Company perks

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Keep your employees happy to keep them motivated -- that's personnel lesson 101. And it's a rule that Barry Liben, president of New York-based Tzell Travel Specialists, knows by heart.

The 200-plus employees who work at Tzell headquarters in New York have the luxury of several company perks that go way beyond typical office benefits.

For one, there's the rooftop garden, open since last spring. The company enforces special rules to make sure the garden remains a special retreat, according to director of human resources Loren Andersen.

Tzell Travel's rooftop garden boasts a view of the Empire State Building. "No computers or telephones are allowed," she said. "We want to get you completely away from your workday."

This spring the company plans to build a clubhouse -- including video games and pool tables -- next to the garden. Then there's the company gym, featuring 15 pieces of exercise equipment, including Nautilus machines, plus three individual showers and a changing room. The gym opens at 6:30 a.m. and closes at 11 p.m. and "there's never a wait" to use it, said Andersen.

Liben has made a substantial investment in both perks -- roughly $100,000 on the garden and $20,000 on the gym. "But you have to spend money on your employees," said Liben. "This is a business constantly filled with pressure. Employees [operate] at high anxiety levels, so anything we can do to make their lives more pleasant is good for them and good for us."

Of course, to spend that type of money for employees, you have to make some to begin with -- and Tzell fulfills this requirement. It ranked 35th in Travel Weekly's Top 50 Travel Agencies of 1999, racking up sales of $250 million last year.

The employee perks "have also been excellent for recruitment," said Andersen. "We've increased our workforce by about 25% in the past year, and there are more people who'd like to work here than we have spots for -- especially when they hear the gym is free."

The bottom line is a company philosophy that makes fun important. "We want them to not only get their work done but to enjoy being here," said Andersen. "Everything is geared toward that."

You are who you know

The new millennium is going to be defined by the level of nontraditional service you can provide your clients -- that is, "clout" in the form of personal contacts who can make things happen.

Who is the airport service manager for the airline you book most often? I hope you know, because VIP clients will expect you to find seats and upgrades when none exist.

Richard Turen.In midsize or smaller markets, have you taken steps to assure that airline reservation personnel are familiar enough with your agency to comment favorably when they see one of your ticket jackets?

Can you call the manager or concierge at the international hotels you book most often on a personal matter? Some agencies that sell a lot of cruises make it their business to know dispatchers for the ships they sell most often. Others shower reservations departments with Christmas gifts.

Some will scoff at these practices, feeling they are unnecessary. But this is what some of the top agents do for their clients because in travel, as in any other business, personal contacts are a key tool in providing extraordinary service.

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

Picking the right car

Although rental cars in other countries are generally smaller than their North American counterparts, they are comfortable and well-engineered, said Imad Khalid, president and chief executive officer of Portland, Maine-based Auto Europe. Here are some tips on what to consider while helping clients choose the right car for a European trip:

Imad Khalid.

  • What is the number of passengers in your client's party? If there are more than five people (children or adults), they will need a minivan. If your clients are particularly large or tall, you will need to go to a higher category of rental vehicle (such as an intermediate or larger).
  • What about trunk vs. hatchback design? There is a common perception among North Americans that renting a car with a trunk is a necessary security precaution in Europe -- but that's not the case. Many European rental cars have a covered hatchback design that conceals the contents of the luggage area. These vehicles provide access to the luggage space through a rear door on the vehicle, called the hatch.
  • And as car manufacturers design more sleek and fuel-efficient vehicles, more cars are being produced with a "European-style" trunk -- which provides the space of a trunk and the convenience of a hatchback. Only the smallest vehicles have open hatchback designs -- more of a safety risk, since luggage stored here can be seen through the window of the car.

  • Can your clients drive a stick shift? Due to higher purchase prices and lower rental demand, automatic transmission vehicles tend to be less common and more expensive in most European countries. But consider that automatic transmissions are often available on larger, more deluxe models only, so your clients are paying extra for more features than just the transmission.
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