Fun with marketing

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Marketing. In the view of Scott Caddow, president of San Diego-based The Cruise Place, its growing role in the future of the travel agency industry is as crucial as it is inevitable. Since we have to do it, he said, we have decided to have fun with it. We try new things, analyze what works and try some more.

A case in point: The Cruise Place operates a private-label service, Clear Channel Cruises, for Clear Channel Communications, a media firm that runs 1,200 radio stations. Clear Channel Cruises features popular deejays who sail with fans and listeners on selected cruises.

Cruises are promoted through Clear Channels radio stations. The Cruise Place creates private shore events and merchandises items such as T-shirts for the cruises. Also, The Cruise Place has rights to market to consumers in the Clear Channel database.

Members only

Another inventive promotional program, the Itineris Society, provides the agencys upper-echelon clients with exclusive members-only perks. These clients pay $299 to join the society, which enables them to partake in three members-only social events a year, where they learn about future sailings, network with other members and plan cruises.

Itineris Society members receive a gift box four times a year -- contents include items such wines from around the world and chocolates from Australia. Members also receive complimentary airport transfers, a feature that Caddow said is extraordinarily popular, and a host of shipboard amenities.

Caddow said Itineris Society members act as Pied Pipers, recruiting friends to sail on a particular itinerary, which in some cases makes them eligible for complimentary cabins.

Signature of success

Caddow says his agencys affiliation with the Signature Travel Network has helped The Cruise Place hone its marketing skills.

Joining Signature Travel Network was the best move I ever made, he said. Its very much focused on the needs of the membership and is very focused on three prongs that really help us: training, marketing and technology.

Signatures customer relationship management technology enables the consortium to target e-mail and direct-mail promotions to The Cruise Places customers. Clients get only whats interesting to them, said Caddow. The key is Signature gets me back to do what I do best: training and sales.

The Cruise Places three agency locations -- two in San Diego and one in Tucson, Ariz. -- collectively produce an annual sales volume of $15 million from 50,000 travelers. Ninety percent of the agencys business comes from cruise sales and the remaining 10% from tour sales.

We knew we had to make commitments to certain cruise vendors to meet bigger sales goals, he said.

Although the agency books six major suppliers, its philosophy is to concentrate on three -- one each in the categories of premium, contemporary and mass market.

My agents cant know 150 ships and 5,000 itineraries, said Caddow.

And knowing what you sell is what its all about, Caddow said. As president of the Association of Travel Agents of America, he is a dedicated advocate of retailer training.

The associations conferences educate agents on how to maintain a competitive business, how to create business plans and how to forge stronger ties with clients.

Its annual Nuts & Bolts conference, set for July 15 to 17 in Scottsdale, Ariz., will focus on luxury and adventure travel. Featured speakers will include SeaDream Yacht Club CEO Larry Pimentel and industry speaker Nolan Burris of Visionistics Enterprises.

Growth strategy

With an educated cadre of agents behind him, Caddow plans to grow The Cruise Places business through future acquisitions and a continued emphasis on creative marketing and training programs.

We have some very creative people, and my business model allows us all to jump in with both feet, try new things, have fun with it -- without fear of failure, he said.

I find this gives us an edge in the creative marketing side of our business. Some things work, some things dont -- so we keep doing what works and keep trying new things.

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

The Perfect Itinerary

Taking in Thailand and Cambodia

Barbara Stein, a travel counselor with Post Haste Travel in Hollywood, Fla., designed a five-night itinerary that combines Thailand and Cambodia.  For travelers who have experienced the major cities of the Orient, Chiang Mai, Thailand and Siem Reap, Cambodia, are marvelous destinations to experience, she said.

DAY 1

Clients stay at the Four Seasons Resort Chiang Mai. The setting is breathtaking with rice terraces surrounding the hotel grounds, said Stein. They dine in the hotel and then head for the Night Market, a Chiang Mai institution.

DAY 2

Clients travel to Chiang Dao to visit an elephant camp. They continue on to Thaton and dine in a local restaurant. Then they board a longtail boat for a 30-minute ride on the Mae Kok River to Baan Mai. By car, they travel through the highlands, visiting a Padong Hill tribe village where the women wear brass rings around their necks. Back in Chiang Mai, they dine at the White Lotus Restaurant for an authentic Thai meal.

DAY 3

Travelers visit the Chang Mai temples of Wat Suan Dok and Wat Chedi Luang. They also visit some of the citys artisans in their workshops. Back at the hotel, they can relax in the spa and experience a Thai massage. Clients have the option to enroll in the hotels Thai Cooking School, where they can learn to cook Thai dishes -- and then dine on the food they prepare.

Statues of soldiers at Angkor Wat in Siem Reap, Cambodia.DAY 4

Clients fly to Siem Reap, Cambodia, where they receive visas for $20 by supplying one passport-sized picture. Travelers should also carry an additional passport-size photo to visit the temples at Angkor Wat. They check into the Raffles Grand Hotel dAngkor and spend the afternoon visiting the Banteay Sre, Banteay Samre, Preah Khan and Pre Rup temples. They can choose to dine at any one of the hotels eight restaurants.

DAY 5

Travelers spend the day exploring the Angkor Temples built during the Khmer Period and then return to the hotel for lunch before continuing on to Angkor Thom, the cultural home of the Khmer people. The day is completed with a visit to the handicrafts workrooms of Cambodian orphans, who are taught the ancient arts of carving and weaving. They dine at the Sofitel Royal Angkor Hotel, where travelers can sample Cambodian specialties with a French accent.

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

Agent bangs the drum, and Oceania benefits

Helga Thalheimer knows a good deal when she sees one. And shes good at spreading the word.

Thalheimer, who works in St. Louis as an independent agent for Plantation, Fla.-based Sixth Star Travel, was talking to another Sixth Star agent who was putting together a group aboard a 10-day Oceania cruise between Athens and Barcelona, Spain.

I knew a lot of people who would be interested in a Mediterranean cruise, Thalheimer said. Oceania has really interesting itineraries, and it was offering two-for-one fares and free air fare, she added. People are always looking for a bargain.

Furthermore, the other Sixth Star agent had enough people to receive a group fare as well as other additional bonuses, which Thalheimer knew her clients could also take advantage of.

She capitalized on her contacts from her former career as a training manager for a technology firm in St. Louis. She also publicized the cruise to a range of organizations of which she is a member.

I really just spammed everybody I knew, she said.

Then she heard about a column in the St. Louis Dispatch that included blurbs on travel opportunities.

I wrote up the information on Oceania and sent it in, Thalheimer said, and the response was immediate.

She is now promoting other Oceania sailings in the newspaper and the response has been tremendous.

Thalheimer has now booked almost $100,000 worth of business with the cruise line.

Richard Hickey, Oceanias director of regional sales for southern Florida, has helped Thalheimer every step of the way, she said.

I was clueless about Oceania before I started selling it, she said. And you can only do so much research online. When I need something, I talk to Richard.

Reaching out to agents is nothing new for the line, said Tim Rubacky, Oceanias manager of public relations and marketing services.

Our commitment to agents has been paramount to our success, he said. From Day 1 we stated there we would be 100% committed to agents. They have responded in kind, and theyve been responsible for our success.

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

Marc My Words

Selling an escorted tour

 By Marc Mancini

Marc ManciniEscorted tours. Some people wouldnt travel any other way. Others dont realize how great a tour can be. Here are some prime prospects for you to target:

1. The anxious client. Perhaps clients have never been abroad and arent confident that their experience with domestic travel will see them through in a foreign setting. Or maybe theyre getting older and worry about driving in an unfamiliar environment. An escorted tour might be just what such clients need.

2. The gregarious client. Many clients view the experience of meeting new people a prime benefit of travel. Lifetime friendships can be made and cemented during the course of an escorted tour.

3. The inquisitive client. Travel can be a broadening experience, an opportunity to learn about other cultures, history, art and nature. Escorted tours provide clients with just such opportunities for a deeper understanding of the destinations theyre visiting.

4. The frugal client. Those who worry about the add-on costs theyll incur while traveling on their own are often relieved at how much easier it is to control their expenses when theyre paying most travel costs in advance.

5. The spoil me client. One of the major pleasures of travel is avoiding hassles. Escorted tours permit your client to enjoy the trip without stress.

6. The exotic travel client. Dont forget that people bound for places they perceive as somewhat risky, such as Africa, Russia and China, are far more open to an escorted tour, even if they are independent types.

Marc Mancini is an industry speaker and consultant who teaches at West Los Angeles College.

5 Things

Keys when buying or selling a travel agency

1. Put a 10-day expiration date on offers. This prevents the seller from playing your offer off other possible offers, said Bob Sweeney, founder of Roswell, Ga.-based Innovative Travel Acquisitions, a business broker specializing in travel and tour companies that has negotiated the sale of 472 travel companies in its 14 years of business. Without an expiration date, it would be easy for the seller to vacillate about selling the agency.

2. Place a deposit in escrow to remove the business off the market upon acceptance of a letter of intent to purchase. This effectively eliminates concern about any other competitive bids, he said. It is standard procedure, Sweeney added, to put approximately 5% of the purchase price in escrow. It would be nonrefundable unless due diligence uncovers misrepresentation or fraud.

3. Follow up on promised calls and visits. Dont blow the seller off, said Sweeney. You might be looking at three or four acquisition opportunities, but for the seller, this is the only buyer they may be looking at. For sellers, the deal could be the biggest transaction of their careers. They dont want to feel forgotten, said Sweeney.

4. Be prepared to give a small signing bonus to retain key staff with two-year contracts. Sometimes the owner is not the driving force of the business, Sweeney said. Many times its the manager or a couple of solid producing agents. The savviest buyers, he said, reward those valuable employees. If an agent makes $50,000, you might want to give him or her a raise, signing bonus or free trip -- something that shows your heart is in the right place and you know how critical he or she is to the transaction. Those are dollars well spent.

5. Be quiet about the acquisition opportunity. Loose lips sink ships, said Sweeney. No one gains when the word is on the street that XYZ Travel is for sale. The clients and the agents get spooked. Its a lose-lose situation.

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