Doctor, lawyer, Indian chief ... travel agent

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Bradley FeuerWhen Bradley Feuer decided to become a travel agent, he was completing his last year of law school and already had a medical degree.

"I remember we had a lecture from a tax professor about how the real secret to life is finding a job you enjoy," Feuer recalled. He had already decided to forsake his osteopathy practice and become a lawyer specializing in health issues because of his disenchantment with doctors practicing medicine as a business.

But his life took another turn after his tax professor's lecture on finding happiness only after a career switch. Feuer, then 27, asked his wife what he should do. "She asked me what I enjoy most. I told her cruising. She said, 'Why don't you figure out a way to work cruises into a career?' " Feuer said.

Researching this prospect, Feuer managed to get cruise executive Rod McLeod, then with Royal Caribbean, on the phone. What did McLeod think of Feuer joining the cruise line to give seminars on medicine and law? McLeod suggested that Feuer start his own agency.

Feuer learned the travel business and was soon opening up Pace Travel (Pace is an acronym for Physician's and Attorney's Continuing Education) in West Palm Beach, Fla. Now he is probably the only travel agency owner in the country who also actively practices both law and medicine. Feuer does not book airline tickets or take walk-in business. His clients are usually professional organizations -- often medical associations -- interested in cruises. But individual clients from these groups often book FITs, as well.

Still, the agency is not his major source of income; he books less than $1 million a year. The bulk of Feuer's income comes from his work as an osteopathic physician who is director of medical and academic affairs for Columbia Hospital in West Palm Beach.

Feuer also works as a lawyer for his agency clients -- law is the one area where his income keeps going up. In both travel and medicine, income is capped, but law fees keep rising, Feuer said.

Hmm. Law school anyone?

The doctor is in, part 2

What do doctors prescribe for their own vacations? His clientele of doctors and lawyers usually look for what other affluent leisure travelers do, said Bradley Feuer, a practicing attorney with a medical degree who is also owner of Pace Travel in West Palm Beach, Fla. Most seek out products with a high level of customer satisfaction and service, he said.

There is also a trend toward cruises with lecturers aboard, so that participants combine pleasure and continuing educational requirements or professional advancement, Feuer said.

Feuer's educational achievements provide him one advantage when he deals with his professional clientele. "Being one of them, I tend to foster more respect than if they were dealing with a layman. So they might be less likely to blow up when dealing with me," he said.

Feuer said there are similarities between doctors and travel agents. Both are professions with problems. For travel agents, there are airline commission cutbacks. For physicians, there is managed care.

Another similarity is the personal satisfaction that comes from helping people. Feuer remembers one incident when a quarreling couple went with him on a cruise and managed to patch up their shaky marriage, which Feuer attributes in large part to the cruise. "They had taken the cruise as a last-ditch effort to get together. There's magic about cruises."

Collecting the data

Lucy HirlemanHere is part two of Lucy Hirleman's series on using database marketing:

Does your agency have a client questionnaire or inquiry form for collecting personal data? If not, you will need to create one. Your form should collect as much information as possible yet be simple and quick to complete.

You can control the information as much as possible, as well as make things easier for clients, by providing choices for clients to check off instead of asking them to fill in the blanks. For example, the "destination" section on our form lists 20 geographical areas. Clients are instructed to put a check mark if they have visited an area or an "X" if they want to visit it. Don't forget a place for clients to fill in fax and e-mail information, either.

Creating a form in a word processor allows quick changes and adjustments if needed -- or you can have a professional printing service do the layout for you. Once you have a satisfactory form, get a few hundred copies made so that you can start mailings and have them handy when new clients call or walk in.

Then you can start mailing the forms to clients. We attached a short note to the form explaining that we were updating our database to provide better service and timely information. We also encourage returns by awarding one $50 cash prize every quarter, chosen from all fully completed forms.

You don't have to mail the form to your entire list at one time. Do it in blocks, such as 50 at a time or alphabetically (such as A through D in the first mailing, E through I in the second). Enclose a return addressed (no stamp) envelope. For new clients, we enclose the form in the thank-you card we send after they return from their trip.

In my next column, I'll discuss how to organize and use the information you've been collecting.

Lucy Hirleman, CTC, MCC, owns Berkshire Travel in Newfoundland, N.J. Contact her at [email protected]; fax, (973) 208-1204

The Working Vacation

Do you know any great 45-plus guys who would like to dine and dance with women on cruise ships? The Working Vacation invites agents to become part of its referral network and recommend "men of character" from their home communities to be part of its gentlemen hosts program for such cruise lines as Cunard, Holland America and Delta Queen. www.theworkingvacation.com

British Footpaths

For your clients contemplating seeing the various regions of Britain on foot, you'll find excerpts and an on-line order service for Richard Hayward's British Footpath Guides. Other features of the site include articles about Britain and Ireland from European Visits Magazine. www.britishfootpaths.com

A link home for clients

Agents can earn 20% commission by recommending Link Home, a new service that provides travelers with instant access to medical and other essential private information they may need when they're away from home.

Link Home's service is available 24 hours a day from anywhere in the world. Using the Internet or a toll-free phone number and fax, Link Home members (or medical personnel treating them in an emergency) can access complete medical histories; insurance; family and attorney contacts, and passport details.

Complete confidentiality is maintained using data encryption; information can only be accessed using a code and ID number. Once a client has enrolled, his or her file is immediately reviewed by physicians on staff, who will advise the member to provide more data if necessary.

Link Home was developed by a team that includes a Harvard-trained surgeon, a travel agent, an information technology professional and an attorney. Link Home costs $59 to enroll and $39 to renew annually. For more information, call (800) 501-8723 or visit www.linkhomeinc.com.

Checking out your outside agents

The Miller Travel Group, the consulting firm headed by Ellicott City, Md.-based attorney Jeff Miller, is offering a new service -- the travel agency independent contractor audit, designed to assist travel agency owners in analyzing and assessing the relationship with their independent contractors and avoiding tax and legal loopholes.

As part of the audit, the agency owner receives a detailed questionnaire on such areas as the revenue generated by outside agents and the agency's written independent contractor agreement.

The fee for the full audit is $1,500 for up to three independent contractors. Additional independent contractors will be audited for a fee of $350 each.

There is also a less detailed miniaudit available for $400. Both audits include a copy of Miller Travel Group's Travel Industry Independent Contractor Handbook and cassette tape, which retail for $109.95.

For more information, call (410) 418-9200, fax (410) 418-9204 or check out the group's Web site at www.jmillerlaw.com.

Compiled by Jennifer Dorsey. E-mail suggestions to [email protected]

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