Generating Web business

gents interested in increasing or developing their Web presence might consider the services of a technology firm such as Marlton, N.J.-based TravelHub. Founded in 1995 by former Worldspan field technicians Gary Bilbao and Miguel Castaneda, the company has been helping traditional agencies prosper on the Net and compete with mega-agencies.

Instead of trying to sell travel itself, TravelHub provides agents with an array of Web services. Its site receives 330,000 page views a month and is supported by HubClub, an e-mail newsletter of member specials that is read by more than 13,000 consumers. Every contact on the site and newsletter is forwarded to members, who now total more than 1,100.

TravelHub co-founders Gary Bilbao, left, and Miguel Castaneda.The company distributes the HubClub three times a week and soon will divide it into subcategories so readers receive only the type of specials of interest to them.

"We started out just planning to be an e-mail listing service for travel agencies," said Bilbao, TravelHub president, "but as we started to attract attention and began linking agents with potential travelers, we started categorizing because the symmetry was there."

A TravelHub listing costs $50 per month and entitles agencies to list specials in the HubClub and have specials available for sale when visitors to the site type in their travel preferences. Or, agents can choose a free listing without the HubClub.

TravelHub also creates four-page agency sites that are designed to increase business. They cost $400 for setup and maintenance and then $40 per month, which includes up to 24 annual updates. These sites can be linked with supplier inventory as private-label tours that appear on agency Web pages. The links between agency and supplier call up the supplier's products under the agency's name.

TravelHub's Web site, newsletter and other services are designed to help agents profit and compete on line. Other features of TravelHub are Tour Finder, in which thousands of tours can be reviewed and offered for sale, and Discount Airfares Network, a search engine for air fares offered by more than 500 consolidators.

"What I've noticed about other Web services is that they don't do as good a job generating interest and getting people to come to their sites," said TravelHub chairman Castaneda, who explained that the company uses its specials to attract consumers to its members.

Prospective clients get linked to agents by searching by specialty on the site or by responding to specials they have seen. "It really does work. We're not big on taking money from people if the system doesn't bring them business," he added.

TravelHub is offering trial memberships until the end of April. For details, call (888) 772-7772, e-mail [email protected] or visit the Web at www.travelhub.com.

-- Michele San Filippo

Retailers rate TravelHub

The best way to find out if the Web services of Marlton, N.J.-based tech firm TravelHub are for you is to hear what member agents have to say about the company. Diane Panasci, owner of on-line agency Crown Travel (www.the1way2travel.com) in Naugatuck, Conn., said this about her affiliation with TravelHub: "They are there for agents, they listen and they really want to help," she said. "Whenever I have a question, I can call or e-mail the founders directly and get an answer within 24 hours."

TravelHub member Gordon LaGrow, whose site focuses on upscale cruises, reminds agents they will only get the type of sales they promote. She explained her reason for joining: "TravelHub rescued me from OneTravel.com, which changed its agent strategy and began competing with us," she said.

Panasci added that members' rates of sale conversions are usually high. Hers is 60% to 70% from e-mail inquiries and 80% to 90% from direct calls, she said.

According to Bill Baker, owner of Southwest Cruise & Travel, Inc. in Rio Rancho, N.M., who joined the service last summer, TravelHub has been a good marketing tool because of its targeted audience.

Gordon LaGrow, a 30-year agency veteran and founder of CruiseDirections.com in Quincy, Mass., focuses on selling upscale cruises and receives about three or four leads a day from TravelHub.

"I've tried all the Web services out there, but I find that by advertising my specific specials, I do better than when I promote my areas of expertise," said LaGrow. He explained that he closes about 60% of the leads.

"What I like most about TravelHub is that they step out of the sale process and send the leads directly to me," said LaGrow.

Compassion at work

One of our employees lost a spouse. We have been very supportive, but still she cannot manage a full day's work after several months. How do we support her and keep the business a priority?

According to the American Hospice Foundation, more than 8 million Americans must deal with the loss of a loved one each year.

Dan McManus.Nearly half must return to work, sometimes making it difficult to pick up where they left off.

It's important to have a policy in place so there will be no question as to how much time off should be given.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Be respectful. Your form of helping might be perceived as intrusive to your grieving employee. Be understanding if it takes your employee a while to get back to his or her normal workload. If this becomes a problem, consider hiring temporary help during this grieving process. While the grieving will take much longer, the person's performance should be 70% to 80% within four to six weeks.
  • Enlist the troops. Make sure your other employees act sensitively during this time. If co-workers are willing, ask each one to choose a night to make dinner for the grieving employee, so he or she has one less thing to worry about after work.
  • Offer social interaction. Loneliness on top of grief is a damaging combination. Since most of one's day is spent at work, your employee may have developed close relationships with co-workers. Involve the grieving employee in social activities, especially if you sense deep depression or if the grieving doesn't seem to be lessening.
  • Monitor the employee's behavior and let him or her know that you're there to help. The more comfortable the employee feels at work, the easier it will be to resume a full workload. Give full support but with a boundary. If you feel the grief is lingering too long, seek advice from your minister or rabbi for ways to help the employee.
  • Former agency owner Dan McManus is president of the McManus Group, publishers of business management advice. Contact him at [email protected].

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