When you're a home-based agent, it's easy to feel isolated. So when
independent contractors Dianne Watson, from Largo, Fla., and Mary
Scholten, from Grand Rapids, Mich., met in an America Online travel
agents' chat room, they began to e-mail each other regularly for
Today, that initial connection has expanded into Independent
Travel Professionals Network (ITPN), a group of 12 outside agents
who provide a "really good networking connection on line,"
according to ITPN member Linda Androlia, an independent agent who
owns Sunstone Tours in Malibu, Calif.
Each of the women (so far the group has just female members) has
her own travel specialty, ranging from the Caribbean to Australia.
Members are located in eight states -- Florida, Michigan,
Tennessee, New York, New Jersey and Maryland and two agents each
from California and Pennsylvania -- and are located far enough away
from each other to avoid competition.
Sharing tips and information is the group's biggest benefit.
Although Androlia is now an Aussie specialist, she was clueless
about life Down Under when she had to handle clients who were
Sydney-bound. Without the aid of two ITPN members, "I wouldn't have
known where to start," she said.
Members also help each other with marketing hints, share
information on seminars and help with their respective client
newsletters. Everyone is expected to write extensive reports on any
fam trips they take, which are archived on the group file.
Although some members of the group have bumped into each other
on their trips, they're planning a "little convention" in September
in New Orleans for a full-scale in-person meeting. "We do a lot for
each other," said Androlia. "If you're working from your home, you
don't have anyone to bounce ideas off. We keep each others' spirits
The group is open to new members who fit the criteria of being
independent contractors with a specialty, who have been working at
least three years in the travel business. Although they would
especially love to recruit a ski specialist, they're open to
hearing from anyone who's qualified; interested agents can e-mail
Forming an on-line network
If you want to
form your own networking group on line, consider these hints from
Linda Androlia, an outside agent at Sunstone Tours in Malibu,
Calif., and a member of the Independent Travel Professionals
Network (ITPN, profiled above).Log in daily. Regular interactions cement the bonds between
members.Keep clear goals for the group. Sharing information --
especially about the members' specialties -- is the No. 1 reason
for keeping ITPN going, Androlia said.Have a well-defined procedure for getting new members. At ITPN,
three people form the membership committee -- and "if we see
somebody on the America Online or Internet boards who sounds like
they'd fit into the group, we check them out," said Androlia.Have clear-cut criteria for membership. "We require three
years' experience and [accept] no inside agents," said Androlia.
Most important, she added, is being somebody "who will contribute
to the group, not just take from us. We had to drop two members who
just weren't knowledgeable or experienced enough."Organize e-mail messages. "Some people don't have time to read
jokes or personal messages, so we decided to label them
nontravel-related. On busy days I just delete them."Realize there will be personality conflicts sometimes. "It's
like a city," Androlia said of her group. "When you get 12 women in
a room together [as happens when the group chats in instant message
real time], you know what's going to happen."A radical proposal to professionalize our industry
The industry has
been inundated with people who have purchased their
Tens of thousands of consumers are being urged to claim the
benefits of being a travel agent without the need for
time-consuming professional experience and education.
We need to professionalize this industry, and we need to do it
quickly. Nothing could help accomplish this faster than the
elimination of traditional fam trips and automatic agent
Imagine what would happen to our relationship with suppliers if
they all, in unison, announced that they were eliminating industry
discounts that are offered indiscriminately. Imagine how much our
industry would be changed if all suppliers agreed to extend
industry discounts exclusively to those agents capable of creating
and directing serious business in their direction.
Will this ever happen? I'm afraid not. So far, I'm the only
member of the Committee to End Automatic Industry Discounts.
Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a
sales and marketing
consulting firm, as well as president of the agency
Churchill & Turen Ltd., both based in Naperville, Ill.
Contact him at [email protected]The skeptical Web surfer
The Internet is a treasure trove of travel sites -- but surfers
can get capsized by the waves of misinformation out there. In fact,
the New York Times recently led off a story about the skepticism
required in Web surfing with the following anecdote: "Tourists
drove six hours to Mankato, Minn., in search of underground caves
and hot springs mentioned on a Web site. When they arrived, there
were no such attractions."
The piece, written by Tina Kelly, continued: "Experts on
Internet research point out that the Web is largely unregulated and
unchecked, and so they agree it is wise to be skeptical: Consider
the source ... Is the information up to date and traceable? Can it
be verified, or the source checked, off line?"
Here are more tips on checking out Web-based information from a
related piece:To find out exactly who's running a site, go to
http://rs.internic.net and use the "whois" search of the database
of registered domain names run by Internic, the registry for the
most recognized categories of Internet domains.Beware of the hidden agendas of those running sites. For
example, the Web site on the National Coalition for Ergonomics
would seem to promise some good information on ergonomics -- but a
closer look at the site shows that it's run by an alliance of
businesses concerned about the high cost of protecting workers from
repetitive strain injuries.
Web surfers beware: Part 2
Here are more cautions for the Web surfer making sure a site has
trustworthy information, adapted from a recent piece in the New
l Spelling and grammatical errors are an important red flag.
"Lack of attention to such detail could indicate less-than-rigorous
content," wrote Tina Kelly in the piece, though "some sites run by
non-English speakers can be an exception."
l It helps to note whether a site's address ends with .com (for
commercial), .org (technically for nonprofit organizations), .gov
(for government), .net (for network) or .edu (for educational).
"While many .edu sites describe bona fide research, others are
individual home pages of people affiliated with the institution,
with information that is harder to verify," wrote Kelly. "It is
also true that anybody with a little bit of money can get a .com,
.org or .net site, so the suffix is in no way definitive -- a strip
miner could register lovetheenvironment.org."
"If you see a tilde (as in ~jdoe) in a Web site's address,
that's usually a sign of a personal home page ... 'Chances are
they're not a major, major entity,' said Reva Basch, author of
'Researching on Line for Dummies' (Dummies Technology Press, 1998),
of tilde-site owners."More pain, pain, pain
More of Travel Weekly's staffers are speaking up about the pains
of working with computers following the publication of the March 8
piece on San Francisco bureau chief Laura Del Rosso's bout with
repetitive strain injury (RSI).
Senior editor Henry Magenheim said he was diagnosed with neck
arthritis three years ago, "a direct result of having the computer
screen at a 45-degree angle for years as well as cradling the phone
during interviews between my neck and my head."
"On bad days, I have a neck traction device where I lie down and
stick my head in a noose for 20 minutes. When it's really bad, I
heat up a gel in the microwave and wrap a towel around it and place
it around my neck.
"P.S.: In the old days, when we pounded typewriters, I was
Meanwhile, this Agent Life editor had an exasperating encounter
with workers' compensation insurance in trying to diagnose RSI.
First, workers' comp sent me to a doctor who decided, after a
five-minute exam and an X-ray, that my injury wasn't work-related.
Then the workers' comp insurance company refused to release the
X-ray report to my regular doctor.
Why? From the way the insurance company grilled me, it seemed
that someone there feared that my doctor, who is a medical reporter
on a local news show, planned to use my X-ray report in an expose
on workers' comp!
My P.S.: I'd like to hear from agents who have been having
trouble with RSI. If you've got a pain in your hand or shoulder,
e-mail me at [email protected] or send a fax to (201) 319-1947.
By Phyllis Fine