Were some travel agents advocating bypass in the Dec. 10 issue of
Travel Weekly? Yes -- but it was bypass of a slightly different
The published bypass suggestion concerned benchmarking --
setting up goals to reach by comparing your financial numbers to
those of other agencies. In a workshop on this topic at the recent
Institute of Certified Travel Agents (ICTA) forum, one agent in the
audience made a suggestion on how to get benchmarking information:
"Go to a broker who sells agencies, say you're in the market and
get information on everybody in your area," said the agent (who
didn't give her name at the workshop, which was structured like a
"shocked" travel agency broker Bob Sweeney, who owns Roswell,
Ga.-based Innovative Travel Acquisitions. "It was disappointing to
read [an agent's] recommending that you waste the time of a broker
by milking them for information on competitors," he wrote. "This is
not good advice to give. I would never tell anyone to purposely
waste the time of a travel agent knowing they have zero intention
"My firm acts in the same capacity as an agent in that we are
both middlemen, both trying to facilitate a transaction," he added.
"Some people choose to plan their own round-the-world trip without
an agent, and others wouldn't dream of doing one leg of a trip
without contacting their agents. We would hope that agents would
realize the value that someone in our position brings to the
For example, said Sweeney, "it's very difficult to be in
hardball negotiations with someone on Friday afternoon and then go
to work with them on Monday morning. It helps to have a buffer
between [buyer and seller], and that's what we do. We're the
sounding board for buyer and seller so they can keep their emotions
And in another similarity between Innovative Travel Acquisitions
and travel agencies, Sweeney has taken the same step as many
agents: "We've instituted some fees to let us know when people are
serious about using us," he said.
Sellers' and buyers' bill of rights
If you're trying to sell your agency, "don't be steamrolled or
intimidated because you're talking with a really big company,"
advised travel agency broker Bob Sweeney. "The seller has rights."
For example, Sweeney said his brokerage, Roswell, Ga.-based
Innovative Travel Acquisitions, will "bang on the conference table"
to make sure that the buyer provides:"A good strong confidentiality agreement in place so the seller
is protected." Any leak "could be very detrimental and cause agents
and their [corporate] accounts to scatter."Compliance with selling terms -- particularly for a
performance-based sales contract, in which the seller is paid with
a percentage of next year's commissions. In this case, often the
buyer cannot fire any agents, terminate clients or implement new
fees without checking with the seller.
For buyers, the structure of the deal and the allocation of the
payments are important. A brokerage would "limit the buyer's risk
as much as possible," said Sweeney. "We also handle the 'sticker
shock' for sellers, educating them on current market conditions. It
carries more weight if we do that."
Sticker shock can be considerable, since, in 1995 an owner could
expect to receive $200,000 for a typical $2 million volume agency,
said Sweeney. "Today the same agency is worth about $80,000."
Still, he predicted that "by the year 2003 we can expect the
pendulum to have swung back. We absolutely will have fewer travel
agencies then -- and they will be in greater demand."
Promise some good news
People use voice mail to "control interruptions and screen
unwanted calls that waste their time," writes Orvel Ray Wilson in
the pamphlet "Guerrilla Selling: Unconventional Weapons and Tactics
for Travel Professionals."
So how do you leave a message on voice mail that gets returned?
Here are some hints as detailed in the pamphlet:First, state your business. Let them know right up front who
you are, who you work for and how you can be reached. If your name
is unusual, spell it.Promise an answer to problems that most customers experience.
Use the words "I have some ideas" instead of "I have some
solutions." Prospects know solutions cost money, whereas ideas are
free, so they're more likely to call back.Preface your phone number with the phrase, "I'd appreciate the
courtesy of a return call at [your number]." Since you are direct
and courteous in your message, this magic phrase will make them
three times as likely to respond. But be very careful of the tone
you use or your message will sound condescending.Promise some good news. Give them the top three reasons why
they should be interested in returning your call. Perhaps the good
news is that you can offer them a special price on a trip or
information on a destination they're interested in.When the voice-mail box you want to reach is full, take
advantage of the fact that in many companies, workers with similar
extensions are physically located close to each other. So mis-dial
the extension you really want by one digit, to leave the message in
a nearby colleague's voice mail. When this person gets the message
(obviously meant for a neighbor ) he or she will either forward it
or transcribe it and pass it on. Now your prospect has a paper
message that he is more likely to return.
The business of theater tickets
Selling theater tickets can be a good way to make extra income,
said Melanie Samoy-Lutz, the manager at One Stop Travel,
Tannersville, Pa. Samoy-Lutz works with New York-based ticket
broker Theatre Direct International (TDI), ordering tickets for her
clients directly through her Sabre CRS.
One Stop's location -- in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania
-- means that a trip to nearby New York "makes a nice, romantic
getaway," said Samoy-Lutz. "People drive in and stay for the night
and make an evening of it. We have a limo pick them up."
With commission at 10% on the face value of the ticket from TDI,
said Samoy-Lutz, "You get enough of those and it makes up for a
trip where you work your butt off" and make nothing. Plus, she
said, TDI can provide tickets for hard-to-get shows such as "The
Travel agents actually sold more than $1.7 million worth of
theater tickets for TDI in 1998, earning commissions in excess of
$125,000. an increase of some 16% compared with 1997, according to
For more information on TDI, call (800) 334-8457 or visit its
Web site at www.theatredirect.com.
Creating a '25 reasons' ad
Here is more of Richard Turen's sales and marketing minutes, a
new regular feature:
Have you seen the two-page ad from Crystal Cruises that lists
100 specific reasons to book and travel with the line? I thought it
was a brilliant ad because it debunked the notion that no one reads
lengthy ad copy. It also made it clear that Crystal is a cruise
line entitled to some bragging rights.
But I wonder how many of us could come up with just 25 solid
reasons why the consumer should use our services over a
competitor's. Try it: At your next staff meeting, ask your agents
to help you put together a list of reasons why you outshine your
competition. This project will give your staff a renewed sense of
purpose for soliciting new business. It may also serve as the basis
of a powerful new ad campaign.
If you cannot come up with 25 reasons to use your services, it
may be time to reevaluate the way you do business.
Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a
sales and marketing consulting firm, as well as president of the
agency Churchill & Turen, both based in Naperville, Ill.
Contact him at [email protected].
Developing an outside sales force
Are you an agency owner who works with outside agents -- or
wants to develop a sales force of independent contractors? You may
be interested in upcoming seminars held by the National Association
of Commissioned Travel Agents (Nacta), the Valley Center,
Calif.-based association for independent agents and host
Led by Nacta president Joanie Ogg, the sessions will address
topics such as how to recruit independent contractors; how to
successfully integrate these agents into your agency; the legal
issues involved; technological tools to use, and how to write an
The workshops cost $79 for Nacta members and $99 for nonmembers.
Sessions will run from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. and will take place at
airport-area hotels in the following cities: Kansas City, Mo., Jan.
29; Las Vegas, March 5, and Atlanta, March 19.
For more information and reservations, contact Nacta
headquarters at (760) 751-1197, e-mail [email protected] or visit
Nacta's Web Site at www.nacta.com where you can register on line. Space is
limited, and reservations are necessary.