the last home of Kemal Ataturk, and the Sadberk
Hanim museum in Rumeli Hisari, known for its ethnographic and
archaeological collection. Travelers then are taken on a private
Bosporus cruise. Dinner is at Lacivert Restaurant on the
Travelers fly to Kayseri, where they will be met by a
guide for a descent to the underground city of Kaymakli in
Cappadocia. A tour of Ihlara canyon follows, including a walk
through the canyon via the Steps of Anatolia to Belisirma village
for a look at the churches carved from the rocks. After lunch in
Belisirma at a local riverfront restaurant, the next stop is at the
village of Selime to examine early 13th century Turkish Seljuk art.
Overnight at the Yunak Mahallesi hotel.
An early morning hot-air balloon ride is followed by
breakfast and a full-day tour of Cappadocia. Lunch is in Avanos,
known for its terra cotta art works dating from 3000 B.C. In the
afternoon, visit the Goreme Open Air Museum, with its Byzantine
art, and climb on top of the Uchisar Rock-Castle for a panoramic
Travelers will be transported to Kayseri airport for a flight to Izmir and transfer
to Sirince. On the way, the group will visit the ancient ruins at
Ephesus and take in the House of Virgin Mary before going on to
Sirince village for an overnight at the Nisanyan Evleri hotel.
The group will meet with a guide after breakfast and visit
the seaside resort town of Bodrum, stopping at the port towns of
Priene and Miletus as well as the Temple of Apollo in Didyma along
the way. In Bodrum harbor, travelers will board a private gullet, a
classic Turkish schooner, for a scenic cruise.
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.Hand in HandNCL event lets first-timers dip toe in the water
You know what they say about cruising: The
challenge is persuading landlubbers to give it a try. Demerara
Travel Associates in Bloomfield, N.J., in conjunction with
Norwegian Cruise Lines, has embarked on an all-out effort to do
This spring, the agency marketed one-night Dinner and Dance
Cruises out of New York Harbor aboard the Norwegian Dawn and the
Norwegian Spirit as Mothers Day and Fathers Day presents.
For those noncruisers who think a ship will be too restrictive
or who are concerned about the motion on the water, a one-night
cruise gives them an opportunity to experience the stability of the
vessel and get a taste of the cruise lifestyle, said agency manager
The campaign drew an unexpectedly large response, said Alleyne,
but by the time he received responses, there wasnt a lot of space
left on the ship. Alleyne now realizes he should have advertised
the event sooner.
The venture was still a success, however, because I was able to
book some callers onto other cruises, and -- more importantly -- I
was able to add them to my mailing list, he said.
Terri Burke, vice president of business development for NCL,
said, Using themed or special cruises is a great way to tap into
the first-time cruiser market.
She added that NCL will offer more one-night cruises in 2007
than ever before.
Partnering with local agents who can target these potential
cruisers is a key focus, Burke said.
Alleyne said he would do this type of promotion again and that
he learned from his marketing mistake.
The experience helped me understand how to plan more
effectively, so next time I will make sure my lead time is at least
four or five months, he said.
NCLs next one-night Dinner and Dance cruise, which sails from
Seattle to Vancouver, will be held on the Norwegian Sun on Sept.
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.Marc My Words
Stealth markets in the spotlight
By Marc Mancini
Most of us feel were familiar with
the major segments of our industry. However, every now and then I
discover a huge, prosperous chunk of the travel business that
previously I knew almost nothing about. In a few cases, I didnt
even know they existed. Lets call them the stealth sectors of
Why should you know about these businesses that fly under our
Perhaps you can, in some way, tap them to serve your own needs.
You might even find a whole new opportunity and direction for your
energy, knowledge and skills. So here are my favorite four:
1. Bank travel. How can a bank reinforce
customer loyalty and, in some cases, add another profit center to
its operations? By organizing group travel for its customers.
Composed mostly of independent, local banks and situated mainly
in the Midwest and South (though youll find some in the rest of the
U.S., too), bank travel programs typically offer short,
value-priced, escorted tours to domestic destinations, with several
departures throughout the year.
Thats changing, though. For example, 26% of the banks have
offered trips to Europe. In some cases, the banks travel
coordinator assembles the trip from scratch. (Some coordinators are
former travel agents.)
In other situations, they outsource it to a travel agency or to
a major tour operator, like Mayflower or Collette, which have
quietly targeted this segment for a long time.
To find out more about this industry sector, contact its two
trade associations: Heritage Clubs International and Bank
2. Group intermediaries. An offshoot of the
meeting planning industry, group intermediaries are the matchmakers
of the lodging industry.
Intermediaries nurture strong relationships with certain hotels
and lodging chains that are especially suited to corporate group
A major corporation, often with its own meeting planning
division, will contact a group intermediary to come up with the
exact location and property that fulfills the companys precise
specifications (Its sort of like when a travel agent qualifies a
The intermediary will then go to several properties that fit the
needs and budget of its client. The intermediary will then step
aside for the meeting planners to do their work.
Most group intermediaries are capable of doing the meeting
planning, as well, but they primarily see themselves as keenly
informed specialists and expert negotiators.
Some say that the rise of group intermediaries has been one of
the fastest growing and significant developments in the hospitality
industry, exceeded only by the entrance of major hotel brands into
the timeshare/vacation club business -- another stealth
3. Fractional aircraft ownership. Somewhat
similar to lodging timeshares, the success of this sector is in
sharp contrast to the plight of our legacy airlines. Each small
business jet has multiple owners who have bought a set amount of
flight hours per year.
Many corporations have discovered that fractional ownership may
be less expensive than buying first- or business-class seats for
A few fractional jet companies even pay commissions to travel
agents who sell to their clients the hours that a fractional owner
4. Small-ship cruising. I hesitate to
categorize this group as a stealth segment, since most of you know
about coastal and river cruising. But most agents have never
experienced it, so they hesitate to recommend it.
Perhaps your next vacation should be on the Danube, through the
Norwegian fjords, down the Nile or along the Pacific Northwest
coast. One trip and youll realize how satisfying a small-ship
cruise can be.
Marc Mancini is an industry speaker and consultant who
teaches at West Los Angeles College.Five ThingsCost-saving strategies for family vacations
1. Look for deals to offset high gas prices.
Visit TravelPost.com for information on hotels that offer
special deals to those arriving by car. It wont hurt to ask when
making a reservation if there are any gas rebates, said Eileen
Ogintz, a nationally syndicated columnist specializing in family
travel and creator of TakingtheKids.com. When booking a hotel for
your clients, Ogintz also suggested asking about free or discounted
family activities, services or amenities available nearby, such as
family programs at museums, which tend to be plentiful in
2. Encourage clients to try an urban family
vacation. Many city hotels are looking to fill rooms in the summer,
especially on weekends, when business travel is down. Not only do
many city hotels offer value-added packages designed to lure
families, but many also have in-house swimming pools and other
on-site attractions that appeal to kids.
3. Suggest heading for a destination in its low
season. Just because its summer doesnt mean its high season
everywhere, said Ogintz, who touts the Caribbean this time of year
for deep discounts on both hotel and air. Ski resorts are also
good, affordable bets with lots to do, Ogintz said. Ski resorts
have such kid-friendly activities as alpine and water slides and
lift-assisted mountain biking. Even the non-athletic can get in the
act with a scenic gondola ride up the mountain.
4. Steer clients toward a condo with a kitchen.
Even parents who dont want to spend their vacation cooking can save
a bundle by opting to have breakfast and snacks in their condo and
save the restaurant outings for dinner. For lunch, consider packing
a snack for lunch at the beach or on the road, Ogintz said. Check
the local chamber of commerce or visitor center Web site for
coupons on attractions and restaurants, she said.
5. Push clients to rent a fuel-efficient
vehicle. Ogintz also suggested that parents visit FuelCostCalculator.com to estimate what a driving
vacation will cost.