ccording to Departures Travel co-owner
Lloyd Miller, the building that houses his Winter Park, Fla.,
travel agency is designed to make a statement.
"I ask my customers if they can name any other travel agency in
town, and no one can," Miller said.
The 4,200-square-foot agency is located near a high-traffic
intersection and attracts a lot of walk-in business.
"We probably are the largest, in physical size, agency in town,"
The building that Miller and his partner Steve Fouts bought nearly
seven years ago was first a tire installation shop and then a
muffler shop before being renovated.
Customers stepping into Departures Travel are greeted by a
spacious, airy planning center and a smiling face. At the entrance
is a staffed travel concierge desk -- a time saver, according to
Miller, that handles simple customer needs.
Each customer is greeted at the desk and then qualified. The
desk also serves as a central ticket pickup station, minimizing the
impact on Miller's busy agents who work entirely on commission.
Even the office's oversize agent's desks are designed for
maximum customer service. Two guest chairs and a large side panel
with a swivel attachment for oversized computer screens enable
clients to view Web sites or streaming video while booking a
Clients also can shop while they wait. A selection of luggage
and travel accessories is part of Destinations' customer service
The office's wood-paneled conference room, which seats about 40
people, was a tire storage area in a past life. A large video
screen is used for complimentary monthly programs that feature
wine, refreshments and a guest speaker. "Even if [clients] don't
buy this month, many come back until they find what they want,"
Miller and Fouts are very supportive of their agents. "Agents
are underappreciated -- they do too much work for what they get
paid," he said.
Because of the agency's commission structure, the agency charges
a "plan-to-go" fee that covers the costs of the agent's time when
customers are "browsing" for a vacation, with the money going
toward future purchases.
All of Miller's agents have earned either certified travel
counselor or certified travel associate designations from the
Institute of Certified Travel Agents and are all destination
Miller said the company doesn't rely on traditional advertising
to grow the business. "We're open on Saturdays. We do things to
make people aware of us -- community service, special events and
Asked about servicing customers himself, Miller said he probably
couldn't even write a ticket. "Working owners aren't productive,"
he said, "they've just bought themselves a job. Steve and I go out
and generate new business, build what we have and make sure people
think of Departures when they travel."
-- Bob Mervine
Agency's change of heart
rustration over industry
treatment by the airlines led Departures Travel in Winter Park,
Fla., to remove an expensive, custom-made awning labeled "airlines"
from its building and replace it with another that read
"It was our statement," said co-owner Lloyd Miller. "I think
[the airlines] treat us so badly, that after this last round of
cuts we decided to make a point."
More than just a gesture, the move marks a new focus by the
agency on the honeymoon niche.
people a year get married in central Florida," said Miller, "and
95% take a honeymoon. The average honeymoon travel expenditure is
about $3,500, so if we could get just 10% of that business, [we'd
The agency's honeymoon suite takes up one section of the store.
Special seating with travel props, fresh flowers and decorations
creates a large space that "is secluded and romantic," according to
Miller, "but still professional." The suite is available by
appointment only, and an on-line registration form helps get the
Miller said more and more of his honeymoon customers use the
Internet before, during and after weddings. In fact, Miller said he
believes the Internet has made the entire process simpler for his
agency, since "an informed customer is our best friend." He added
that everyone concerned saves time and money when customers know
what they want, and agents know where to get it.
The agency's Web site, at www.departuresgate.com, features a user-friendly
service called the Interactive Traveler, which includes links to a
variety of destination sites.
They are usually what Miller called "neutral [Web sites] owned
by convention and tourism bureaus" that make preliminary research
and exploration simple.
By the time the Departures staff meets face to face with many of
their altar-bound customers, the agents have created a database
including not only honeymoon preferences but information on the
ceremony and pre- and post-activities.
Departures also functions as a wedding travel clearinghouse,
using the information it has gathered to assist with schedules. It
can arrange ceremonies in exotic locations and destinations, said
Miller, and newlyweds can use the agency's registry if friends and
family want to contribute to the honeymoon account.
he fast-food industry has been
"piggybacking" for almost a decade, placing outlets in
nontraditional locations sharing space with other retailers.
You may have noticed the McDonald's attached to an Amoco station
or the Dunkin' Donuts sharing space with a Baskin-Robbins
Now, Lindblad Expeditions' cruise line is partnering with
several adventure-travel companies to produce back-to-back,
seamless experiences for clients.
will call this the Adventure Collection, and agents soon will have
a brochure highlighting programs that combine a Lindblad cruise
with a hiking, biking or rafting experience from companies such as
Backroads, Mountain Travel Sobek, Geographic Expeditions and
Outdoor Adventure River Specialists.
This is not an entirely new concept. Cruise lines, for example,
have been piggybacking with tour operators in exotic destinations
like East Africa for years.
But what makes this venture noteworthy is that Lindblad is
partnering with companies not known for their reliance on the
agency distribution system.
Adventure travel still is a largely untapped resource for many
The merging of a cruise program and a pre- or post-adventure
tour with a respected name brand represents an excellent
opportunity for creative agents to reap a double commission while
demonstrating their ability to create and sustain market
Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency
president. Contact him at [email protected].