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
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
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.
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
By delegating eclipse
tours to an expert, Weller has been able to concentrate on other
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
I know what to look
for, she said.
To contact Agent
Life reporter Claudette Covey, send e-mail[email protected].
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Guests can be driven
to the river or one of the open plains to view wildlife. After
breakfast, they embark on a game drive.
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].
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,
listeners interest in the show is briskly bringing business into
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
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
Hand in Hand
highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working
together. Send suggestions to Covey at[email protected].
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
Brazil has more
Avon ladies than members of its armed forces.
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
honing a brand that resonates
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.
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.
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,
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.
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.