Following Up on Leads

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So you got the name of a possible client from a supplier. Just how do you follow up?

PuppyThere's a definite art to follow-up, according to three travel agents who won a sales contest sponsored by the Caribbean Coalition for Tourism. The winning agents made combined sales of more than $110,000 in bookings to the Caribbean from leads generated by a CCT advertising campaign. They each won a trip to the Caribbean Tourism Organization Ball in Manhattan.

Contest winner Melrose John, chief executive officer of Jo-Mel Elite Travel in Queens, N.Y., gave these tips:

  • Contact a lead as soon as possible -- within 48 hours of the inquiry.
  • Keep a database of the leads and note what was discussed during each conversation.
  • During the first contact, qualify what leads are looking for. Don't try to book but do give information and advice.
  • John's tactics paid off big. One of her leads booked a first-time cruise along with 45 co-workers -- a $70,000 sale.

    Christine DeFilippo, senior travel consultant with Walter's Travel in Floral Park, N.Y., said many of the leads requested that they not be contacted by phone or e-mail. So she tapped her creative problem-solving skills, using her computer graphics background to design mailings tailored to the vacation interests the sales prospects had indicated. For instance, DeFilippo gave a gambling theme to the mailing she sent to the lead who was interested in gambling. "I also got more leads from the leads themselves, including a bridal party I booked at Beaches Turks and Caicos," she said.

    Vicki Stone, a travel consultant with TravelPort of Plano, Texas, said her leads "either were not home or felt intruded upon when we called them, so we sent them mailers instead."

    How About Those Tour Operators?

    American Airlines Vacations recently raised commissions for those who book through the CRS and eliminated agent pay for certain destinations reserved over the phone. In light of these moves, we asked agents to sound off on the topic of tour operators and electronic bookings.

    "On-line CRS bookings seem the wave of the future, but I do like interacting with a person sometimes. Who has time to look through all the descriptions of bedding configurations, so you don't send a family of five to Orlando to stay in a room with two double beds? Some tour operators do have very knowledgeable res agents, and we'd hate to give that up. It also annoys me to look at a tour operator's Web site if the operator is taking direct bookings over the Net. What we look for are true agent-loyal companies that allow you to link back to your own Web site."
    Michael Nissenbaum
    Touraine Travel and Tours
    Boston

    "Booking tour operators over the CRS is the more efficient way to do things -- except for one problem. With many companies, once you end the reservation in the tour area, you can't bring the res information with you into the main CRS area to build a booking record without going back into the system and putting in a bunch of passive segments. Sometimes I have to ask them to fax the information, which can take up to 10 hours and brings us back to [a paper environment], too."
    Eric Ardolino
    A&S Travel Center
    Wallingford, Conn.

    "I would love it if all tour companies with Web sites had travel agent areas on their sites."
    Diana Jordan
    Browne-Larsen Travel
    Tulsa, Okla.

    Call it Puppy Love
    By Marilee Crocker

    Julie Costas calls the time last December when her Youngstown, Ohio, agency hosted Lassie for a round of community visits one of the best days of her life. It was, she said, "a day beyond belief," both for her and for the many seriously ill and disabled children who got to meet the canine screen star.

    Lassie's visit was suggested by a Universal Studios of Florida sales rep, who was the featured speaker at a travel night the agency was hosting at a Barnes & Noble bookstore. It was Costas' idea to take the lovable pup by limousine to visit young fans at two nearby children's hospitals and an Easter Seals center.

    Thanks to Costas' advance media relations work, Lassie's visit netted her agency (Carlson Wagonlit Travel VT) stories in two local newspapers and coverage by three local TV stations. The travel night at Barnes & Noble attracted more than 500 people and generated travel sales, as well. But Costas, who handles marketing for the agency, values Lassie's visit most for the community goodwill it generated. "Sometimes you have to look not at what your sales are going to be but [at the fact] that you are doing something good for your community," she said.

    Net News

    PlanetOut Travel
    This is a new section of PlanetOut, an on-line service for gay and lesbian travelers. It includes profiles of more than 80 domestic and international destinations, including gay-friendly resources; a worldwide calendar of gay and lesbian events, and feature stories. Point your Web browser to: www.planetout.com/pno/travel/

    Holbrook Travel
    Holbrook, a Gainesville, Fla.-based specialist in ecotourism and history tours, provides a trip catalog, detailed country information, picture galleries and personal commentaries plus a list of professional affiliations and a letter from the owner, David Holbrook. There also is an on-line order form for agents who want to book a Holbrook tour for clients. Go to: www.holbrooktravel.com

    Cajun Blowout

    This year, Mardi Gras was celebrated not only in New Orleans but in a travel agency in Monroeville, Pa. At AC Tours/ABC Travel, the staff competed in a mask contest and cooked up a feast of red beans and rice and bread pudding with whiskey sauce, a recipe a staffer brought back from the New Orleans School of Cooking. For making their masks, "the rules were simple," said Cathy Dernorsek, the agency's operations manager. Staffers were told, "Don't go out and buy your decorations; make them from whatever you have at home, such as buttons, bows, feathers and lace." The results, as shown at left, were impressive.

    The Perfect Hosts

    Why is the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents (Nacta), the Valley Center, Calif.-based group for independent contractors and outside agents, developing membership criteria for host agencies that want to join?

    Because the association has been receiving hundreds of requests from outside agents looking for good host agencies, said Nacta president Joanie Ogg. "This will assist us in offering our members a listing of hosts that have met specific standards," she noted. Ogg said she will personally review the applicants and will not hesitate to refuse membership to agencies that don't meet the requirements, which include having at least $1 million in errors-and-omissions insurance. Nacta also plans to announce a comprehensive program that will help small agencies recruit independent agents in their market area.

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