Ellison Poe learned the family business
from the ground up -- literally. One of her first jobs at Little
Rock, Ark.-based Poe Travel was tending to the herb garden in front
of the two Victorian houses where the agency has its offices. She
has also served as the firms receptionist, ticket deliverer and, of
course, a front-line travel agent. I worked here every summer,
every Christmas and every spring break while in high school and
college, she said.
After several years
as a fund-raiser for such organizations as the Boys Club of Harlem
and the Explorers Club in New York, Poe returned to her Little Rock
I was lured back,
said Poe, adding that travel was most decidedly ingrained in her.
She spent her summers traveling with her parents throughout the
world and had virtually circled the globe by the age of
Poe, who is
president of the agency her father, Fred Poe, founded in 1961, said
she is teaching her own young daughter to experience travel in much
the same way she did. I want her to experience all the sounds,
tastes and smells of the world, she said.
Poe wants much the
same for her clients. My thing is creating wonderful holidays, she
said, and I love to do everything from soup to nuts.
Nothing gives Poe
more pleasure, she said, than detailing to travelers the finer
nuances between suites at the Le Georges V in Paris or arranging a
hot-air balloon ride in Europe at the last minute.
She stresses the
importance of forging relationships with on-site companies in order
to ensure that clients receive the absolute best possible travel
You just have to
have relationships with on-sites, she said, adding that she has
honed excellent relationships with these companies and trusts them
If my India on-site
tells me a particular guide is fantastic, I trust them. We have
that kind of relationship, she said.
Poe, who sits on
the advisory boards of Conde Nast Travel and Virtuoso (Poe Travel
is a member), is equally enthusiastic about making sure that the
agencys upscale clientele get the best value possible. For
instance, she will evaluate clients frequent-flyer accounts to
assure that they make the most of their miles.
In one storied
account, which was documented in the New York Times, a Poe client
had to cancel a trip at the last minute that wound its way from
London to Tanzania and onward to the Seychelles. The client asked
Poe to switch his ticket over to his son. Poe did so, and also
managed to get the sons visas and inoculations taken care of during
the London stopover.
A couple of days
later the client had a change of heart, and Poe managed to rebook
him on a ticket using frequent-flyer miles to join his family in
Africa; the frequent-flyer miles had been donated by a
This type of
Herculean effort is part and parcel of the way in which the
25-member agency staff conducts business. In large part, Poe
believes the agencys guiding light is her dad, who has worked as a
travel agent since 1958. Fred Poe serves as a mentor for the
agencys travel counselors and has gleaned a reputation as the the
travel consultants travel consultant.
We defer to him,
said Poe, adding that he is able to create complicated trips to
esoteric destinations seamlessly and quickly. I had a request from
clients who wanted to visit Bulgaria, Albania, Macedonia and
Greece, Poe said. When she asked her father for advice on the
itinerary, she said he was able to conjure up an entire itinerary
in under an hour.
Ellison and Fred,
however, are not the only Poes who have a hand in the agency
business. Tony Poe, Ellisons brother, joined the company as
marketing director in 2003. For his part, Tony has won Abercrombie
& Kents Best Marketing Partner award and has been featured in
National Geographic Traveler as a Palau expert.
Ellison Poe is
quick to point out that each staff member also plays a pivotal role
in the agencys continuing success. Poe Travels CEO and co-owner,
Margaret Kemp, who began her career at the agency working as the
General Services Administration and Army account administrator, has
overhauled the operations and technology side of the business and
developed the agencys fee structure.
She is fantastic,
said Poe. She and Kemp have a yin and yang relationship, with Kemp
focusing on operational issues and Poe concentrating on the sales
side of the business.
Poe said she
believes that working hard to ensure that trips are seamless is
another key ingredient that lures clients back to the agency time
and again. We hunker down and get it done, she said.
TravelWeekly.com wants to hear your story. Think youre a
good candidate for an upcoming Agent Life? Contact Claudette Covey
at [email protected], and please include your
agency name, agency location, telephone number and e-mail
Egypt for the
Rex Fritschi, founder of Rex Travel in
Chicago, designed a nine-day Egypt itinerary in conjunction with
Egyptian Express, a Giza-based tour operator. Five days are
This is an
itinerary for intrepid travelers who have visited Egypt before and
want to discover the other Egypt, said Fritschi.
Coptic Cairo, which features a host of ancient Christian churches
that predate the fourth century. Sites to visit include the Coptic
Museum and the Hanging Church, the oldest Christian church in
Egypt. Travelers are accommodated at
the Four Seasons Hotel. The site for dinner is the Rotisserie
Belvedere, a rooftop restaurant at the nearby Nile Hilton, which
features spectacular views of Cairo.
A guide drives
travelers an hour southwest through the Western Desert to Fayoum
Oasia for a full-day tour. Tour highlights include visits to the
Senusert Obelisk, the Pyramid of Maidu and Lake Qarun, the largest
saltwater lake in Africa. Theyll also visit the temple sand ruins
of Dimae north of the lake. The site for dinner is the Four Seasons
Hotel, at any one of its four restaurants.
Clients are driven
three-and-a-half hours to Bahariya Oasia, where they check into the
International Hot Spring Hotel. Sightseeing highlights include the
two-colored tombs of the 26th Dynasty, the Temple of the 26th
Dynasty and the Temple of Alexander the Great. At sunset, travelers
take a walk on Black Mountain before returning to the hotel for
Travelers visit the
Bahariya Museum to the see the recently discovered Golden Mummies.
Later, they take a four-wheel-drive excursion through the Black
Desert en route to the White Desert for a barbecue dinner and an
overnight stay in a tent.
In the morning,
travelers are driven to the Dakhla Oasis. Theyll stop for a picnic
lunch at Farafra Oasis and visit the Farafra Museum. Upon arrival
at Dakhla, clients will visit Al Qasr, a village that dates back to
medieval times, the Deir Al Haggar Temple and the El-Muz- zawaka
tombs, which were constructed during the Pharaonic period.
Travelers overnight at the Sol Y Mar Mut Inn, where theyll dine and
take advantage of the propertys natural hot spring.
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].
agency stage a co-production
it aint broken, dont fix it. Thats Kathy Hagers sentiment when it
comes to her agencys annual Holland America Line On Stage Alaska
event. The agency has included On Stage Alaska in their promotions
for the past 15 years, said Hager, who specializes in group and
incentive cruises at Burkhalter Travel & Cruise Shoppe in
Madison, Wis. Holland America helps us put together really
compelling, polished events.
HALs On Stage
Alaska co-op program includes live presentations that are designed
to address common questions regarding its cruise-tours to the Great
Land. Holland America provides us with a first-class Alaska
product, and as an agency we have confidence in them, Hager
Burkhalter put a new twist on the On Stage promotion. The agency
tied it into the Worlds Largest Cruise Night, a one-day event in
October sponsored by CLIA that had member retailers across North
America offering special events and promotions.
an On Stage Alaska event that included a salmon dinner at a local
hotel restaurant. It drew 164 attendees with an additional 45
attending a post-dinner Alaska presentation.
This was the best
On Stage ever, said Hager, with 100% of attendees now under
deposit. There were several family group representatives in
attendance who sent us the rest of their family to make
manager of Alaska events marketing at Holland America Line, said
that Burkhalter stands out as a shining example of cruise
line-travel agency teamwork.
in creating an On Stage must meet three requirements, Ruzicka said.
They need to commit to 100 qualified people who will attend the
show, a facility to house them and advertising to make it
Line Vice President of Marketing Paul Allen said that agents who
are successful in selling Alaska cruise-tours do so through
face-to-face interaction. If they commit to On Stage Alaska, itll
be very beneficial for them.
Hand in Hand
highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working
together. Send suggestions to Covey at [email protected].
When was your
Every travel firm ought to submit
to an annual business makeover. Once a year, you need to take off
the blinders to see your business as it really is, whether you are
an owner, a home-based independent or an in-house travel
isnt easy, so you need to bring in experts, say 25 or so clients,
including a few who no longer use your services.
advisory board needs to be composed of people who will give it to
Two years ago, my
lease was up, and I was salivating at the thought of moving to a
trendy suite of offices in our beautiful downtown.
I imagined luncheon
appointments and client breakfasts in one of our many
I thought how nice
it would be to take an afternoon walk to clear the cobwebs. I
wanted to be next door to the bookstore and within a few feet of a
double decaf mocha latte.
But something told
me to check it out with some of my clients.
I called 20 of
them, and each one advised us against going downtown. In fact, all
20 said exactly the same thing: We dont care where you are as long
as we can park near the front door. Our downtown has a parking
I think this kind
of evaluation and communication with those we serve ought to be a
regular part of what we do.
It needs to be
face-to-face, and it needs to go far beyond a printed
Not long ago, I
finished speaking with a mature couple off to see Alaska on,
perhaps, their last vacation together. Just before getting up, the
husband and wife looked at me, and he said, ever so slowly, You
know, youre like the last doctor who made house calls.
I thanked him, but
Im not certain he meant it as a compliment. Perhaps he was just
recognizing a dinosaur.
I also believe that
a one-day staff retreat to discuss ways to make the company better
will pay rich dividends. It might be wise to hire a facilitator,
but I know many agency owners who could easily handle this
Of course sitting
around for a full days discussion with fellow workers is a
challenge. So let me suggest some ways to focus the discussion so
it is truly productive.
It might be good to
begin by stating three things that we do exceptionally
Always start on a
positive note. Then, see if the staff can come up with problems
that are preventing future growth and income.
Once the problems
are stated, solutions can be discussed.
The agenda might
include the following questions:
What do we
provide that is different and better than any other agency in the
How do we market
travel to our clients? Is it the most effective use of our
Is there anything
we can do for our clients that will impact service and cost less
than $5,000 a year?
Those who have
predicted the end of the travel consultant always fail to recognize
the vitality and strength of our workforce.
You dont succeed at
what we do unless you are bright, world experienced and
But we can always
be better, and it is important to make certain that there are times
set aside to talk with our clients and to talk among ourselves to
see how our services can improve.
consultant Richard Turen owns the vacation planning firm Churchill
and Turen, based in Naperville, Ill. An industry veteran of nearly
25 years, he has been named to Conde Nast Travelers Best Agents
list since it began in 2000.
excited about the Caribbean
Variety is the spice of life. The Caribbean is a diverse collection
of experiences, said Hugh Riley, the Caribbean Tourism
Organizations director of marketing for the Americas. Since there
is no one-size-fits-all Caribbean vacation, it is worthwhile to
determine what type of Caribbean vacation your client would find
most appealing before they even consider the price. Travelers will
find a host of options, from relaxing beach vacations, romantic
escapes, cultural experiences and adventure.
Theres always more to learn about the Caribbean. The Caribbean is
much more multifaceted than many travelers know. No matter how
well-traveled or well-educated travelers are, theyll always find a
host of cultural options in the Caribbean, said Riley. Exploring
the culture and character of the people of this region requires
more than a visit to the beach.
The fun is in the details. Provide clients with destination
information on unique restaurants, touring ideas and shopping
options that will enhance their vacation.
There is often a
direct relationship between the amount of preparation an agent does
on behalf of the client and the level of enjoyment the client
experiences while vacationing, said Riley.
Tell clients the Caribbean story. The narrative value of a
Caribbean vacation is defined as the relationship between the price
you pay and the quality of the story you get out of it, said Riley.
Although a travelers tan can tell a story of its own, the stories
are not all about the beach. Riley recommends that agents encourage
clients to soak up the Caribbeans rich culture by mingling with
locals and visiting local restaurants and markets.
If you do not yet know a person from the Caribbean, get to know
one, said Riley. Natives can offer agents a host of insider tips
that can be passed along to clients. Caribbean people love to boast
about the Caribbean, and they never tire of talking about their
heritage, said Riley.