Brave new world

Got future shock? One way to stay on the crest of change is to shake hands with technology, according to Ron Peri, chairman and chief executive officer of Radixx Solutions International Inc. in Orlando.

The company created such agent-friendly products as WinScape, which allows retailers to put a customized Windows front end on any CRS, then attach it to a local database or Internet site.

Ron Peri.But lest you be tempted to dismiss Peri as just another tech head, consider this: He also is part-owner of a travel agency called Pathways Unlimited in Westfield, N.J.

"I've been involved in the technology end of many different businesses, including insurance, finance and pharmaceuticals," said Peri.

"But my interest in owning a travel agency is a nostalgic tip of the hat to my grandfather, who owned an agency for many years in New York City."

Describing his agency as "small and focused on select business accounts," Peri said he is sympathetic to agents who feel that the world -- particularly as represented by airlines and technology -- is out to bypass them.

"I am personally amazed at the numerous attempts that are being made [by airlines] to bypass the travel agency channel," Peri said.

"Travel agents have been an excellent sales channel for years, and personal service will always have value."

While bullish on the concept of service, however -- which he thinks the right clients will always pay for -- Peri is not optimistic that the majority of agencies can make the leap into the brave new world.

"Doing complex bookings on the Internet today is difficult, but it's only a matter of time until that becomes easy," Peri said.

"I believe that the Internet will take 50% of bookings in the next few years, and many agencies will go out business.

"At the same time, we are already starting to see the advent of a new breed of agent."

How can agents become part of that new breed?

Peri suggested retailers stress what makes them unique, such as their personal contacts and their ability to qualify clients.

"Agents need to see themselves as more than order takers," he said.

"And," he added, "they need to become technology savvy."

Catching some air

While agreeing that it's tough to make a living relying on airline commissions, Ron Peri suggested that agents not overlook one untapped source of airline revenue: the smaller, newer carriers.

"Quite often the smaller lines are very anxious to work with travel agents," Peri said, noting that his technology company worked with some of these carriers to make such relationships possible.

"We put in place the linkage that gave Spirit Airlines the ability to have agents book on their CRSs, and we've done the same for other small carriers that otherwise would not be available to agents."

The Radixx site is at www.radixx.com.He cited Shuttle America, Pacific Wings and Rio Grande Air as among those carriers with whom he has worked.

"There is a proliferation of these small carriers nowadays, and agents might be pleasantly surprised to find what commission rates they are offering," Peri said.

He touted Shuttle America as a carrier with unique routes in the Northeast -- such as Hartford, Conn., or Wilmington, Del., to Buffalo, N.Y. "Those routes work well for business travelers," he said.

How can such small companies afford to pay commissions?

Peri credits technology, which he said eliminates the need for multiple "middlemen" between the supplier and the agent.

"Our goal is to save money for the suppliers in other areas of the distribution chain, so we make it easier for them to justify paying commissions to agents," he said.

Do-gooding ideas

Are there any other ideas for charity gifts besides free tickets -- which I can no longer get from the airlines?

There is a valuable commodity you have to share other than tickets: your time. Most nonprofit organizations can use all the manpower they can get. Consider giving employees time off, with pay, to do volunteer work. They can help at a fund-raiser, collect canned goods or build a house for those less fortunate.

Allowing your employees to give to the charity of their choice will give them a sense of pride in your company. It will raise morale and, perhaps, give them an opportunity to learn new skills that could be useful at your agency.

Dan McManus.Ask them to wear an agency identifier, such as a T-shirt or cap. Of course, don't strong-arm anyone to participate; just give the opportunity.

Q: We had a small "fender-bender" in our truck. Shouldn't we report the accident to our insurance company?

A: Some insurance companies have found that individuals who file small claims are more likely to do it again and again. For this reason, many are refusing to renew policies with many small claim filers.

If you've ever been "dropped" by an insurance company, you know how frustrating and time-consuming it can be to replace the policy. Not making small claims is one way to avoid this.

If you have an insurance claim that's quite a bit above your deductible, by all means file it. That's what insurance is for. However, if you find you are filing more than one claim per year, consider increasing your deductible (thus lowering your premium) or using insurance more as a disaster recovery policy.

Also, if you are making that many claims, you may want to consider ways that you can prevent those events from occurring in the first place.

Former agency owner Dan McManus is the publisher of the newsletter The Successful Worldspan Agent. Contact him at[email protected].

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