Filling a void

hen Minneapolis-based $20 million Carrousel Travel examined its honeymoon registry, it realized that like most leisure agencies offering this service, it needed major help.

Carrousel's four honeymoon specialists saw the process as "very time-consuming and lots of work." They were ready for change.

Four years ago, Carrousel did some soul searching to determine the areas of strength and profitability where it could focus its efforts. "Like most agents, we knew we needed to specialize, but picking the best niche wasn't so easy," said Neal Kraemer, Carrousel's owner and former Upper Midwest ASTA chapter president.

Carrousel Travel has a wedding division with four honeymoon specialists, plus a bridal bear. In 1997, Carrousel chose the honeymoon market because it was something the agency already found lucrative. "The beauty was that it's recession-proof, year-round and a constantly regenerating source of clients, with 2.5 million weddings a year," he said.

As Carrousel started to promote this niche, it saw that honeymoon buyers were more focused purchasers who knew when and pretty much where they wanted to travel.

Two years ago, Kraemer's friend Scott Ellingboe approached him with an automated on-line registry idea.

"We needed an automated way to offer our registry to honeymoon clients and decided the Web would be best," Kraemer said.

He said that from the start, he thought the on-line tool he co-founded at TheHoneymoon.com would be useful to other agent specialists in the $8.2 billion honeymoon market.

"We designed the site as a marketplace to help agents sell and retain clients by differentiating themselves. We didn't start out with the grandiose vision of us selling honeymoons on line [with] clients all over the country," he said.

"After all, $4,000 to $6,000 honeymoons are not the type of travel people buy on the Internet. They want to sit down with agent specialists and talk about their options."

Neal Kraemer, owner of $20 million, Minneapolis-based Carrousel Travel, helped create TheHoneymoon.com. According to Web site co-founder Ellingboe, who has a technology background, "We've automated a process that many leisure agencies have been doing in different ways for a long time."

Kraemer added, "A lot of agents understand how valuable it is to have an organized honeymoon registry, so we want to prove our worth as a tool that can help them sell more honeymoons.

"We also want agents to recommend our site to their clients getting married," he said.

He described TheHoneymoon.com's main goal as changing the way honeymoons are distributed and said accomplishing this requires partnering with agents.

Kraemer added that if TheHoneymoon.com helps agents, they will spread the word about its services to clients.

The site's honeymoon registry and Web pages can all be e-mailed as links to guests, family and friends.

Currently, the 6-month-old creation has a few thousand registries on it, with the average registry at $1,000.

Guests pay a fee based on the amount spent and choose from items the couple has selected in categories such as accommodations, wining and dining, activities, amenities and travel.

Five days before the wedding, TheHoneymoon.com sends couples a check for their honeymoon, based on the amount in their registry.

-- Michele San Filippo

Facilitating honeymoon sales

wo years ago, software executive Scott Ellingboe got this idea while talking to a friend getting married a second time. His buddy didn't want all the "stuff" one gets from bridal registries, but needed help paying for his honeymoon, said Ellingboe, co-founder of TheHoneymoon.com, a 6-month-old on-line registry and marketing firm for agents based in Minneapolis.

As Ellingboe and co-founder Neal Kraemer, 15-year owner of Carrousel Travel in Minneapolis, researched the $8.2 billion honeymoon market for two years through focus groups and bridal shows, they noticed a void in the niche. "There was nowhere to go for information and special services, and suppliers needed a vehicle to reach the market more efficiently," said Ellingboe.

So Kraemer and Ellingboe started the site as a free registry and provider of couples' Web pages. But these days, the site has morphed into an agent sales tool.

TheHoneymoon.com features tools for agents, a bridal registry and custom Web pages for couples. Kraemer added, "We try to help agents cater to the honeymoon market by providing free couples' Web pages, an automated registry, sample letters and direct mailings."

Its co-founders said the site is making enough from its registry's 10% service charge (plus credit card fee) to pay for costs. "We're doing well because we're not a dot-com firm but a free sales tool," said Kraemer. Agents get a 30% cut of service fees and their full commissions.

In August, TheHoneymoon.com, which just partnered with Vacation.com, will launch an agent lead generation system that's linked to the packages and content to be offered on the site.

Offerings will be bookable through its planned network of 500 agents, who each receive identifier codes for sales since there is no booking engine. Packages will be connected to an agency locator for clients to choose their nearest affiliate. E-mails will be sent to the agency when a consumer expresses interest in a specific offering.

Dream clients: They're everywhere

ometimes, you know, life doesn't have to be all that complicated. After all, most of us are looking for the same type of clients. So here is what I suggest.

Let's all go to one of the local Starbucks in the neighborhood of our agencies, sit down and observe the crowd.

Let's try to find our clients among the grande latte skims.

If we count the first 10 businesspeople coming through the door, it might be fun to try and pick out the two who earn more than $100,000 a year. They would certainly make nice clients for our travel businesses.

If we sit for a while, we start to realize just how many of these folks are coming through the door. And we notice how many are walking on the streets, and how many are on the highway.

Richard Turen.They are everywhere we look, if we are observant enough to see them.

And just about two out of every 10 of those cars on the highway, no matter if it's a Lexus, a Jeep Cherokee or a Taurus, holds someone who earns a six-figure salary.

It's amazing.

Watch closely and you'll notice one other thing. They don't exactly have all the time to relax that they would like. In fact, unlike their brethren in Germany or France, the U.S.'s affluent buyers seem to be working more, not less. Plus they are more stressed than ever.

Most of them are looking for memorable, short vacations that are somehow different from the vacations their neighbors are taking.

That's where we come in. You need to sit in Starbucks and make a long list of tantalizing one-week vacations you can offer to these high-end travelers.

Keep in mind the list needs to read like a novel. It also needs to be a reference sheet you can give out to the two-out-of-10, six-figure earners passing in front of you.

These are your dream clients and they will stick with you, but first you've got to show them that you know who they are and that you can give them what they need.

Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency president. Contact him at [email protected].

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