In November 1994, Courtney Gail Whitehead and her family were
planning to go on a South African safari. She went to the local
bookstore to start her research.
information than could be found in guidebooks, she headed to Strong
Travel, an upscale agency in Dallas owned by Nancy Strong.
Whitehead had seen a profile of Strong in the Wall Street Journal
and clipped the article for future reference. Strong had traveled
to South Africa and was able to give Whitehead more information on
During the booking process, the two women discovered a natural
rapport. They realized that they were both from New York, had
traveled to many of the same places and shared a love for travel.
They had spoken for about 90 minutes when Strong asked Whitehead if
she was interested in becoming a travel agent. At the time,
Whitehead was working as a small events planner. Whitehead, whose
husband often called her a "frustrated travel agent," decided to
give it some thought.
What started out as a typical client-agent situation soon turned
into an owner-employee relationship. Whitehead attended the
American Airlines Travel Academy near Dallas-Fort Worth Airport,
where she was trained to work on Sabre. In March 1995, Whitehead
joined Strong's agency, where she worked in-house for
About a year ago, she decided to become an outside sales agent
for Strong Travel. Whitehead works out of her Dallas home using
Sabre and last year generated more than $100,000 for Strong Travel.
She acts as a corporate agent for her husband's company in addition
to planning leisure trips for her family and friends.
For Whitehead, the best thing about becoming a travel agent is
the excitement of planning trips with clients. "People dream about
taking trips, they save for them, and it's a great feeling helping
them achieve their dream," she said.
Sometimes the best
employee is the one sitting right in front of you, in the client's
chair. Nancy Strong, owner of Strong Travel in Dallas, realized
that client Courtney Gail Whitehead would be a natural as a travel
agent. "What caught my attention was that she was well traveled and
had been to places I sell to my clientele," Strong said. She also
figured that Whitehead's Dallas social circle (Whitehead is a
member of the Junior League) could benefit the agency by generating
potential customers. Other positive factors were the prospect's
personality and presentation skills.
Once she'd hired Whitehead, Strong was also impressed by how her
new employee kept up with the latest on destinations. "She always
asks, 'Did you see this article?' It's become a game between the
two of us, to see who could come up with the latest information.
And in her own quiet, pleasant way, she has sales ability. She
doesn't hit you over the head with it, but she can make a place
sound very exciting [to clients]," Strong said.
Strong added that owners trying to pick potential employees from
their client pool should keep an eye open for good salespeople.
"You want someone who can excite you with a sales pitch and sell
you a dream," she said.
Net NewsEuroCruises. Look here for the New York-based company's
itineraries and rates plus details on ships and shore excursions. A
search feature allows you to hone in on cruises meeting specific
criteria, including travel dates, geographic region, particular
ship, departure city and price range. Sail on over to: www.eurocruises.comToronto Star City Search. What's doing with the Canadian Opera
Company? Are there any interesting exhibits at the Royal Ontario
Museum? This site is a good place to pick up information about
what's happening around Toronto in the areas of arts and
entertainment. Go to: www.toronto.com
Compiled by Jennifer Dorsey. E-mail suggestions to [email protected].
Pitching the corporate account
Trying to market yourself to corporations? Consider the
following tips from industry educator Larry Mersereau, presented at
the recent Amadeus subscriber conference:Address marketing materials, or your presentation, to an
individual. Though marketers use the term "business-to-business
marketing" to describe selling to corporations, remember that you
are, first and foremost, dealing with an individual human being
rather than a corporation.Identify the prospect's greatest problems. For example, let's
say you've decided to address law firms with fewer than five
partners, all facing the problem of limited clerical staff -- which
leads to the fear of losing money because they don't have time to
double-check their nonrefundable tickets.Position your agency as the solution to their problems.Blow them away with benefits. Learn to take the features that
you have -- such as 24-hour service and free delivery -- and
describe exactly how these features will benefit clients.
Shiver me timbers
With Halloween coming, it seemed a good time to ask agents what
they're most afraid of in the coming year.
"Just the usual concerns that the economy would keep people from
having enough income to allow them to travel for pleasure. I'm also
always worried that things won't go smoothly on my clients' trips.
Some things are just out of our control, and I worry until they're
back home and they call me up to say they had a wonderful time." --
Ann Litt, president
Undiscovered Britain, Philadelphia
"Tricks like razor blades
in the apples or commission cuts in the ARC report!" -- Nancy
Johnson, owner, Johnson Travel, Research Triangle Park, N.C.
"The word scared is not a part of my vocabulary. I always feel
that there is an option, though sometimes I have to dig a little
bit more. Still, we're in a continuously challenged profession, and
right now it's becoming a lot harder to find small joys in the
doing." -- Roxana Lewis, owner, Chartwell Travel, Inglewood,
"I fear a major global economic downturn that will affect the
entire travel industry. Then there's the possibility of seeing more
agency-owner friends either sell their businesses (if they're
lucky) or just close the doors and walk away. I'm also afraid that
one day I may stop loving the daily challenge of this business." --
Lucy Hirleman, owner, Berkshire Travel, Newfoundland, N.J.
"I'm not going to worry about the commission cuts at this point.
I can't sit here and worry about the sky falling. All you can worry
about is what you can make better today. I am worried about anybody
who's not ready to grasp technology. If you don't, it's going to
eat you. I've seen people stuck in their own little cocoons, going
day by day, and you've got to be one step ahead of things these
days." -- Eric Ardolino, owner, A&S Travel Center, Wallingford,
Confessions of a Web junkie
What does it take to become an Internet-savvy agent? Just some
free time and the interest, according to J. J. Lasne of Sundance
Travel in San Francisco, who regularly contributes ideas on
interesting sites to Travel Weekly.
"Just get on the Internet and start surfing. It's much more
user-friendly than the CRS," he noted. "The major problem is
finding what you're looking for," he added. "You can get 3 million
pages [when you type in a request], so it helps to try several
different search engines."
Lasne, who tends to surf when business is slow at his agency,
said he checks out weather sites frequently for his clients.
Another favorite site for this native of France is www.paris.org. "I use it
to give Paris-bound clients tips on public transportation."