a whim, Bonnie Roth attended a franchise fair in her hometown of
Louisville, Ky., in the dead of winter. She passed by a booth
pitching pizza franchises and another pitching gumball businesses.
They had a huge, 10-foot gumball machine, said Roth. That certainly
grabbed your attention.
But what really
caught Roths eye was the CruiseOne booth. It just clicked, she
said. It seemed like a good fit.
Roth has always
planned cruises in detail for her family, and she was attracted to
the idea of specializing within the travel industry. I dont think I
would have come up with the idea if I hadnt gone to that franchise
fair, she said.
Roth, who had
worked in education for 20 years with a nonprofit organization that
developed programs for gifted children, wanted a change. As soon as
she learned more about CruiseOne, a franchise that is now operated
by Boston-based NLG, she was ready to embark on a career as a
Roth also knew that
networking would help her get started. My husband is a pediatrician
whos well known and well thought of, said Roth. Furthermore, she
planned to capitalize on contacts from her previous
I tell people how
important it is to network, she said. Even at cocktail parties,
people love to ask you about cruises, even when you dont want to
talk about them.
Roth received her
first commission check when she was still in CruiseOne training in
1994. I was off to a running start, she said.
She may have gotten
a jump-start from her community contacts, but she didnt coast on
Youve got to follow
up and have that attention to detail. I talk to every single client
when they come back, Roth said, adding that she finds out all the
details of their cruise to confirm whether that particular cruise
was the right choice. You have to care about their trip.
Now, virtually her
entire business comes from repeat and referral clients. You can
only work off your networking the first time, she said.
Roth also made it
clear from the beginning that, although she worked from home, she
One of the things
that concerned me most when I started the business was whether
people would be comfortable coming to my home, said
So she did
everything possible to make the office mirror her professional
services. Table and chairs are decorated in nautical material, said
Roth, and two portholes serve as windows.
Theres also a ring
buoy hanging from the wall sporting the CruiseOne name.
Her specialty is
luxury cruises, and she provides the type of service this
discerning market segment demands.
I fight for them
like a bulldog, Roth said, adding that she keeps after the cruise
lines to ensure her clients receive exactly what theyve asked
said she makes sure she knows her business inside and out, paying
attention to details -- such as what cruise lines provide shipboard
credits when bookings are made with an American Express Platinum
card or when a cruise line is offering free air for select
My clients will
spend $20,000 for cruises, but they still want value, said Roth.
Some of the wealthiest people are the hardest to sell.
Roth wont sell
itineraries of less than seven days. It just doesnt pay.
The rewards of
selling cruises, though, are not always monetary -- making her
clients happy is important, too. One story Roth is particularly
fond of telling involves a 78-year-old widower whom she booked on
an Africa/Seychelles itinerary.
He called and asked
if it would be possible to add another person to the cabin, Roth
said. It turns out hed been dating a woman who was 89, and he
wanted to invite her on the trip.
The only way she
would go on the cruise was if they were married, said Roth. They
got married, and this was their honeymoon.
additional person on the cruise obviously wasnt a problem. But Roth
had to ask the couple one final question. I had to ask whether they
wanted separate beds or a queen bed, she said. They took the queen
bed. They were so cute and so in love.
In the end, Roth
said she believes that her tenacity, coupled with CruiseOnes buying
clout and sales assistance, have paved the road to her
I wouldnt want to
be out there on my own today, she said. If I were a mom-and-pop
[without CruiseOne affiliation], it would be difficult to get the
kind of buying power I need.
As Roths business
has grown over the years, so, too, has the reputation of the
home-based agency community. Almost everyone is comfortable with
the home-based industry, she said. Now cruise lines recognize that
home-based agents are an integral part of their
Agent Life editor Claudette Covey, send e-mail [email protected].
A taste of
Tor Jensen, owner of Jensen World Travel in
Wilmette, Ill., spent 27 years working for SAS and Thai
International before opening his agency in 1993. Today, Jensen, who
was born and raised in Denmark, said he is SAS biggest producer in
the U.S. for the Scandinavia market. This Denmark itinerary, which
is part of a nine-day vacation, visits a host of historical Danish
villages and cities with stays in castles and castle inns. Jensen,
who is also a wholesaler, arranges FITs for agents.
Clients check into
the 174-room Strand Hotel in Copenhagen. Jensen recommends
travelers take a city tour. That evening, theyll visit Tivoli
Gardens, at 155 years old renowned as the worlds oldest amusement
park, for a meal at Groften restaurant.
Clients pick up a
rental car and take a 45-minute drive across the Oresund Bridge to
Malmo to wander through the towns shopping area and enjoy lunch at
any one of the many small cafes along the way. In the afternoon,
clients can sightsee on their own in Copenhagen before dinner at
Cap Horn, which is known for its traditional Danish
Frederiksborg Castle near Copenhagen, continuing on to Gillelejes
harbor, where they have lunch at Karen and Maries. Next, theyll
visit the Gilleleje church to see where Danish Jews were hidden
before escaping by ship to Sweden, saving them from capture by
German occupying forces in 1943. Travelers then embark on the
four-hour drive to Ribe, where they check into the 48-room, 16th
century Dagmar Hotel, across the street from the Ribe Cathedral,
which dates to 1125. They dine that evening at the hotels highly
Clients can stroll
through Ribe and visit the cathedral before the two-and-a-half-hour
drive to the hamlet of Schakenborg. Along the way, they stop at
Romo, an island off the North Sea. They continue to Tonder for a
visit, and then go on to Mogeltonder and Schakenborg. Theyll dine
and stay overnight at the Schakenborg Castle.
to Jutland and Als. They catch a ferry to Bojden that transports
them to the Island of Fyn, where theyll overnight and dine at the
classic Hvedholm Castle in Faborg.
through with last-minute safari
Arranging last-minute holiday
vacations can be difficult. Designing an
FIT to east Africa can be virtually impossible on short
notice. But it can be done, as Adrienne
Forst knows, especially with the right supplier partner. In her
case, that supplier was Micato Safaris.
Forst, director of leisure sales
at Protravel International in Beverly Hills, Calif., said her
clients, a celebrity couple, decided three weeks before Christmas
that they wanted to spend the holidays in Kenya.
They wanted a
private safari, said Forst. Trip components included private cars
and drivers as well as private planes, she added.
She said Micato
made the travel planning seamless. They went above and beyond,
Forst said. Patti Buffolano, Micatos
general manager, stayed in constant contact with Forst, she said,
ensuring that no trip detail was neglected.
Buffolano, can get things done seamlessly partly because its ground
personnel are Micato employees, not outside contractors. Some other
companies work with local ground operators where they negotiate
back and forth, she said.
Pinto, the companys founder, works in Africa, Buffolano said. Since
the Pinto family owns the company, it is able to make decisions
without the red tape getting in the way. Thats what separates a
mediocre company from a great one, Buffolano said.
Micatos on-site staff in east Africa for making the trip so
successful. She added that she communicated with Forst regularly to
ensure that plans were progressing smoothly.
In the end, said
Buffolano and Forst, the clients were thrilled with the trip and
plan to return to east Africa soon.
We bend over
backwards for Adrienne and Protravel, said Buffolano. Theyve been
great supporters of Micato Safaris for a long time, and we work
very closely with them.
niche brainstorming session
It has been more than a
year since we looked at some new niche concepts. Here are a few
ideas for tapping into some relatively untapped corners of the
" Digital travel and tours. Sales of digital camera
equipment is hot. Since so many clients are now carrying digital
cameras on vacation why not specialize in that market with
after-trip services, photography and digital computer in-office
workshops, and even free camera equipment for clients above a
certain price level? The linkage virtually is unlimited with lots
of cross-selling opportunities.
" Sell islands exclusively. Quick --
which agency in your town sells island-based vacations exclusively?
Probably no one, yet a high percentage of your clients dream of
island-based destinations. Wouldnt the small-island tourist boards
be thrilled to have you in their corner? And your tag line is easy:
Every vacation should be surrounded by water.
" Un-tour tours. An excellent
demographic for boomers and, particularly, more independent
Generation Xers who crave the pricing benefits of a tour without
the desire to follow the lady in the huge hat through the Louvre as
she waves her yellow umbrella. Tours would be filled with free time
and all independent sightseeing, with dining credits instead of
group meals. In short, the only thing the group would do together
is travel from place to place.
" At-home agents. More and more travel
professionals are working out of their homes, but precious few are
visiting clients in their homes. A by evening appointment service
with well-qualified couples could be lucrative because virtually no
one is advertising this service. Most of your clients will not want
this service. But if 20% do, youre rich.
" 72 hours travel. A travel firm that
does nothing but long-weekend travel. Develop this niche wisely and
the repeat factor will mean that your average client books with you
four or five times a year. With volume you can negotiate overrides
with the best B&B and small boutique hotels within driving
distance of your community.
" Security-enhanced tours. This is a
niche I have advocated for some time.
Someone is going to launch an escorted tour program that features
undercover security guards. All other things being equal, do you
think that you have clientele that would go with a tour that had a
qualified security consultant walking behind the group by day and
accompanying them on evening forays?
" Double couples travel. One of the new
concepts weve developed goes after one of the fastest-growing
demographics in the leisure industry, couples traveling with other
couples. A travel firm that was devoted to multicouple travel could
offer numerous real and perceived benefits including a myriad of
more cost-efficient private-driver options.
" Themed cruises. There is a tremendous
market for themed cruise itineraries. Affluent readers, for
example, of the same horse breeders magazine might enjoy one
anothers company on a cruise, and so would avid stamp collectors
and Web designers who could trade ideas and techniques. This is a
field that is only limited by ones creativity. Many specialist
magazines still do not have any themed cruise
consultant Richard Turen owns the vacation planning firm Churchill
and Turen Ltd., based in Naperville, Ill. Contact him at [email protected].
Ways to avoid
1.Do the math. It can actually be more profitable
not to rebate, said Jeff Gordon, president of the Gordon Group, a
travel agency based in Davie, Fla. Say you do $3 million of
business with 3,000 clients, he said. Lets say youre a rebater and
youre rebating back 10% to clients, making 15% commission and
keeping 5%. The agent will make $150,000. Conversely, if you dont
rebate and hold on to the 15% pay and do business with 1,500
clients with a volume of $1.5 million, youll make $225,000 in half
the time it took you to make the $150,000.
affinity group business. Retailers should bring clients
with similar interests together, said Gordon. Youll find that
clients with common interests inspire greater sales, he said,
adding that retailers should stress the exclusivity of the common
interest of the clients. It could be people who knit, who like rock
n roll or astronomy, said Gordon.
3. Look for
incentive group business. Incentive group business
requires substantially more servicing
from the agent, Gordon said. Retailers should let the client know
that services come with a price, but that the expertise is
invaluable. We have no problem tell- ing them it requires a lot of
servicing and its valuable and we cant work for nothing, Gordon
more promotional group business. By reserving generic
group space agents can take advantage of amenity points provided by
the cruise lines, which add value for the customer. Amenity points,
can, among other things, provide fare reductions for the group.
Clients see these incentives as a bonus and are less likely to try
to negotiate a better rate, said Gordon.
5. Just say
no to rebating. Just have the guts to say no and turn away
business thats not profitable, said Gordon. If you get clients on
price youll lose clients just as quickly when the rebater comes
along, he said. Seek out those clients who appreciate your value
and expertise and theyll refer similar people who will appreciate