"Right at the last instant the shadow from the moon sweeps across
towards you -- and within seconds, it's dark and you see this black
hole in space with a corona."
That is Gary Spears describing what it's like to witness a total
eclipse of the sun. Spears has been leading eclipse trips since
1991, and it's turned into a nice specialty for the agency at which
he is executive vice president -- Carlson Wagonlit/Spears Travel in
first time Spears tried to see an eclipse, he was in Hawaii and his
view was "clouded out" by, yes, a cloud passing over the sun.
"Clouds are always a possibility, so we have to ask, where in the
world are the best weather prospects?"
Spears is assisted by Fred Espena, an astrophysicist who works
for NASA (whose Web site is calledwww.mr.eclipse.com)
who has "got down to a science" the best sites for viewing this
"He'll research patterns for the last 20 years to get statistics
on where the best weather is going to be," said Spears. For
example, last year "the press played up parts of Europe" as the
best site for viewing the eclipse -- especially Cornwall, England.
But while eclipse seekers who took that advice "got clouded out, we
went to Turkey instead and had no problem," said Spears.
The fact that the best eclipse-viewing often occurs in exotic
destinations adds to its appeal -- it's "not just going out in your
backyard and watching it," he said.
In addition to Turkey, other places Spears has led trips to
include India and Bolivia.
The Bolivia trip included travel to a spot in the Andes, which
felt like "the middle of nowhere, where the altitude was 12,000
feet -- and the stars were an awesome sight in themselves, since we
were so much closer to them than usual."
To get there, the group rode on a train with the Bolivian army,
who "helped to unload our telescopes carrying machine guns on their
backs," said Spears.
Actually viewing an eclipse -- which can last from 40 seconds to
about four minutes -- "is really hard to describe," he said.
"It's almost an emotional event. You realize the awesomeness of
Don't eclipse these sales
With a solid base of repeaters returning to his eclipse trips
year after year (see story above), Gary Spears, executive vice
president of Bartlesville, Okla.-based Carlson Wagonlit/Spears
Travel, uses selective, low-key marketing tools such as direct
usually tries to keep the groups small (under 100 people). Last
year, when the destination was Turkey, he didn't even advertise.
However, for a trip to Aruba that included a cruise and thus had
more space, he did take out ads in special-interest publications
such as Astronomy Magazine.
The trips are also promoted on the agency's Web site, www.spearstravel.com, which links to other astronomy
And although trip frequency is limited because total eclipses
only occur on average every 18 months, there are other kinds of
star phenomena that Spears feels will draw his base of affluent,
intelligent clients interested in astronomy and photography.
For example, he has already done several runs to view the
southern stars in Bolivia; and he is researching the possibility of
viewing what are called annualler eclipses, during which the moon
doesn't totally block out the sun and which happen more often than
a total eclipse. Then there is the poetically named Transit of
Venus -- an astronomical event during which Venus passes between
the sun and the Earth.Peer Support
How can you get good business management advice for free?
From your peers. After all, who can give you better strategies
about running an agency than another professional travel agent?
Consider all of the agency managers you've met at conferences
and trade events. Select four or five whom you respect and with
whom you don't compete -- and see if they might be interested in
developing a peer networking group. If possible, visit your peer
agencies to ensure that they complement the type of business you
Here is how
the setup might work. Propose a once-a-month or a once-a-week
telephone conference. AT&T and other long-distance carriers can
set up a conference call. The cost is surprisingly cheap,
especially when you consider the value of the complimentary advice
you will be receiving.
Before your conference call, fax an agenda to everyone so they
can be thinking about the topics to be discussed. Solicit their
comments before you set the agenda so you can make sure everybody's
needs are met.
If you discover that one person needs more in-depth advice than
is possible during the call, see who in the group is best able to
help and suggest they set an appointment to speak privately.
If possible, meet face to face with your peer group once or
twice a year. This will deepen the relationship and help give
further insight into each other's businesses.
Q: I don't want employees to discuss their
salaries with each other. Can I have a written policy to prevent
A: No. Such "blanket prohibitions" probably
violate a provision of the National Labor Relations Act, designed
to protect an employee's right to discuss the terms and conditions
of his employment. About all you can do is request that employees
keep this information confidential.
Former agency owner Dan McManus is the publisher of the
newsletter the Successful Worldspan Agent. Contact him at[email protected].