t wasn't something Carlos Afre had
planned, but his agency created what might be called a wartime
strategy: When clients are fearful and want to stay close to home,
put together packages with rail or motorcoach trips to nearby
That was the thinking back during the Persian Gulf War, when
Afre's agency, You and Leisure Tours and Travel, San Francisco,
began selling cruise clients on the concept of making the trip to
their port of departure a vacation in itself, with short pre- and
In the days after Sept. 11, as the agency switchboard lit up
with cancellations, he dusted off the 10-year old brochures and
started to revamp You and Leisure Tour's group cruise offerings for
Avoiding a trip to the airport became even more important than
during the Gulf war, he said. "I knew we had to make cruises more
attractive and that rail was the way to do it," said Afre.
The agency quickly arranged December programs using Amtrak's Coast
Starlight, booking space from Sacramento and San Francisco to Long
After the daylong rail trip, clients stayed for a night at a
waterfront hotel prior to their sailing on Princess Cruises' Sea
Princess for a seven-day cruise of the Mexican Riviera.
When the ship returned to Long Beach, clients boarded a
motorcoach, which took them to the town of Solvang, where they
shopped and spent the night. The next morning, the motorcoach
brought them home to Northern California.
Afre priced the December departures of the nine-night packages
with rates starting at $899 per person, double. He received co-op
advertising funds from Princess for local TV ads on CNN. The two
departures were a near sell-out.
With that success under his belt, he expanded with cruise and
rail programs for 2002, offering a series from January through
March, this time using Amtrak to and from Southern California in
conjunction with the Mexican sailings by Princess.
Afre said he expects to carry 500 passengers on the three-month
program. The agency also put together a 10-day cruise and rail
package from Northern California to Seattle in May.
That program features a night in Seattle before a four-day
cruise aboard Norwegian Cruise Line's Radiance of the Seas and,
after the cruise, a two-night stay in Portland, Ore., which is a
stop on the return rail trip.
The linchpin of the concept is rail, which is a popular
alternative to air these days, said Afre. "It's considered fun and
safe, and the trip to Southern California and the Pacific Northwest
-- Laura Del Rosso
Focusing on what works
arlos Afre, a native of
Guatemala, has owned You and Leisure Tours and Travel since 1973.
The agency, one of San Francisco's largest cruise specialists, is
located on a pier along the city's picturesque waterfront, just
about a five-minute walk from the cruise ship dock at Pier 35.
The agency is perhaps best known in the Bay Area for its Golden
Age Travelers division, which was started in 1969 as a travel club
for retired federal and local county employees. In the 1970s, Afre
purchased the club list from the original owner.
Through word of mouth and direct marketing, the club has grown
to 30,000 members, about 70% of whom live in Northern California.
The rest are spread all over the country.
Afre operates the $10 million agency with his wife, K-K, who
manages the cruise department. You and Leisure Tours has an
aggressive pricing policy, offering escorted cruises with
negotiated rates with major lines and air carriers.
For example, in 2001, the agency offered a $1 roundtrip air fare
to London on British Airways to clients who bought a northern
European cruise; three times a month, the firm sends direct mail to
Golden Age members and various affinity groups it has worked with
over the years.
The agency "concentrates on packages that work," said Afre, and
on four lines: Princess, Norwegian Cruise Line, Holland America and
Crystal Cruises. But business has not been all rosy at You and
Leisure Tours. In September, the company was hit hard by the
effects of the terrorist events and then, a few days later, the
bankruptcy of Renaissance Cruises. The agency had cruise groups in
Istanbul, Turkey, and in parts of Europe on Sept. 11. On Sept. 18,
when Renaissance ceased operations, a large group was disembarked
in Rome. Luckily, Afre said, all but four of 43 people in the group
had cancellation insurance.
The agency also had 100 passengers booked on a sailing of the
Norwegian Dream from Istanbul to Barcelona, Spain, set to leave
Nov. 8. More than half canceled. As a result of the downturn, the
agency was forced to lay off two employees from its staff of 16.
But business is coming back, and Afre said he is rehiring one of
Bookings are particularly strong for sailings to South America,
Alaska and Mexico and, thanks to the California and Pacific
Northwest cruise and rail programs, 2002 looks to be another good
year for the company, he said.
Afre's advice to other agents looking to put together cruise
groups: "Be consistent with your advertising and your message.
Offer unique things, such as pre- and post-stays. And be
professional in your service."
Marc my words
Put clients' needs over their 'wants'
hould we always sell the client
what he or she wants? After all, the client, we're told, is always
right. Yet we're also told to sell the suppliers with whom we feel
comfortable -- preferred suppliers with quality products and
healthy commissions -- and to focus our efforts on selling their
products (and profiting from their overrides).
if the client wants a product from a supplier that is not on your
preferred list? Isn't it unethical and manipulative to try to sell
a client something else, just because that supplier's commission is
higher? Isn't there a conflict of interest here?
Not really, because your job is the same as it's always been:
not to sell the client what he or she wants, but to sell the client
what he or she needs.
This is a critical distinction because the client might not
always know his or her needs. The client's travel product knowledge
is far less extensive than yours, and he or she has a less
sophisticated understanding of the features and benefits of the
various options. You might even know that a company your client is
interested in is unstable.
So qualifying the client remains the single most important step
in the sales process. And product knowledge is your most important
sales tool. In selecting preferred suppliers, you should
• Maintain a broad enough range of preferred suppliers to cover
the needs of most clients. You should focus on quality first, then
provide options in several price ranges so that as many clients as
possible will find your recommendations attractive.
• Select suppliers on the basis of quality. Supplier excellence
exists in every price range. And if your recommendation meets or
exceeds your client's real needs, he or she will trust your next
• Select suppliers that provide you with a mutually beneficial
It isn't enough that the supplier offers override commissions.
You should also expect increased access to inventory, client
upgrades, a private reservations number, co-op advertising and a
genuine commitment to problem- solving.
Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles