estination specialists at Los
Angeles-based Martin's Travel & Tours are avid supporters of
programs that transform agents into destination experts.
Roxanna Galbreath, a three-year veteran at Martin Travel, said
that her becoming a specialist on Hawaii's Oahu and Portugal has
changed her view of her role as an agent.
"We have stopped being agents for tourists and have become
specialists on different cultures."
This has required gaining extensive knowledge into the
destination's history, customs, arts, food, flora and fauna and
physical attractions, she said.
"You can't sell a [destination] without knowing about its
culture and how it came to be what it is today," she said.
This past winter, Galbreath escorted nine clients on a cultural
gardens tour of Oahu.
Her clients were exposed to the history of Hawaii by exploring
several Oahu sites, such as the Bishop's Museum, Hawaii's
Plantation Village and the Mission Houses Museum.
A variety of public and private gardens were featured on the
tour, as well as an archaeological hike to ancient religious
"I couldn't just show people the gardens," Galbreath said,
"without explaining how the history and culture of the islands had
affected the [sites]."
Galbreath said she would like to run more cultural tours; she
plans to market them in states with colder climates, as interest in
Hawaii is waning in Southern California, where it is not considered
all that exotic.
She said the assistance and support from the Oahu Visitors
Bureau has made all the difference in the practical application of
her Oahu specialist training.
The bureau "has been successful in conveying the Hawaiian spirit
that has helped grow our enthusiasm and passion so that we don't
have to sell the destination -- it just flows out of us," she
Galbreath said she has never had as much in-depth training and
cultural experiences as she has with the island of Oahu.
She has been to Hawaii 10 times, six in the last three years. "I
know a lot about other destinations, but the insider information
I've [been exposed to] allows me to offer repeat clients different
itineraries each time," she said.
In addition, Galbreath became a Portugal expert last year after
completing an online training course and participating in a fam
In June, she escorted 20 clients on a two-week Portugal trip,
which featured a tour of the country's central region and a cruise
of the Douro River.
Galbreath picked Portugal because she has a natural interest in
the country and has traveled there several times.
"I like selling Portugal because it is 'doable' -- it's not so
vast that I feel overwhelmed by it," she said.
Galbreath said she is now interested in taking an advanced
Portugal course and more on-site training.
"The online course has made me more conscious of tourist boards'
educational programs as a means of expanding my destination
knowledge and allowing me to talk more extensively about the areas
I sell," she said.
Galbreath isn't the only specialist on hand at Martin's Travel
& Tours. Jo Keita, a consultant for four years at the agency,
is a specialist on west and central Africa and will soon earn her
Oahu specialist designation.
Keita became interested in west Africa before she began working
for Martin's Travel; in 1995, she organized a trip to the region
for her church.
After the success of that first trip, she began organizing two
groups a year and, in 1998, Keita coordinated trips for four groups
totaling about 120 people.
"West Africa was a difficult sell at first because consumers
didn't know about it," she said, "so I spent most of my funds
advertising the diversity of the area."
Keita said she now emphasizes what consumers will experience on the
trip and recommends that prospective clients speak to past
"Although [Galbreath and I] book different types of tours, we
share information," she said.
"My recent training has opened my eyes to selling Oahu and
letting clients know that Hawaii is not only about visiting the
outer islands; it has many similarities to west Africa," she
Keita said the Oahu Visitors Bureau didn't start promoting its
off-the-beaten path attractions and activities until two years ago.
"Now Oahu has really gone to extremes to promote itself in various
ways that emphasize the undiscovered parts of its [history]," she
As a result of these efforts and as she has become more familiar
with Oahu, it has become Keita's favorite island in the chain. "I
thought I had seen all there was to Hawaii until I did this
specialist training," she said. "I never knew Hawaiian culture was
such a mix of ethnic groups until I learned about its history."
-- Michele San Filippo
The middleman is alive and well
e sell stuff that we don't keep
in our shop. Put any spin you like on it, but that, at its core, is
what we do as travel professionals.
So given our industry's inbred lack of confidence in its own
future survival, it is to be expected that we cringe in horror
whenever we hear some analyst claim that we, the middlemen, are
But is there any truth to these analytical statements?
In the March edition of Source Inc. magazine, writer Anne Stuart
pointed out that the death of the middleman ranks "among
technology's champion myths, almost as big a no-show as the Y2K
bug." Not bad.
problem is that more than one-third of the people who buy a product
on line are going to need that same product serviced.
But who out there is going to service it for them?
Factor in the percentage of clients who will have questions to
ask of the salesperson, and you start looking at a serious amount
of folks who desperately want a middleman to explain things for
This, I suspect, is even more true when you are in the
As our professional lives evolve, we always have to ask
ourselves why the client really needs us.
The Internet has produced some challenges for our businesses and
the travel industry as a whole, but it is clearly helping to create
a new series of job definitions for travel agents.
The best agents out there are realizing that what the consumers
really want is someone to facilitate and define the best of the
travel options offered to them.
This becomes increasingly important today as shoppers are being
inundated with an endless array of online travel "promises"
allegedly offering them the best deals around.
Therefore, we need to become the go-to gurus of travel -- able
and willing to point out the good, the bad and, in the case of
certain specific hotels that come to mind, the ugly.
Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency
president. Contact him at [email protected].