DonorTravel.com gives back

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Louis Willacy is no stranger to giving back. As a boy, he was an Eagle Scout. And as an attorney who graduated from the Columbia Law School in New York, he has taken on his fair share of pro bono work. So when he decided to open an online travel agency, it made sense that his business plan would incorporate a philanthropic element.

Oakland, Calif.-based DonorTravel.com, which debuted earlier this year, donates 50% of commissions to a range of charitable organizations, which the client can choose.

Charities include the American Red Cross, American Cancer Society, American Diabetes Association, American Heart Association, Childrens Defense Fund, Habitat for Humanity, Alzheimers Association, United Negro College Fund, Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and Africare.

When clients click on one of the listed charities, they are linked to that charitys Web site where they can learn about all aspects of that particular organization. Willacy said DonorTravel.com hopes to eventually expand its list of charities to include smaller, niche organizations.

The inspiration behind DonorTravel.com was to combine the two aspects of my life, community service and travel, said Willacy. We wanted to choose important causes.

Earlier in the year, most clients chose to donate to the American Red Cross to send aid to victims of the December tsunami in Asia.

A natural fit

Willacy believes the travel industry is a natural fit for him.

I love to travel, and my involvement began more as a hobby than a business endeavor, he said. I was very lucky in that my parents not only loved to travel, but they also didnt mind traveling with kids. We traveled to Canada, Mexico and took some bigger trips to Europe.

In 2002, he launched Globapost.com, a message-board service that also produced a monthly newsletter covering destinations around the world.

The segue to DonorTravel.com sprung out of our focus on trying to generate revenue to support the newsletter and Globapost.com, said Willacy.

Ironically, the launching of DonorTravel.com was so involved and time-consuming that Globapost.com has temporarily fallen by the wayside, Willacy said, adding that he expected to have it up and running by years end.

The best deals

DonorTravel.com is designed to offer prospective travelers the best deals in a competitive online marketplace, Willacy said. Our inventory is very competitive price-wise, he said. We are a viable option for anyone who wants to book travel online, and we have the same or better rates than most of the other travel Web sites.

DonorTravel.com, whose tagline is Feel Good Travel, uses a third-party company that provides the inventory and handles the bookings.

This company notifies DonorTravel.com of the booking. The company inputs booking information into its database, and sends an e-mail to clients delineating the trip details.

It then notifies DonorTravel.com who has booked travel so that we can notify those travelers to have them designate which charity will receive the donation, said Willacy.

The site is set up so that one smaller charity, the Blackmon Foundation in Canton, Miss., which provides college scholarships, acts as a clearinghouse that remits funds to the charities of the clients choice.

On target

The company is on target to meet its sales goals.

Since weve launched, we have received a very strong response from consumers, said Willacy. Weve launched with a solid business plan with targets and goals.

Willacy is optimistic about the future of DonorTravel.com.

Because we have the same rates or better rates than most of the travel Web sites, there is no downside to booking on DonorTravel, Willacy said. And the upside is you help charities.

To contact Agent Life reporter Claudette Covey, send e-mail [email protected].

The Perfect Itinerary

Living it up in London

Tessie Young, a travel counselor at San Jose, Calif.-based Peak Travel, designed this five-night tour of London. Young has been a European specialist for more than 20 years. For the best specials, upgrades and dollar rates she suggests agents book through www.jhhotels.com.

DAY 1

Clients check into the Stafford Hotel. Since they will be arriving early, Young suggests they leave their bags at the front desk, stop for a latte at Cafe Nero and then board the Big Red Bus for a tour of London. They should buy tickets beforehand to enter the Tower of London and join a Beefeaters tour. The venue for lunch is Chez Girard. That evening, they can enjoy a light dinner at the Staffords American Bar.

DAY 2

The day starts with a visit to Trafalgar Square and Lord Nelsons Monument. They then visit the National Gallery and have an early lunch in the museums Sainsbury Wing. Travelers cross the street in time for the free lunchtime concert at St. Martins in the Field. Later in the day they can visit Knightsbridge. After exploring Harvey Nichols and Harrods -Young said not to miss the food hall, which serves the best gelato outside of Italy -- clients can continue the shopping spree with a walk down Walton Street past Chelseas boutiques. Travelers dine at Bibendum before attending the theater in the evening.

DAY 3

A morning tour includes the changing of the guard at Parliament Square, Westminster Abbey, the Cabinet War Rooms and the Churchill Museum. Travelers can then have lunch at Alberts Pub, near the Churchill Museum. If it is a weekend,they can eat at the Borough Market. Clients walk the pedestrian bridge to the South Bank and see the London Eye, the New Tate Gallery, the Saatchi Gallery and Shakespeares Globe. The venue for dinner is Chor Bizarre, an Indian restaurant near the Stafford.

The Tower of London.DAY 4

Travelers take a tour with Lewis Day Chauffeurs, which has designed a secret tour of London. Lunch is sandwiches from Pret a Manger. The Staffords concierge will arrange a dinner at the Wolseley restaurant. Weeks before arrival the concierge can obtain tickets to the Ceremony of the Keys at the Tower.

DAY 5

Clients visit the British Museum in time for the highlights tour by a Blue Badge Guide. They have lunch at the museum in the Great Court. The Stafford concierge can book tea at the Ritz and a play for travelers last evening in London, which is capped off with a light meal at the Soho Hotel.

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

Gogo Vacations agent makes the extra effort

Jewell Ramos specialty is designing highly detailed FIT vacations to Mexico.  Although her clientele is decidedly upscale, Ramos said she is on a mission to ensure customers get the best value for their money.

Ramos, an outside consultant for Worldview Travel who is based in Hendersonville, N.C., knows where to turn when looking for that value: Gogo Vacations.

I happened to call Gogo on a whim three years ago -- I knew they handled a certain property -- and got reservations agent Meagan Campain on the phone, said Ramos, adding that the two instantly clicked. She and I have been as thick as thieves ever since.

Campain is creative when helping Ramos find the best air and hotel prices, she said.

Also, Campain, who is based in Las Vegas, is certain to get back to Ramos, regardless of any time-zone differences.

Ill call her from anywhere, any time zone, said Ramos. She makes sure she gets back to me, no matter what continent Im on.

Campain said the two have connected under an array of circumstances.

Ive caught Jewell while shes in the airport connecting to another flight, she said. During a hurricane she plugged her laptop into the cigarette lighter of her car, enabling the two to work on an itinerary together, said Campain.

In Campains view, what makes Ramos a superlative travel counselor is her ability to qualify clients.

A lot people are just order takers, Campain said. Jewell listens to her clients. She knows what theyre looking for and what their budgets are.

Both women agree that clients are demanding.

They dont mind spending money, but they know what they want and you better get it for them -- and they want every nook and cranny of Mexico, said Ramos.

Invariably, working as a team, the women obtain the trip elements that are ideally suited for clients.

Together, we get them what they want, said Campain.

Hand in Hand highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working together. Send suggestions to Covey at [email protected].

Turens Tips

Assisted living at sea

 By Richard Turen

Richard TurenIm sorry, I dont share the views of the doom-and-gloom brigade. There are endless opportunities in travel. And just in case those of us who work in travel run out of creative ideas, the academics on university campuses can guide us in the creation of still more opportunities. To wit, two professors in the field of geriatric medicine at Chicagos prestigious Northwestern University.

Doctors Robert Golub and Lee Lindquist wrote an article in the American Geriatrics Journal that suggests a modern cruise ship is well equipped to fill the role of a floating assisted-living facility.

Their article was accompanied by estimates that boils down the cost of cruise ship care to about $3,000 per month. That compares quite favorably with current assisted-living costs.

The idea is designed to appeal to Baby Boomers who dread the thought of being institutionalized.

For the same approximate price, the doctors theorize, a family could tell a loved one that instead of placing him in a home or a nursing facility, it is going to place him on a cruise ship in the Caribbean.

Crews would have to be trained in caring for the elderly, helping guests get around the ship, assisting them in the morning as they get dressed, etc. But onboard medical care is not a problem, accessibility to major hospitals in Florida is not a problem and the nonmedical benefits are not insignificant.

Mr. Wilson we want you to feel better tomorrow so you can go ashore in Aruba would seem to be better motivation than what is currently offered to our seniors in most medical settings on land.

Some have ridiculed the concept. I wont.

Sure, its out there, and I dont see Bob, Micky, Jack or Mark jumping on this anytime soon. And, yes, we might have to get rid of the rock-climbing walls.

But think about the possibility that housekeeping, meal service, staff-to-patient ratios and the availability of 24/7 medical care could be better and more affordable aboard a ship then they currently are on land.

Perhaps, some day, we can take our slightly worn and regal Voyagers, Diamonds and Princesses and find a far better use for them in their old age as we improve the golden years of some of our slightly worn but still regal citizens.

Industry consultant Richard Turen owns the vacation-planning firm Churchill and Turen in Naperville, Ill. An industry veteran for nearly 25 years, he has been named to Conde Nast Travelers Best Agents list since the list debuted in 2000.

5 Things

Targeting offers using clients preferences

1. Personal preferences are the cornerstone to successful one-to-one marketing efforts, said Rick Kaplan of WeCan Partners, a Travel & Hospitality consulting firm in Los Angeles. These personal likes and dislikes play a significant role in the purchase of travel, he said. Understanding preferences allows you to talk on a more personal level to both prospects and customers.

2. Capture preferences early and often. Ask how they want to be contacted, if they can travel in fewer than 60 days and if they can travel with children. Dont be afraid to ask for their e-mail address so that you can send them specials, said Kaplan. Then, based on your ability to store the information, gather additional data on personal preferences for future marketing efforts.

3. Segment customers and prospects not by where they live, but by their personal preferences and what kind of travel they like. Create separate contact pieces for each customer type and develop a past-guest marketing program. You should touch past customers three to four times a year and after each trip, said Kaplan.

4. Develop relevant content that addresses the individuality of your audience. If they have indicated they want to go to Alaska, why send them Europe? asked Kaplan. If they buy upscale packages or cruises, a three- or four-day cruise may not be relevant. Although you may not be able to talk to each individually, you can talk to their preferences in your e-mail or traditional contact pieces, he said. Learn the tricks of how to tailor those pieces to make them relevant to your customers. If you do, your close ratios and profitability will show dramatic improvements.

5. Data is king, and if you are sending direct mail, incorporate a postage-paid survey card. If you are e-mailing them, provide an ability to append their personal preferences online and monitor those changes for a sales follow-up. It will be the best marketing money you ever spent, said Kaplan.

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