Around the world in 30 years

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It's the oldest cliche in the business: Become a travel agent and see the world. But Gig Gwin took this saying absolutely literally.

Gwin is the only travel agent to have actually visited each of the Travelers' Century Club's list of 318 countries, which includes territories and remote islands.

World traveler Gig Gwin.Chairman of St. Louis-based Gwin's Travel, Gwin devoted 30 years to the endeavor, finishing up last September on the island of Lampedusa, in the Mediterranean off the coast of Africa.

His travel dream started when he was a soldier in Vietnam, taking an interest in "the culture and the people." That led to Gwin's going back to college for a degree in Asian history, with a minor in business.

His first travel job was as a res agent at TWA in 1970. Then there were nine years with Maritz Incentives in St. Louis, escorting groups around the world, honing his love for far-flung destinations.

But it was during his stint as product director for Maritz -- checking out new properties -- that the exotic travel bug really bit him.

That is when he learned of the Los Angeles-based Travelers' Century Club, whose members share notes on how many countries they've visited (only about six have matched Gwin in visiting every one).

Founding his own agency 20 years ago, he started his global quest in earnest, using travel agent airline discounts to get around. There's no doubt his worldly knowledge has helped his agency service clients. "I'm the person they call for trips to more unusual places," said Gwin. "People might know American Samoa, but they don't know Western Samoa, they're a little rusty on Laos and they don't know there are two Congos."

He also has used his experiences to become more visible in his community. He appears on a travel segment on a local TV news show, does a half-hour show once a month on local radio and currently writes a column for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Next up, he's planning a book about the foremost landmarks of the world.

Still, his wanderlust continues. And when a new country comes into being (a not-infrequent occurrence these days), Gwin firmly intends to pack his bags.

Earth travel 101

Since I had the challenge of trying to go to every country in the world, I decided to become much more literate on geography and culture," said world traveler Gig Gwin, chairman of Gwin's Travel in St. Louis.

Gwin in South Georgia Island, Antarctica.Gwin accomplished this goal by signing up for the Institute of Certified Travel Agent's Destination Specialists (DS) program, which currently breaks the world down into nine areas.

Studying the DS materials gave him the chance "to read something besides the in-flight magazine when I was sitting on long flights going to the ends of the earth," he said.

The upshot of all his studying: "I would go to all these unusual destinations with a pretty good basic knowledge of what the highlights were," said Gwin.

Still, he found that there was no substitute for actually visiting all of the countries, "meeting the people and eating the food." Those experiences helped him develop a list of "bests" of the world. Some of his offbeat discoveries: Hong Kong "has the greatest variety of food in the world"; Sydney, Australia, has great pubs, and for best animal viewing, he rates not only the more obvious -- Kenya, Tanzania and Denali Park, Alaska -- but Antarctica and the Galapagos Islands.

Tips on selling up

Think about the last time you bought a car. Were you ready to counter any attempt to persuade you to buy "optional" features -- the vibrating seats, the titanium hubcaps -- things you didn't really want?

Marc Mancini.At the same time, you probably wanted more than just a base model. Most shoppers do, including those looking for a travel experience. Yet like car buyers, they still resist the effort to sell up. This presents you with a challenge, but also with many opportunities.

The first thing to remember is that there is nothing unethical about this process. If it is done right, you're simply offering them better value, a better level of product quality or service.

Each of your customers will attach a different perception of value to any upgrades you recommend. A repeat cruiser may perceive an outside stateroom with a veranda to be well worth the extra cost, whereas a first-timer may not.

It's your job to understand what your clients' value perceptions may be. If possible, refrain from talking about price up front. Instead, ask them, "If you could plan the ideal vacation, what would it be like?"

Based on their response, ask about their budget range. They may be pleasantly surprised to find that their ideal vacation fits within their projected budget.

If, however, their stated budget falls short of the product they desire, you're positioned to sell up. How? By suggesting ways for them to obtain the benefits they desire. You are straying from their stated budget, but in reality, you're simply selling them what they already told you they want.

Numerous studies have shown that consumers are happiest with the most expensive choice they can afford. The easiest way to get them there is to let them lead the way.

Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles College.

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