Dividends in diversity

You know the old saying about not putting all your eggs in one basket.

Gerry Korten, owner of East West Travel in Natick, Mass., takes that advice more literally than most.

Korten, owner of her agency for 18 years, is a renaissance woman extraordinaire with enough eggs to fill a hen house.

In addition to being a travel agent who specializes in upscale travel, cruises, tours and FITs, Korten is a chef, author, painter, educator and importer.

More to the point, Korten has found a way to tie her varied pursuits into her business, helping to add to her enjoyment of life, and to her bottom line.

A graduate of Paris' famous cooking school, Le Cordon Bleu, Korten is now working on her second book, a cookbook entitled "Sagana," which means bounty in the language of the Philippines.

Recognizing the increasing popularity of gourmet tours, Korten has parlayed her knowledge of cooking into a series of customized cooking tours of France and Italy for her clients.

Unable to find good travel school graduates to replace "the old guard who are retiring," Korten is focusing on training would-be agents herself.

Drawing from an adult learning education package she created during a masters program years ago and refined in 1990 while obtaining her CTC designation, Korten is offering a computer self-study program to adults.

"My theory is that adults learn because they want to, and they prefer to do so on their own at their own pace," she said.

A frequent traveler to exotic destinations, Korten created an import-export company called Rare Wonders of the World to sell her finds, which range from antiques to clothing and jewelry.

"I was wearing a cape I bought in the Dolomites in Italy, and a woman loved it so much she was following me around asking where I got it," Korten said, describing the inspiration for the company. Korten said she promptly ordered a dozen capes, displayed them at the agency and "sold out by Christmas."

She said she had to learn the ins and outs of import and export taxes before beginning her venture, which is now doing so well that she devotes half of her office space to displaying her wares. She now encourages fellow travel agents to shop overseas and sell their finds through her store on concession.

-- Felicity Long

Kicking up her heels

How does Gerri Korten, owner of East West Travel, Natick, Mass., find the time for her many pursuits? Recently, in a move that surprised everyone who knew her, Korten sold her company to Tzell Travel in Boston, essentially becoming an independent consultant for the larger agency.

Korten maintains her Natick office space and her company name, however, creating and selling tours and running tickets through Tzell.

"Before I was doing more administrative work, but now it's as if I'd outsourced my corporate clients," Korten said.

"This frees me up to do what is interesting to me in the travel industry," with a particular focus on special-interest and customized travel, she said.

"Now when somebody comes to me and says, 'I want to do an FIT for 15 days,' I have time to bring them out to lunch to discuss it," she said. "It's more convenient for them, and they feel like it's a social occasion."

Korten said the move to Tzell was one of economic expediency.

"I had five or six agents on salary, and I couldn't support that overhead on 5% [air] commissions," she said.

"I believe that eventually everything will go net, so I cut down everything that was low or no profit," she said.

Several of her agents continue to work with her on contract, she said, adding: "They can work from home or in the office, and they like it."

Agents can check out Korten's Web site at www.geocities.com/paris/4485/.

Reading the rich

The rich aren't like you and me." How often have we heard that old saying?

In many ways it is, indeed, true. After all, these are people who might spend more on a trip than you or I make in a year.

But that adage can be highly misleading.

In some ways, the rich are like everyone else, more so than you would ever expect.

Marc Mancini.For example, do some penny-pinch? You bet. How else do you think they got rich?

Don't assume they'll look rich, either. That little old lady dressed in polyester could have $1 million in her credit union (earning 2.5% interest, of course).

Here are several thoughts on selling to some of your wealthiest clients:

  • Do search out value for your upscale customers but don't be afraid to up-sell them to the best. To them a $300 per day weekend special at the Ritz-Carlton is better than a great $220 room at a mass-market property.
  • Stress learning and adventure. Most upscale travelers are attracted to enrichment, educational and adventure opportunities.
  • Underscore exclusivity. Unusual destinations, access to hard-to-see attractions, isolated, intimate resorts -- wealthy clients respond to these points.
  • Offer FIT service. Most of the time, luxury seekers want customized vacations. Here is the good news: Most of them are willing to pay a fee for an FIT. (Here is more good news: They use travel agents more than most.)
  • Suggest luxury/mass-market blends. Often, upscale clients want a few mainstream experiences to go along with their luxury vacation experience. Remember: For every wealthy traveler who insists on a Seabourn cruise, there is another who will take the best suite on a Carnival vessel.
  • Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles College.

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