For a cat
person, Judy Stiles, president of Stiles Travel, Sacramento,
Calif., has had a lot to do with dogs lately.
That is because her agency is the retailer of choice for
traveldog, a Web site of sources for consumers interested in
traveling with those particular four-legged creatures. The site,
www.traveldog.com, has a direct link to the Stiles Travel home page
and is run by two dog groomers also located in Sacramento.
When they called Stiles in the fall of 1997 to ask if she wanted
to advertise on traveldog, Stiles had another idea: She would treat
the traveldog folk as independent contractors and pay them 50% of
every commission she got from being listed on their site. The
arrangement worked out well, attracting roughly 10 e-mails a day
from prospects, Stiles said.
After the first five months she decided she couldn't book
clients and their dogs without charging a fee, because most of the
requests are very specific and require detailed research.
Currently, she has a transaction fee of $25, with an additional $25
for travel during a holiday period.
So one of the most positive perks of the agency's affiliation
with traveldog is "helping my agents learn how to [tell consumers
that we] charge a fee," said Stiles.
The business is limited by airlines' restrictions on the number
of animals allowed in the main cabin (usually, a maximum of 2),
which means that a convention of dog lovers, for example, is out.
So the traveldog arrangement won't make Stiles rich, she said, but
"it's fun, and we get some exposure. We can't really look on it as
extra revenue, but we do get two or three good bookings a
And because she's getting referrals from the Internet, her
agency is getting international exposure and has fielded requests
from as far away as South Africa. Also, in having to research the
dog-friendly accommodation options in areas around the country,
"I've become an expert on search engines and on finding exactly
what I need on the Internet," said Stiles.
Quircky pooch people
People are strange and dog
owners can be stranger, said Judy Stiles, president of Stiles in
Travel, Sacramento, Calif. Stiles is something of an expert on the
quirks of clients traveling with those four-legged creatures, since
she began booking them through her agency's link to the Web site,
She is actually a cat person, not a dog person, who is about
"ready to get a couple of cats" again to fill the void left by a
feline who died. So she is able to cast a more objective eye on her
For example, there was the client who said her dog was dying and
she wanted to give him a good time by taking one last trip with
him. "Now, who are you really doing this for?" asked Stiles, noting
that a dying dog would probably be happiest at home.
On a lighter note, she said, "the names of the animals are
sometimes hysterical. Currently I'm working on a trip for
Cleopatra, a black lab. There was a mastiff named Bunny and another
one named Ethyl -- and mastiffs are really huge dogs."
When you're booking clients and their pets, "Hoteliers are
really concerned with size of the dog," she said. "They get nervous
when you tell them this 250-pound horse is coming."
Kinds of canine travel
When Judy Stiles books clients who are traveling with their dogs
-- all referred through her agency's link to the Web site
www.traveldog.com -- she generally handles three types of
The first are for clients traveling cross country, often
relocating and looking for dog friendly-places en route. "That can
be difficult," said Stiles, president of Stiles Travel, Sacramento,
Calif. "You really get to know your geography doing it."
Next come the vacationers -- most often from the East Coast, she
has found -- who may be looking for something very specific, such
as "a private lake in Texas." In researching such places, she has
developed a huge database of resources, though, she said, the only
destinations for which she has gotten to use information more than
once were Lake Tahoe; Bar Harbor, Maine, and North Carolina's Outer
Finally, there are clients interested in flying somewhere with
their animal -- which "can be medium-easy, depending on where
they're going," she said. One of her resources in that case is a
company called Air Animal, in Tampa, Fla., which does charter air
flights for people willing to pay a premium for traveling with
In general, she noted, the research required in handling
traveldog.com requests is "very time consuming." Sometimes, she
noted, clients will say they just want a list of resources.
Usually, then, "we'll give them a list of what's available that
takes dogs. We feel justified in still charging a fee, because
we've done some work to check what's actually available."
Agents interested in
learning more about marketing on the Internet might check out the
seminars being given by the National Association of Commissioned
Travel Agents (Nacta), the Valley Center, Calif., group for outside
agents and host agencies headed by president Joanie Ogg.
Tom Ogg, Nacta's industry advisor and Joanie's husband, will
present the four-hour workshops on Internet Essentials for Travel
Agents. He will discuss such topics as Internet basics, how to
build a compelling Web site, understanding how search engines work
and how to open a storefront on the Web for less than $100 per
year. The workshops cost $79 for Nacta members and $99 for
nonmembers and will start at 1 p.m. in the following locations:
Anaheim, Calif., April 16th; Phoenix, May 14; Tulsa, Okla., May 28;
Houston, June 18; Baltimore, July 16, and Honolulu, Aug. 13.
Additional dates are continually being added in other markets
and will be listed on the Nacta Web Site, www.nacta.com. For more
information, contact Nacta Headquarters at (760) 751-1197, e-mail
[email protected], or register on line at ACTA's Web site. Space is
limited and reservations are necessary.
Standing out from the pack
I believe that
some of the old rules about direct mail may need to be modified.
The fact is that with today's technologically advanced databases,
our clients are getting solicited by some pretty high-powered
travel marketers. Sometimes, clients receive so many travel
solicitations that they are unsure which ones come directly from
Years ago, many companies figured out that glossy paper is no
more expensive than standard stationary -- so everything went
glossy and full color, with tons of pretty-model photos. And most
of this stuff looks the same.
To stand out, consider focusing on the personality and strengths
of your firm in a mailing that you write yourself. For example, try
putting a simple dramatic sentence on the cover, leaving everything
else blank. The more unique a front-page look you have, the more
you'll be telling clients that this mailing is different from all
the rest, and that it is from their travel agent. They'll probably
Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a
sales and marketing consulting firm, as well as president of the
agency Churchill & Turen Ltd. both based in Naperville,
Ill.Contact him at [email protected]
Dumb client stories
True stories? Agency legends? Whatever, we found the following
stories of client's faux pas (e-mailed to us from various sources)
"I really did have someone ask for an aisle seat so that their
hair wouldn't get messed up by being near the window."
"A client called in inquiring about a package to Hawaii. After
going over all the cost info, she asked, 'would it be cheaper to
fly to California and then take the train to Hawaii?' "
"A secretary called in looking for a hotel in Los Angeles. She
gave me various names from a list, none of which I could find. I
finally had her fax me the list. To my surprise, it was a list of
hotels in New Orleans. She thought the LA (for Louisiana) stood for
Los Angeles, and that New Orleans was a suburb of L.A. When I
called her back, she wasn't even embarrassed." *
A man called and asked if he could rent a car in Dallas. When I
pulled up the reservation, I noticed he had a one-hour layover in
Dallas. When I asked him why he wanted to rent a car, he said, 'I
heard Dallas was a big airport, and I need a car to drive between
the gates to save time.' "
"I just got off the phone with a man who asked, 'How do I know
which plane to get on?' I asked him what exactly he meant, to which
he replied, 'I was told my flight number is 823, but none of these
darned planes have numbers on them.'"
Contrary to an Agent Life item in the March 4 issue, New
York-based job recruitment company Yours in Travel Personnel is a
totally separate firm from the new Internet travel news magazine,
www.YourTravelNews.com. However, both share a name at the top: P.
Jason King, who is president of the personnel company and publisher
of the magazine.
A recent item in Agent Life made it seem as if Kemwel Holiday
Autos' agent loyalty and recognition program, KHA Miles, was about
to expire. In fact the program runs through Dec. 31.