began with art -- Margot Cushings love for Italy, that is. It all
started with an absolutely fabulous college art history professor
who got me engaged in Italian art, said Cushing, an independent
contractor with Linden Travel Bureau in New York.
Her growing interest
in art led Cushing to spend a year of independent study in Florence
at age 20. I fell in love with Italy, she said.
Cushing, who has
worked as a travel agent for 30-plus years, started from the bottom
up. I found an agency that was willing to train me, she
As Cushing evolved as
an agent, she realized that she would be best suited to work as an
independent contractor, where she could build a clientele of her
When the airline
commission structure began changing in the 1990s I knew I had to
create a niche for Italy, said Cushing, adding that she was off to
a running start because she had already gained a reputation as a
retailer who knew the destination well.
Today, 65% of
Cushings business is derived from selling Italy, with the remainder
coming from Spain, France, Britain, the Caribbean, Canada, the U.S.
To generate business,
Cushing created a Web site at www.vantaggio.com, which promotes her product
offerings. She also has gleaned a tremendous amount of business
from being featured in Travel + Leisures A-List Agents
Its been incredible,
said Cushing, adding that shes booked two trips this month with new
clients and two other itineraries in April and May. And I have more
coming up -- three in July and five more at the end of August and
September, she said.
Cushing has traveled
to Italy at least 25 times and typically visits the country three
times a year at the invitation of regional tourist boards to attend
conferences and familiarization trips. In some cases, the
conferences enable agents to sit down with suppliers and acquaint
themselves with product offerings.
have helped her forge relationships with a host of hoteliers, car
rental firms, ground operators and airlines. You have to spend a
lot of time with them to get to know them because it takes a while
to develop a rapport.
Cushing, who is a
member of Virtuoso, also takes advantage of the services of the
consortiums on-site partners.
Most of my travel
arrangements are made with people in Italy, Cushing
These trips are
essential because they provide Cushing with the opportunity to
check out new hotels and ensure that perennial favorites are still
up to snuff.
Cushing, who speaks
Italian fluently, said she worked hard to learn the language in a
way that enables her not to just order off a menu but to hold
conversations. That way they remember me better, she
Like any savvy travel
agent, Cushing is always looking to uncover new destinations to
expand her business. In her view, such emerging destinations as
Tunisia and Libya are excellent options for travelers who have an
affinity for Italy.
she said, feature myriad Roman ruins that are even more intact than
what travelers will find in Italy.
Cushing believes that
Tunisia, Libya and Italy, in combination, would be a dream vacation
for seasoned travelers. She is pitching such a trip to someone she met at a party.
Cushing believes she
is ideally suited for the life of an independent contractor,
although she conceded working independently is not for the faint of
Some people dont
think they can make enough money, and they would rather have a
salary, she said.
But Cushing loves the
You can develop your
business as you wish, she said, and it gives you the autonomy to
sell the things you want to sell and build the kind of clientele
you want. You have to want to prove something to
To contact Agent
Life reporter Claudette Covey, send e-mail[email protected].
Alaskas natural wonders
Margret Propper is a travel counselor and
Alaska specialist at Brownell Travel in Birmingham, Ala. The
following five-day southeast Alaska itinerary begins in Anchorage
and takes in the citys myriad sites as well as visiting Juneau,
Gustavius and Glacier Bay.
Clients check into
the Captain Cook Hotel and spend the day sightseeing in Anchorage,
visiting the Native Heritage Center and the floatplane base in
downtown Anchorage, where more than 800 floatplane landings and
takeoffs are accommodated on a peak summer day. That evening,
travelers dine at Simon and Seaforts, which Propper said offers
superlative seafood. Request a table with a view of Cook Inlet, she
Clients fly to Juneau
in the morning and pick up a car on arrival. They check into the
central locally Goldbelt Hotel. They can drive out to Mendenhall
Glacier and take one of the many hiking trails up to the face of
the glacier. Later, they continue driving to the end of the road to
visit the Church on the Lake. Following the church visit, travelers
return to Juneau to visit the Alaska State Museum. For dinner,
Propper suggests trying the Twisted Fish, with high ceilings and an
entire wall of windows on the Gastineau Channel.
Travelers board a charter flight
for Admiralty Island to see the Bears of Admiralty Island at Pack
Creek. Admiralty Island is known as the Fortress of the Bears by
the local Tlingit natives. The island is home to more than 1,600
bears -- one of the highest concentrations of bears in the world.
Later, clients fly on to Gustavius and check into the Bear Track
Inn at the entrance to Glacier Bay. All meals are included. In the
evening, they kayak in glacial waters around the lodge.
Travelers embark on a
whale-watching cruise to see the Whales of Point Adolphus. This is
where the largest concentration of whales are found in southeast
Alaska, said Propper.
Clients take a
full-day cruise on Glacier Bay to see the massive glaciers as they
calve and the wildlife found in the bay.
Itinerary is an example of an itinerary an agent crafted his or
herself, not available anywhere else, but can be duplicated by
other agents to sell to their clients. To send an example of an
itinerary youve customized, e-mail Covey at[email protected].
helps save a life
every travel agents nightmare: A client becomes very ill on a trip
and the retailer is helpless to do anything to remedy the
situation. Such a nightmare was averted for Damian McCabe and her
client, Alfred Maybach, because McCabe had the foresight to ensure
that her clients acquired Travel Guard insurance.
Maybach and his wife,
Beverly, were sailing aboard Royal Caribbeans Legend of the Seas on
a Panama Canal itinerary with a U.S. Naval Academy group when
Maybach became ill and began coughing up blood.
Beverly sought out
McCabe, who was onboard as the group coordinator. Travel Guard was
amazing, said McCabe, of McCabe Bremer Travel in McLean, Va. Thanks
to coordination between the ships doctor, Travel Guard and the
Coast Guard, Maybach was evacuated via helicopter to South Miami
McCabe said Travel
Guard called Beverly several times a day to keep her abreast of her
They called to see if
she needed anything, said McCabe. They let her know where he was at
any given moment and connected her with anyone she needed to call
Travel Guard arranged
a flight from Aruba to Miami and had a car meet Beverly at the
airport, which transported her directly to the hospital, said
The doctor who met
the air ambulance in Miami said if Maybach arrived just 10 minutes
later, he likely would not have survived due to internal bleeding,
said a Travel Guard spokesman.
director of worldwide assistance at Travel Guard, said the
situation with Maybach is not unlike situations the company
grapples with on a daily basis. In this case, we gathered together
and figured out how to get Mr. Maybach from the ship to the
For his part, Maybach
believes he is one fortunate man. Dont leave home without Travel
Guard insurance if youre going on a major trip. They have been
Hand in Hand
highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working
together. Send suggestions to Covey at[email protected].
Dont get trampled
in the distribution battle
Several weeks ago, a major airline
sent a notification to a GDS firm. The message was brief. It read,
Effective [date] we will no longer supply your company with our
schedules and fares. If your travel agency is using that GDS, what
will you do when your clients look to purchase a ticket on that
Will you go to the
airline Web site to book? How about picking up the phone and going
back to the old-fashioned way of booking? Perhaps you will be using
one of the new-entrant GDSs, such as G2 SwitchWorks, ITA or
Now that I have your
attention, I have to confess that the airline did not send its
notification -- yet.
But recent news
releases should alert agents that they may no longer be booking
clients as they do today.
United Airlines had
meetings at their headquarters with 40 key agencies and 30
corporate accounts during January regarding the new booking
approached agencies with possible financial offers for making their
bookings in a new system and not in their current GDS.
West, Continental, Delta, Northwest, United and AirTran have signed
agreements with G2 SwitchWorks and have prepaid distribution fees
to use the system.
These airlines have a
significant share of the bookings currently made by travel agencies
through the four traditional GDSs.
US Airways also
signed a multiyear agreement with them but not with the commitment
of the other seven. Perhaps this is in anticipation of its pending
merger with America West. JetBlue, Alaska
and Independence Air have signed letters of intent to use the new
But the big push to
accelerate the development and use of the new-entrant GDSs was the
action taken by the 16-airline Star Alliance, which met with ITA
Software and G2 in May. The alliance
wants to create a single strategy to select distribution
spends $2 billion a year on GDS fees, which represents about 27% of
the worldwide market share.
Clout will definitely
move the process along more rapidly.
The airlines are out
to drastically reduce their current GDS fees of $10 to $13 per
booking, and they are almost unanimously agreeing that they will
seek distribution methods other than the current GDSs to achieve
their financial goals.
The last time this
many airlines agreed on anything was when they decided to no longer
pay commissions to travel agents. Now they are focused again, and
the battle between airlines and the GDSs is on.
The GDS firms are
also moving in new directions. Cendant,
owner of Galileo and Orbitz, has developed an alternative
distribution system for agents.
Sabre has said
competition is nothing new for us and is prepared to move
ahead. You can be sure that Worldspan and
Amadeus are also repositioning.
systems and third-party software companies are communicating with
the new entries.
They want to ensure
that their equipment is compatible with all forms of electronic
distribution and offer their customers the ability to use their
equipment no matter what booking method is used.
The puzzling aspect
to me is that most of the agency community is not being invited or
not inviting themselves to participate in this important issue,
which could have a tremendous impact on their future financial
status and customer service.
If you are not
involved, do you plan to wait and let your suppliers determine your
future? Are you prepared to have them
surprise you with a message telling you what your options
If you wait, you
might get the same feeling you had when the airlines informed you
that they cut commissions.
John Dalton is an
industry consultant, trainer and speaker.
Getting good at
closing the deal
Listen to clients. The biggest sales mistake is talking too much.
Yes, you need to ask questions, but agents should be focused around
the concept of ABC (always be closing), said Rick Kaplan of
WeCanPartners, a travel and hospitality consulting firm in Los
Angeles. He suggested using a preprinted reservations form that
contains qualifying questions.
Fact-find. Its essential for the agent to control the flow of the
phone call or e-mail by gathering relevant facts to use later.
Beyond the who, what, when and where lies the most critical aspect
of fact-finding, the why in their purchase, said Kaplan.
Understanding why someone is planning a vacation is the most
critical question on the road to closing the sale. According to
Kaplan, there are only five reasons someone buys a vacation:
special occasion; normal vacation; escape from the rigors of work
or life; romantic getaway; or destination desire. Find out early in
the dialogue which of these is the buyers underlying purpose, and
you are well on your way to a sale, Kaplan said.
Experience. Understanding a customers prior travel habits ensures
you are on target with the products you suggest, said
The big recap. Assuming you have taken notes, youll be in good
position to begin closing, as you validate what you have heard by
using terms like, Heres what it sounds like you are looking for,
said Kaplan. Using this method quickly tells you if you are on
target or about to waste a great deal of time researching something
you cannot sell.
Always be closing. From the first contact, look at this process as
an inverted triangle that narrows the choices (a maximum of two)
that you present, both of which will work for the buyer. This is
accomplished by following these handy hints: Relate your findings
to buyers hot buttons, personalize what you say based on what youve
heard, clearly define differences between the products. Ask them
how all that sounds and provide a viable reason to book