Building up a reputation

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," Miller said.

Located near a busy intersection, the offices of Departures Travel in Winter Park, Fla., formerly were a tire store and then a muffler shop. 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 trip.

Clients also can shop while they wait. A selection of luggage and travel accessories is part of Destinations' customer service offerings.

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 said.

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 specialists.

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 promotions."

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 "honeymoons."

"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.

Miller."About 10,000 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 be happy]."

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 process rolling.

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, 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.

2-for-1 pay

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 store.

Now, Lindblad Expeditions' cruise line is partnering with several adventure-travel companies to produce back-to-back, seamless experiences for clients.

Richard Turen.Lindblad 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 agencies.

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 penetration.

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


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