Aussie Specialists down under

ne hundred and seventy-five Aussie Specialists and 55 suppliers took part in the Australian Tourist Commission's annual training event earlier this month. Known as Corroboree, the Aborigine word for powwow, the event combined a fam trip to Australia and a two-night workshop at the Renaissance Los Angeles Airport Hotel, April 27 to 28.

According to Lyndel Gray, the Australian Tourist Commission's regional director for the Americas, based in Los Angeles, the Corroboree 2001 proved to be a huge success, with agents responding well to the board's renewed emphasis on hands-on training.

Lyndel Gray."There is no doubt that the most effective way for agents to improve their Australia education and to lift their sales of Australian vacations is for them to experience the destination and the product firsthand," she said.

"From our perspective, this is the most effective form of assistance we can provide to our agent partners, and they, too, recognize that the better they know Australia, the better they can sell it."

Gray explained that this year's event offered agents a greater range of fam trips than ever before, from pre-event trips to Tasmania or the Northern Territory for advanced specialists, to post-event fams to Queensland, southern Australia or Melbourne-Victoria for newcomers.

"We provided two levels so that agents who had previously experienced the 'icons' were able to visit less well-known destinations and discover new parts of Australia," she said.

The Australian Tourist Commission has a Web site with information on the country's states and territories but plans to build an Aussie Specialist site. Meanwhile, the Corroboree's workshop component incorporated meetings with state and territory tourism organization representatives, roundtable discussions with wholesalers and tour operators and presentations from Qantas Airways and Air New Zealand.

Corroboree also featured a gala dinner for the presentation of the seventh annual Opal Awards, which went to six winners.

"The awards give the Australian Tourist Commission an opportunity to officially recognize the excellence of our agents," said Gray. "The standard of entries improves every year. It is exciting to see the professionalism and commitment that so many of our agents demonstrate toward their clients and their industry."

Gray believes that the Aussie Specialist Program, one of the first of its kind to be developed for retailers in North America, continues to deliver excellent results for its agency members.

"Becoming an Aussie Specialist provides an agent with a unique selling point, a real differentiation from all the competitors," she said.

"This sort of specialist skill is becoming increasingly important in retail travel."

-- Michele San Filippo

Opal Awards: The winners are ...

his year's Australian Tourist Commission's Aussie Specialist event, Corroboree 2001, featured the seventh annual Opal Awards, which recognized six agency owners for their essays describing projects in select categories.

Two agents won in more than one area: Maureen Jones of All Horizons Rancho Travel in Los Altos, Calif., for Best Window Display and Best Itinerary FIT Group or Special Interest (Deluxe), and Lynda Wojt of Let's Talk Australia in Portland, Ore., for Best Consumer Event and Best Print, Radio or Television Campaign.

Warren Grau, Australian Tourist Commission's former manager for retail programs (left) and Lyndel Gray, ATC's regional director for the Americas, present agency owner Don Kiselewski an Opal Award for Best PR/Publicity Campaign. Other winners were: Karolyn Wrightson of Essential Down Under Travel in Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y., for Best Itinerary FIT Group or Special Interest (Budget); Debbie Krumreich of Adventure Life Tours in Indianapolis, for Best Direct-Mail Campaign;

Don Kiselewski of Palm Beach Gardens (Fla.) Travel for Best PR/Publicity Campaign, and Elizabeth Ault-Meyers of Westwind Bay Association Inc. in North Miami, for Best Electronic Media Campaign.

Kiselewski has been writing monthly travel articles for 12 newspapers in Palm Beach County for 10 years.

"I write about the places I've visited on my eight trips there," he said. Each year, he writes two articles on Australia and frequently speaks to local clubs about visiting the destination.

Krumreich won for her two quarterly newsletters that go out to her agency's clients and Aussie Specialist-generated leads.

"One of the reasons I won was because I promote Australia as a quality destination," added Krumreich, who said her goal is to increase business and send at least 50 people there by the end of the year.

But winning multiple Opal Awards is nothing new to Jones, who has won nine awards in her five years in the contest. In 1998 she won two and in 1999, three.

This year Jones' agency won for having the best window display.

"We did something on the Olympic theme, with Australian flags, numerous posters, koala bears and mileage from various cities."

Her other win was for a four-month trip she planned to Australia and New Zealand for a local billionaire. Highlights included a visit to the America's Cup, a private yacht cruise in Syndey Harbor, a private plane flight over the Northern Territory and Western Australia, an outback camping safari and a week at an island diving resort in Queensland.

Do you really want walk-in business?

t is very hard to counsel agencies to take the time to discuss philosophic questions related to their business. But let me give it a try anyway.

Now might be a good time to address an important question since so many travel agencies find themselves at a kind of crossroads, wondering which future direction to take.

Do you really want to continue to maintain your street-front location to encourage walk-ins?

Richard Turen.More than 20 years ago, a landmark industry study concluded that those agencies in an office building were far more likely to be profitable than agencies located at street level in busy shopping areas.

I would be surprised if this has changed in the last 20 years. Allow me to offer some personal observations about retail vs. office locations:

  • Office locations are more likely to operate with a sound business plan. Their business is less speculative. They know who, if anyone, is coming through their agencies' doors.
  • Office locations are more likely to make better and frequent use of targeted mailings, still the best source of new travel business and far, far more successful than Internet marketing.
  • Retail locations generate more "time-kicker" or waste-of-time traffic. Their sale conversion ratio is far lower than that of office locations.
  • At a time when most industry gurus are begging agents to specialize, storefront locations tend to be "full-service, we-do-it-all-equally-well" emporiums.
  • Retail space is more expensive than office space. You need to sell more to earn more.
  • Think about the busiest retail location in your area -- the nearest megamall. Would you really want to have the parking problems, walk-in traffic and percentage of "whim" shoppers that such a prominent retail location would generate?

    It takes guts to operate without signage. But it also forces you to know exactly who you are and what you do for a living. Let's give this concept some thought.

    Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency president. Contact him at [email protected].

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