Focus on Alaska

hen Michigan-based Passageways/Carlson Wagonlit Travel acquired Alaska Bound, it gained a Holland America top 100 volume agency, a leading single-office producer for Cruise West, four specialists and a former owner's legacy.

Alaska Bound, a $2 million agency that sells only Alaska vacations, was created in 1992 by Patty Crichton, a one-time owner of a cruise-only agency and a long-time Holland America district sales manager and on-board sales rep, now retired.

After doing cruise nights at local agencies for a few years, she discovered that most of what clients wanted to explore in Alaska was not accessible by large vessel and that no agency focused on this aspect.

"There needed to be a place where people interested in small vessels, visiting wilderness lodges or cruising the Inside Passage could go [to arrange a trip], so I created Alaska Bound," she said.

"Having worked on board cruise ships, I knew the cabins and vessels intimately and how to get the best deals." she said. "I was very focused and chose which suppliers to do business with.

"My philosophy was, 'Why dilute your sales by selling products you don't know?' "

Crichton surrounded herself with a knowledgeable staff and has bestowed on them her sales strategies.

The agency's general manager, Rana Worden, said the staff's knowledge is based on first-hand experiences and that, because of Alaska's size, each agent focuses on a particular region, port of call or lodge during fams, she said.

Alaska Bound has been recommended by Frommer's and Fodor's since 1999.

Passageways plans to advertise Alaska Bound in National Geographic Explorer, The New Yorker and Conde Nast Traveler.

Alaska Bound also markets its expertise on the Web at www.alaskabound.com, a producer of 30% of its business.

-- Michele San Filippo

In class and out

assageways/Carlson Wagonlit Travel in Traverse City, Mich., one of the state's largest agencies, created a new revenue stream for itself in the senior leisure market as the sole travel provider for an educational program it acquired in June.

The Global Classroom, billed as an enrichment course for older adults, travels to senior centers and community halls to teach the history and culture of different countries. At the end of each course, students are encouraged to travel to the places they've learned about.

Passageways hopes to make the decision easier by putting together direct-mail pieces targeting these potential clients and creating both a print and online newsletter for the Global Classroom.

President Tom Rockne estimated that 30% to 40% of the seniors travel during the program.

Rockne and Passageways chairman Tom McIntyre said they anticipate making $500,000 in sales from bookings this year and doubling that amount annually as the program, which runs from fall through spring, expands.

Passageways said it informs the seniors in advance of the Global Classroom's travel agency ownership and that the courses are taught by real teachers, not travel agents. Trips are optional.

The Global Classroom is directed by Karen Noack, a former social studies teacher, who originated the 10- to 12-week course about 10 years ago.

In September, classes will be offered in four Michigan cities. Passageways will add another four classes in fall 2002.

Passageways will handle the planning and booking of all end-of-session trips.

This fall's trips include Charlevoix, Quebec; New Zealand and Australia; Alaska, and Charleston, S.C., and Savannah, Ga.

A mutual alliance

hat's the real secret to attracting and retaining loyal clients? It's the same as the secret to finding and keeping a loyal spouse: concern and trust.

You create client loyalty in precisely the same way you maintain a good marriage -- by developing a mutual alliance in which both parties benefit, where mutual concern is ever-present and where trust is central.

Here are a few steps that you can take to ensure that your agency's client-agent relationships endure:

  • Be a good listener. Trust comes through knowledge. The more you learn about your client, the easier it will be to satisfy his or her travel desires.
  • In any relationship, we learn about others by listening -- not by talking.

  • Handle complaints efficiently. Nothing can ruin a good relationship like a conflict.
  • If your client comes to you with a complaint, resolve it quickly -- even if it means a minor sacrifice.

    Otherwise, the client will see a conflict between your agenda and his, the kind that erodes trust.

    Studies show that clients whose complaints are promptly resolved will usually return with their business despite their issue.

  • Follow up on every sale. This is what cements the client-agent relationship most effectively.
  • A note, a phone call to ask how the trip went, a welcome-home card -- all these things can go a long way toward reminding your clients that you really care about their travel experiences.

    And a sincere, personal thank-you note telling your clients how much you appreciate their business can encourage them to sing your praises to others.

  • Treat your most loyal clients with concern and care. They're your most important asset and deserve special treatment.
  • If they've bought a big-ticket item, you might send them a small gift that would be useful on their trip, such as a disposable camera, a windbreaker jacket or a book on their destination.

    Little, thoughtful, even unpredictable gifts help pave the path toward commitment.

    Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles College.

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