years, Dick and Janet Dortleff had dreamed of leaving corporate
America and starting a business of their own. So when Dick was
offered early retirement in 1999, the pair decided to start a
"The only problem,"
he said, "was we knew nothing about the travel
Dick spent 27 years
selling scientific instruments to research labs. Janet was a human
They did know a
little about cruising though. They knew they liked the experience
because they had been on a few cruises. So they turned to the
travel agent who booked their trips, Carol Laurie in Brecksville,
Ohio. Dortleff said it was "the best decision we ever made" to
partner with Laurie while she taught them the business.
agreement, Laurie mentored them for three years, and then they were
on their own. The Dortleffs also bought rights to the name of
Laurie's agency; now there are two agencies in Ohio called The
Cruise Company, but they are different businesses. The agencies
differ in that Laurie's is a storefront, whereas the Dortleffs
converted two of their bedrooms into a home office in Concord,
Dortleff declined to
reveal sales volume, but the agency now has two additional
employees, one who works in the Concord home office and the other
in a home-based site 50 miles away.
The Cruise Company
sells only four suppliers, with Holland America Line accounting for
three-quarters of the business. For still more focus, the bulk of
the HAL bookings are Alaska cruise tours. The agency, an Ensemble
member, has been promoting Ensemble's hosted HAL cruises and "has
found they sell very well," Dortleff said.
The agency defined
its business narrowly after learning "very quickly that to be
profitable, we needed to have a limited number of partnered
suppliers," Dortleff said.
The Cruise Company
chose four Ensemble preferred suppliers to meet customers' needs:
HAL, Celebrity, Royal Caribbean and Globus for its Avalon
Waterways' river cruises.
"If we cannot
convince people to buy one of these four cruise lines, we tell them
we cannot help them and that they need to go to a different
agency," Dortleff said.
But why does HAL
predominate? Dortleff said it's because HAL supported The Cruise
Company when it launched.
"When we were just
starting, HAL was the only cruise line to believe that we were
really interested in growing our business although we were
home-based," Dortleff recalled. "Back in 1999, new home-based
agencies were not taken seriously by many cruise lines. HAL has
always given us phenomenal support."
The agency's three
other vendors also are on the short list because they provide "the
best support," he said.
Alaska is a further
special focus because it is the Dortleffs' favorite
"It is fun to sell,
as everyone comes home thrilled," Dortleff said.
To operate the
business, the Dortleffs set themselves up with ACT, a
well-established, off-the-shelf database manager. They also
installed the WinCruise booking engine for cruise-only
Only three people
work in their home office, but the agency has five networked
computers there, plus a laptop for use on sales calls. The
Dortleffs said their years in the corporate world taught them the
value of using computers for high productivity.
Dortleff said they
"realized very quickly that clients were not going to come and
knock on our door." Cruise nights, especially those emphasizing
Alaska, are a favorite promotional tactic.
The agency maintains
a Web site that promotes one supplier (HAL) and one destination
(Alaska), but consumers cannot book at the site.
"We want calls,"
Dortleff said. "Most people won't use a booking engine for an
$8,000 or $10,000 trip. People want information, and most are
confused about Alaska. We sell knowledge, service and
you're a good candidate for an upcoming Agent Life? Contact Nadine
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agency name, agency location, telephone number and e-mail address
in the message and put "Agent Life" in the subject
Agents don't take
advantage of all available resources
By Marc Mancini
would a travel agent or supplier join an industry association? In
part, for the benefits that come with membership. But do agents
take advantage of these benefits, or even know what they all are?
So I decided to
contact organizations that serve the agent community with this
question: "What benefits do you offer that your members don't seem
to take full advantage of?" Here's what those who responded
International Association: Have you heard of CLIA's ACD
(Associate Cruise Degree) program? If you're a travel professional
who also teaches, the ACD program is a great
First, your school
must become a Participating Learning Center. The annual fee is $319
plus a one-time application fee of $80. CLIA will then send one of
its trainers to present five of its three-hour seminars during
two-and-a-half days to your students at no charge to the Learning
Center. By passing a series of exams, students earn an associate
cruise degree, which can eventually count toward Accredited Cruise
Counselor certification if the student becomes an agent at a
Local travel agents
can attend these sessions, too, and not only get CLIA certification
credits but also perhaps spot a top prospect for future
Institute: What many people don't know is that much of the
Travel Institute's training has become virtual. Monthly
teleconferences, weekly online study groups and about a half-dozen
online courses provide the convenience that today's learners
The Travel Institute
also offers all its specialist and certification courses in PDF in
addition to the print version. Also, courses have been unbundled,
providing cost benefits to candidates who would like to purchase
the test-only option.
ASTA: The society offers a wealth of public
relations resources, yet few agents seem aware of them. ASTA has
fashioned PowerPoint presentations, press releases and scripted
speeches on such topics as avoiding travel scams, tips for women
travelers, holiday travel strategies and advice for when to buy or
not buy travel online.
They're perfect for a
presentation at a chamber of commerce meeting or an article to send
to a community newspaper.
ASTA also provides
more than 50 customizable ads that promote the value of using a
Association: The NTA's mission has long been to
concentrate on the needs of tour operators, suppliers and
destination management organizations but not travel agents. That's
peculiar, since some estimate that as much as 85% of all escorted
tours are sold by agents.
This year, though,
the NTA began considering how to bring more business opportunities
to its members, including educating them on how best to work with
If you operate
escorted group departures, the NTA has an online search program
that, given your criteria and itinerary, will identify hotels,
attractions, dining venues and other suppliers that could become
components of your group departure.
Travel Agents Only: It seems everyone in cruising knows
Charlie Dubinsky, a tireless advocate of agent training and fam
trips. Dubinsky's association affords three benefits that he feels
are underutilized: the Cruise and Travel University agent training
program; an online space where agents can list available
staterooms; and promotional e-mail blasts.
Mancini is an industry speaker and consultant who chairs the travel
program at West Los Angeles College.