For Perillo, a Rainbow connection

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life042009BFORLENZARainbow Travel, founded in 1982, for 24 years simply did not sell Perillo Tours packages. It was a management choice, not happenstance.

However, after a change of heart three years ago, the agency is a top producer for the tour company. In 2007 and 2008, Rainbow Travel shared top honors with other agencies as a Perillo Agency of the Year, based on productivity.

That success, said Rainbow co-owner Bill Forlenza, is directly connected to the agency's aggressive advertising of Perillo products, but only on the Web.

All Rainbow's Perillo business has come from the Web, and, Forlenza said, in three years, only one purchaser of a Perillo package has walked into the agency office, in Chester, N.J. The local prospect also had found the agency online.

Before 2006, Forlenza said Rainbow Travel had worked under the perception that Perillo Tours was not particularly agent-friendly. In fact, the agency sold away from the operator. But then, when considering new strategies, Forlenza was impressed by Perillo's highly visible trade and consumer advertising.

In addition, Rainbow Travel had already been using Online Agency, whose range of suppliers included Perillo, as its website provider. As he reconsidered options, Forlenza reviewed and liked the Perillo content provided by his technology vendor.

"I decided to test the waters," Forlenza said. The agency, a Vacation.com member, features several suppliers on its home page. Some choices are based on Vacation.com's preferreds, but Perillo was an independent selection.

The agency gets 10 to 20 leads a day for its highlighted suppliers, Forlenza said, but that is because the agency supplements home page positioning with a big budget for Web advertising.

Its first ads for Perillo brought sales and happy customers, Forlenza said, so "I started to spend more and more" to promote the product. He also negotiated with the operator for co-op ad dollars.

In 2008, he said, Rainbow Travel spent $70,000 on Internet advertising, including $22,000 promoting Perillo. That's a lot, Forlenza said, for a family business that sells $5 million in travel a year.

The ads and the website (www.800got2fly.com) have one purpose: to attract new customers. "We run our Internet business the same as if you walked in our door," Forlenza said, "except it is all done by phone, regular mail, emails and faxes."

And, as with walk-ins, clients talk with agents, and agents do the booking. As it turns out, Forlenza said, ads focused on Perillo bring in "overflow" business, meaning that not all those responding to a pitch for Perillo are well matched to the product. From those ads, the agency books as much business for other suppliers as it gets for Perillo.

Just the same, Rainbow sold enough in 2007 to be named agency of the year, then boosted Perillo sales by 80% in 2008. Most of the sales are Italy tours, with some Hawaii, Forlenza said.

Perillo's top producers are rewarded with an incentive trip to Rome. Diane Forlenza, Rainbow co-owner and Bill Forlenza's wife, represented the agency on the 2008 trip; their daughter, travel consultant Pamela Christiansen, represented the agency on this year's trip. The other two winning agencies were New Jersey's Liberty Travel and McCoy Travel in Kahului, Hawaii.

Rainbow is the smallest agency among the winners; it employs five staffers in a single location and has a singular focus on leisure travel. It was founded when Forlenza hit a bump in the road of a lifelong career in pharmaceutical sales. He had lost his job in 1982, and he loved to travel.

So, he said, he and Diana founded Rainbow Travel because he had decided "I'd never be owned again" by corporate America. He did return to the corporate world quickly and stayed until the late 1990s, but the agency was his backup.

It was Diane, trained as a teacher, who ran the agency. At its founding, she gave up a business of her own, an exercise studio. Initially she was reluctant, but now "she's the No. 1 producer by far," he said.

Forlenza, whose "whole purpose is sales and marketing," has never waited on a customer nor made a booking. He said, "I'm the backroom system. I take out the garbage, everything."

Down the road, the Forlenzas' plan is for the business to be taken over by Christiansen.

As for the present, Forlenza said, sales are down. He said he has prepared for a 25% falloff in sales in 2009, "and we're close to that."

However, he increased his advertising budget for the year. "I am a strong believer that there are certain things you don't cut."

Marc My Words
A fitting epitaph for 'the Columbo of travel'

Mark ManciniBy Marc Mancini

He was hardly presidential. With his perpetually rumpled clothes, Phil Davidoff was the Columbo of travel.

But like Columbo, his looks were deceiving. Beneath Phil's unpretentious exterior was one of the keenest, cleverest and most daring travel professionals I've ever met.

Phil, who died recently, served as ASTA president during one of the greatest eras in the history of the travel agent business.

The key to Phil's success, I feel, was that he and his wife, Doris (a force of nature who played an integral part in Phil's success), seemed like travel agents, the kind who love to share their passion for places, people and travel itself. Travel agents could relate to the Davidoffs. Phil was the only person in ASTA's history who was nominated for national office by petition from the grass-roots members and won.

So what did he achieve?

Well, for a start, a hotel chain had been about to implement a bypass of travel agents with a direct-to-the-consumer campaign. Phil and his team nipped it in the bud. Nearly two decades later, travel agent bookings still have a profound effect on the profitability of the lodging industry.

Phil was also farsighted about education. In a time when only a handful of certification courses existed, he insisted on the importance of great training. He and Doris wrote some of the first serious travel textbooks. (I once felt awkward telling them I was about to come out with a competing book. They replied, "The more good textbooks there are, the more professional our future travel professionals will be.")

A man of strong convictions, Phil was not afraid to take bold, controversial stances. He once sued ASTA and won.

But his greatest achievement was ASTA's 1991 World Congress in Cairo. With the advice of Maurice Zarmati, who grew up in Egypt and is now Costa's president, Phil and his ASTA team were able to break through Egyptian government indecision and bureaucracy to obtain a commitment from the Egyptians at the very last possible moment.

What a commitment it was. The opening event was held at the Great Pyramid, the road to it lined with torch-carrying soldiers on white camels. Beside the pyramid, 5,000 oriental rugs covered the sand, and an equal number of ottomans were provided for seating. The area was surrounded by a quarter-mile-long buffet table.

Someone joked that all that was missing was Omar Sharif. A moment later, Sharif was standing next to Phil Davidoff, the two men presiding over this astonishing feast.

I got to know Phil and Doris even better in the last two years as they served as project managers for my company. They applied our instructional strategies with ease and figured out the intricacies of our training scripts after just one try.

When I dined with Phil a few weeks before he died, I asked what he was most proud of. "That I always kept the interests of travel agents first. I always felt I was one of them. I still do," he replied.

No better epitaph than that.

Marc Mancini is an industry speaker and consultant.

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