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