Follow the sun

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Theres nothing like improving on a good thing, which is what Charlotte Weller did with solar eclipse tours. Weller, who acquired Clearwater, Tex.-based Carlson Wagonlit/Future Travel 14 years ago, took the agencys existing niche and eclipsed previous sales by relying heavily on an aerospace industry consultant.

Weller, a former ticketing agent with Continental Airlines, knew that in order to boost the solar eclipse business, which was already a lucrative source of income for the agency when she acquired it, shed need to rely on an expert. So she further engaged Paul Maley, an aerospace industry consultant who had been associated with the agency (he had been leading the eclipse tours) to become more actively involved in promoting them.

That opened up a whole new world to us, said Weller. Two full-time employees -- a bookkeeper and a travel agent -- work with Maley.

He is the salesperson, and he updates the Web page, said Weller. My job is to make sure were high on the search engines, a task Weller said has been made easier with the help of a computer expert.

Expert advice a must

With solar eclipse tours, Weller said, delegating to an expert is of paramount importance. These trips are extraordinarily time-intensive to design. We never offer trips where we havent done site inspections, said Weller. In many cases the agency takes groups to remote areas and third-world countries.

Libya was chosen as a destination for a March 2006 tour because it will experience the longest period of eclipse totality.

Libya sold out in two weeks, said Weller.

Trips are led by Maley and other qualified people, such as former astronauts and university professors. The eclipse groups have blanketed the globe, including such destinations as Russia, the Arctic, Spain and South America. In September 2006, the agency will offer an itinerary in French Guyana.

By delegating eclipse tours to an expert, Weller has been able to concentrate on other travel segments.

In the 14 years that Weller has owned the agency, she has increased its corporate business by about 80%. As a former airline ticketing agent, she was able to capitalize on her knowledge of international and domestic ticketing procedures.

Furthermore, working for a large corporation provided her with the know-how to hire a knowledgeable staff. Ive been able to secure a loyal and powerful staff because I knew exactly what I was looking for, Weller said.

Weller is a member of the Womens Business Enterprise Alliance, an organization that certifies women-owned businesses.

Fifty percent of the agencys business is derived from corporate travel, 43% from leisure and 7% from eclipse tours. Weller employs eight full-time travel agents, three part-time agents and four independent contractors.

Carlson comes through

Weller said her five-year affiliation with Carlson Wagonlit has played a pivotal role in building the agencys business.

I decided I couldnt go out on my own, and I knew I needed to be recognized globally. With Carlson Wagonlit I dont have to reinvent the wheel, she said.

Carlson Wagonlit supplies the agency with important business tools, Weller said, so that she and her agents can concentrate on selling.

The agency, for instance, has been able to take advantage of Carlson Wagonlits negotiated telephone system and Federal Express rates.

Anything I need to run my business more efficiently I can find on the Carlson Wagonlit intranet site, she said. I dont have to waste my time researching vendors and products. They give me the tools I need and are always helpful.

The agency also uses all of Carlson Wagonlits preferred suppliers.

We cant afford to research suppliers to see what their viability is, said Weller. We dont want to take chances.

Weller attributes much of her success to finding excellent organizations and staff to partner with -- Carlson Wagonlit and the aerospace consultant, for example -- in order to help her business continue to thrive.

I know what to look for, she said.

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

The Perfect Itinerary

Africas wonders and wildlife

Peter Friedman, a luxury travel consultant at Unique Travel in Delray Beach, Fla., designed an itinerary that takes in Zimbabwes Victoria Falls and South Africas Kruger National Park. It is a section of an 18-day itinerary for a honeymoon couple that also takes in South Africas Cape Town, the Cape Wine Lands and the Garden Route.

Day 1

Clients fly to Zambezi and check into Victoria Falls Hotel, which has earned acclaim for its Edwardian elegance and charm. They can spend the day visiting the falls and its rain forest, which are a short walk from the hotel on a private access path. The path will bring travelers to the top of the gorge, which provides a magnificent view of the bridge crossing into Zambia. The site for dinner is the hotels Livingstone Dining Room.

A helicopters view of Victoria Falls.Day 2

Trans Africa Safari, a ground operator Friedman frequently uses, takes travelers to the African Craft Village, which depicts the traditional way of life of Zimbabwes main ethnic groups. Clients then travel to the Devils Cataract, one of the seven gorges cut over millions of years by the Zambezi River. Later, they embark on a helicopter flight over Victoria Falls and then a Sundowner cruise on the Zambezi River, where they are served drinks and canapes. They dine under the stars at Stanleys Terrace, located in the hotel.

Day 3

Clients fly to Johannesburg for an overnight stay at the luxurious Saxon Hotel, where they can enjoy spa treatments and a romantic dinner in the propertys dining room.

Day 4

They depart early in the morning for the Lion Sands-Ivory Lodge in the Sabi Sands Game Reserve within Kruger National Park. The lodge was built on the banks of the Sabi River and offers magnificent views that extend onto the open sand banks of Kruger National Park. Clients will stay in one of six ultra-luxurious suites with an en-suite bathroom, an outdoor and indoor shower, a courtyard, a lounge with fireplace, a wooden viewing deck, a patio and a private plunge pool. All meals are included. That evening, clients embark on an evening game drive.

Day 5

Guests can be driven to the river or one of the open plains to view wildlife. After breakfast, they embark on a game drive.

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

Agency makes waves with radio broadcast

Skyland World Travel has long used radio as a promotional vehicle, but last year the agency took the marketing tool to a new level when it began broadcasting a weekly travel show on a local station.

Called Start Packing, the show features a different supplier each week.

Were booked till the end of November of this year, and we havent even been soliciting new suppliers, said Sandi Vaessen, president of the Hackettstown, N.J.-based agency.

More importantly, listeners interest in the show is briskly bringing business into the agency.

One recent guest, Brian Smith, area sales manager for the Bermuda Department of Tourism, was so taken with the quality and professionalism of the show that he suggested the agency promote a Bermuda group and then broadcast live from the destination.

I was really impressed by the show, said Smith, who saw the on-site radio broadcast as a terrific promotional vehicle for Bermuda.

Skyland World Travel is creating a four-night package to Bermuda for approximately 15, said Vaessen. The radio broadcast, which will take place on the last day of the Bermuda trip, will include participation by the group, who will detail their experiences on the island.

Were going to run a promo in September, and [the Bermuda Ministry of Tourism] will give us a trip to raffle off to increase interest in it, said Vaessen.

Were always looking for travel agents who are very proactive and aggressive with their marketing, said Smith.

In fact, the retailers at Skyland are just the type the Bermuda Ministry of Tourism looks to partner with.

Smith added that Skyland charged Bermuda a nominal fee to participate in the radio show, which he said was well worth it.

I felt I was getting value for my money and time, Smith said. This is a market I wouldnt have otherwise had access to.

Skyland, in turn, pays the station a fee for the weekly radio program.

What we pay the station is only a small portion of what were reaping from it, said Vaessen.

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

Turens Tips

Just the facts

 By Richard Turen

I was strolling the back aisle of a small bookshop in the Notting Hill section of London the other day, thinking how very unlike Hugh Grant I am, when a new title by Jessica Williams caught my eye.

50 Facts That Should Change the World is a book that could change the way that you and, consequently, some of your clients view the world. I hope you will consider reading it.

Let me offer a few of the facts that I think make exploration of this planet by American travelers a moral imperative. We can save Wally World for later in our lives when were too tired to walk Patagonia:

  • More than 70% of the worlds population has never heard a dial tone.
  • Every cow in the European Union is subsidized by $2.50 per day -- thats more than what 75% of the population of Africa has to live on each day.
  • Brazil has more Avon ladies than members of its armed forces.
  • The average Londoner is caught on camera up to 300 times per day.
  • It is not all homogenized out there -- it is not all the same. We need to see it, to feel it. We need to know why the average woman in Japan lives to be 84 while the average woman in Botswana lives to be 33.

    There are fascinating explanations and documentation of each of the facts. We learn that more people on Earth can identify the golden arches than the Christian cross, that there are 27 million slaves in the world at this moment.

    But the most telling facts are those that include our country. Every travel seller has a stake in the way we are perceived abroad.

    These are some things about the U.S. that help form our image abroad:

  • 81% of the worlds executions take place in three countries: China, Iran and the U.S.
  • The U.S. spends about $10 billion per year on foreign aid -- about the same amount we spend on pornography.
  • Nearly half of Americans believe that aliens from outer space have landed on Earth.
  • Over the years, I have found that we often miss the point about anti-Americanism, particularly the Euro-trendy brand.

    Many young people abroad dislike us for two primary reasons: We still execute people, and we refuse to be signatories to some of the more important environmental treaties, such as the Kyoto Accord. 

    These are issues our clients may run into as they stroll the streets of Madrid or Copenhagen.

    I dont much care for columnists who get excited about a book and then beat you over the head with it. But we are the stewards of the world in the sense that we arrange for people to see things as they are, not as the travel boards say they should be. 

    This book will intrigue you, challenge you and probably get you angry.

    Industry consultant Richard Turen owns the vacation planning firm Churchill and Turen Ltd., based in Naperville, Ill. A 23-year industry veteran, he has been named to Conde Nast Travelers Best Agents list since the list began in 2000.

    5 Things

    Developing and honing a brand that resonates

    1. Know who and what you are. Branding is your differentiator, said Rick Kaplan of WeCanPartners, a travel and hospitality consulting firm in Los Angeles. Its what makes you stand out in the crowd, and its your winning edge, Kaplan said. Branding is more than your logo or name. Its the reason people want to buy from you; without it, you compete solely on price. If your niche is price, blast it everywhere, but if not, take time to find points of differentiation between your agency and competitors. Talk to your customers. Ask them why they buy from you and then use it, said Kaplan.

    2. Keep your message consistent. Once you have determined your differentiators, build upon them in every way you go to market. Be consistent in your message to your customers, prospects and, most importantly, your staff. Nike said it best: Image is everything. They were correct, said Kaplan.

    3. Maintain high service standards. Travel is a service business -- you have nothing without extraordinary and consistent customer service at every touch-point. Todays savvy customer expects it. Remember, only 10% of customer defections are because of price, said Kaplan.

    4. Develop a best-customer policy. Reward loyalty and it will go a long way, said Kaplan. Eighty percent of your profits will come from 25% of your customers, he said. Encourage your best customers to become brand advocates by referring business. Fire low-margin customers, Kaplan said.

    5. Get everyone onboard. Branding starts with a buy-in from everyone in the company, Kaplan said. It cannot work if everyone does not understand the financial benefits branding can provide. Take the time to write internal policies and procedures to ensure everyone is on the same page, especially those who touch the customer. It even applies to your voice-mail messages. The best way to see if you have your act together is to mystery shop your own office, said Kaplan. Youll be surprised at what you learn.

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