Deeply rooted in the travel business

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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 roots.

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 6.

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 experiences.

You just have to have relationships with on-sites, she said, adding that she has honed excellent relationships with these companies and trusts them implicitly.

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 friend.

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 address.

Perfect Itinerary

Egypt for the adventurous

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 featured here.

This is an itinerary for intrepid travelers who have visited Egypt before and want to discover the other Egypt, said Fritschi.

Day 1

Travelers tour 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. The Cairo skyline is dotted with domes and minarets. Patrons dining at the Rotisserie Belvedere, a rooftop restaurant at the Nile Hilton, get a spectacular view of the city.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.

Day 2

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.

Day 3

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 dinner.

Day 4

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.

Day 5

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.

The Perfect 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].

Hand In Hand

Cruise line, agency stage a co-production

If 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 said.

This year, 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.

Burkhalter hosted 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 reservations.

Marie Ruzicka, manager of Alaska events marketing at Holland America Line, said that Burkhalter stands out as a shining example of cruise line-travel agency teamwork.

Agents interested 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 happen.

Holland America 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].

Turens Tips

When was your last makeover?

By Richard Turen

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 agent.

This navel-gazing isnt easy, so you need to bring in experts, say 25 or so clients, including a few who no longer use your services.

Your client advisory board needs to be composed of people who will give it to you straight.

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 restaurants.

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 problem.

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 form.

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 task.

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 well.

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 area?

  • How do we market travel to our clients? Is it the most effective use of our money?

  • 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 resilient.

    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.

    Industry 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.

    Five Things

    Getting clients excited about the Caribbean

    1. 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.

    2. 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.

    3. 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.

    4. 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.

    5. 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.

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