Juggling many tasks is arguably part and
parcel of a travel agents ultimate success. But that doesnt mean
that most retailers know how to juggle -- literally. At Shorts
Travel Management, however, 11 members of the companys strategic
management team learned to do just that.
Last year, David
LeCompte, president of Shorts Travel Management, with home offices
in Overland Park, Kan., and Waterloo, Iowa, headed up a corporate
retreat in Colorado where the lead-in activity was a 90-minute
training program from the Circus School of Leaders, conducted by
Blue Wing Consulting at the Boulder Circus Center.
the art of juggling, one ball at a time, said Larry Dressler,
founder of Blue Wing Consulting. Within 30 minutes, most
participants can manage two or three balls in the air. Then the
focus shifts to team juggling. Again, its one, two then three balls
rotated between two team members simultaneously.
The parallels between
business and circus-act juggling were not lost on LeCompte, who
every year holds a corporate meeting with his executive team to
develop and finesse strategies for the coming year. This year, we
signed up for the Circus School of Leaders workshop, he said. Not
only was it fun, it was a great activity to reinforce the need for
our team to work together.
Mastering the basics,
added LeCompte, is crucial to any business success. Theres a lot of
basic stuff you need [to learn] to master juggling, and if you dont
master the basics you cheat yourself on real success and become a
burden to others, he said A lot of the failures are based not on
poor strategy but poor execution.
Management, a $150 million corporate travel agency, has won some
lucrative accounts that emphasize -- in a very significant way --
the concept of teamwork. Take for instance, one of the agencys
newest accounts, the National Collegiate Athletic Association
(NCAA), which spends approximately $32 million on travel
The agency has the
daunting task of ensuring that all 129 teams participating in the
NCAA mens and womens basketball tournaments get to their games --
and must do the bookings only four days before the tournaments
competed with much larger agencies to win the account, LeCompte
believes in the end it won for a variety of reasons. First, the
agency had the foresight to design an online system that entered
NCAA travel schedules on the Internet.
We put together an
online portal on how we would handle their business, said LeCompte.
We had done our homework. We understood the championship process.
Furthermore, LeCompte believes teamwork also played an important
role. Our team always works together to tackle a bid or a
For his part,
LeCompte joined the agency at a precipitous time in the industry --
in 1995, just two weeks before Delta cut travel agent commissions.
LeCompte, who was working in medical health care sales, was getting
bored with that industry and decided to join his wifes family
business. His mother-in-law, Camille Hogan, is CEO of Shorts, which
was founded in 1946.
concedes he was a bit daunted by the prospect of airline commission
cuts, he nevertheless saw a window of opportunity. A lot of
smaller, regional agencies employed people who were hobbyists, he
said. They werent really looking at travel agencies as a business.
Furthermore, many agencies were simply not analyzing costs but
instead just focused on rebating. It amazed me, said
LeCompte has grown the company, but conservatively. We dont want to
jeopardize our current customer relationships. Our growth year to
year has been right around 20%, he said, adding that Shorts also
made some significant acquisitions like the 2001 purchase of
Passport Travel, which designs incentive travel programs and
arranges travel for conventions and large meetings.
The company also
invested heavily in online reporting systems to maintain a
competitive edge. Weve continued to invest in technology, said
LeCompte. Last year, Shorts debuted a Web-based meetings- and
event-management service that can be configured and administered by
a clients meetings manager or any administrative staff with a
working knowledge of how a meeting or event is organized and
Only a very small
percentage of the companys business comes from leisure travel.
About 25% is derived from meetings with the lions share coming from
In the end, LeCompte
believes its offering the client highly customized programs that
enables it to win accounts over much large agencies. Its what got
us our bigger accounts, he said. We give them what they
To contact Agent
Life reporter Claudette Covey, send e-mail [email protected].
Costa Rica goes
Costa Rica has long been renowned as a
destination whose sheer beauty and natural wonders were worth the
trip alone. What it hasnt been readily known for, however, is a
haven for affluent travelers, according to Sue Brown, owner of Sue
Brown Travel Consultants in Boca Raton, Fla., whose firm caters to
a luxury clientele.
Costa Rica is now a
destination for the affluent, discriminating traveler, said Brown,
thanks in large part to the opening of the Four Seasons Golf Club
Costa Rica at Peninsula Papagayo.
Late last year, Brown
sent several groups of high-end clients to the resort, and they
came back thrilled with the hotel and the destination.
This was the Four
Seasons first Christmas in Costa Rica, she said, adding that had
the resort not been there, she would have booked these travelers
instead at Caribbean resorts on some of the more upscale
recommended that travelers first rough it in other parts of the
country and then end their trips at the Four Seasons.
You cannot just stay
at the Four Seasons and think youve done Costa Rica, she
The country, Brown
added, has entirely too much to offer in terms of natural
attractions, such as rain forests and national parks. Travelers
last stop should be the Four Seasons.
The 165-room property
is set on the Papagayo Peninsula and boasts an 18-hole, Arnold
Palmer golf course, a 16,000-foot spa, swimming pools, an eclectic
array of restaurants and guest rooms with terraces and balconies.
The resort will arrange for a host of water sports activities as
well as hikes and day trips.
Brown said her
clients have all said they look forward to returning to Costa Rica
and the Four Seasons -- and hope to do so sometime soon.
is a travel agents look at an off-the-beaten-track destination.
Agents with ideas for Destination Watch should contact Covey at [email protected].
Ireland, agent is in like Flynn
Bobbi Hansens seasoned clients ask for personalized vacations to
Ireland she invariably turns to County Tipperary, Ireland-based
Terry Flynn Tours. Hansen, president of Sunflower Travel in
Wichita, Kan., said the ground operator has never let her down.
Simply put, Terry Flynn delivers on its promises, she
Hansen said she has
for many years booked groups both small and large with the operator
-- and clients have always come home with rave reviews. One of the
things she appreciates most, she said, is the way in which the
company knows how to deal with veteran travelers.
Recently, Terry Flynn
created an itinerary for a family of nine adults, some of whom are
experienced travelers working in the aviation field. This group is
very savvy about travel, Hansen said.
family, upon its return to the U.S., was thrilled with the way the
trip went, she said, adding that they were particularly
complimentary about their driver, who was extremely flexible about
altering the itinerary on a day-to-day basis.
When they came back,
they said the trip was exactly what they wanted, Hansen
Terry Flynn Tours is
readily equipped to deal with veteran travelers, said Terry Flynn, who heads the company. For starters,
the company this year is celebrating its 40th anniversary.
Secondly, not only do employees know Ireland inside-out, they
collectively hang their hats on delivering personalized service --
regardless of the groups size, Flynn added.
He said agents simply
tell the company what Ireland attractions and destinations the
client wants -- regardless of whether the trip is a self-drive,
chauffeur-drive or customized tour -- and Flynn will put a route
together that will include most, if not all, of the requested
Flynn travels once a
year to meet with agents, who also can work through Terry Flynn
Tours sales office in St. Paul, Minn. Were extremely personalized,
down to the final detail, for both the agent and the client, Flynn
Hand in Hand
highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working
together. Send suggestions to Covey at[email protected].
home: A perfect solution?
Becoming a home-based, fully accredited
agency was, for me, the opportunity of a lifetime. I could keep my
life simple, lower costs to compete more efficiently and manage
business via the Internet.
Sound perfect? Well,
not quite. Working from home can be a dream come true -- or your
worst nightmare. Consider these factors before making that
out. If you are the type of person who routinely works in
your bathrobe until you remember to change at dinnertime, then
working from home may not be the best situation for you. It is
important to get up, get dressed and get out. Leaving the house
provides a distinction between going to work and being home at
work. Driving my spouse to the train station, for example, enables
me to run various business and personal errands early in the
morning and in the evening. It also is a way in which to see and
interact with people.
distractions. It is hard to blend work with family,
community and work roles seamlessly. Delegating duties or seeking
someone to help in certain tasks is also a way of alleviating
stress. One needs to be disciplined and be able to change roles
quickly when working from home -- and avoid creating stress when
To create an easy
transition between work and a nonwork mode is important if you wish
to make working from home a success. I always make it a point to
eat away from my desk and in another part of the house.
I make certain that
the business line only rings in my office and is turned off
elsewhere in the house and vice versa. I make time for friends and
family, and make time for work. I make it a point not to get up
from my desk unless it is important and also not to go into my
office to do work after business hours unless it is
over the critics. My clients had no difficulty adjusting
to my office move because they rarely set foot in my commercial
office space. Business was transacted over the telephone or fax and
via the Internet. Interestingly enough, the people who were most
vocal in disavowing my move to a home office were other travel
Ironically, many of
them now are out of business or have merged with other agencies or
become independent contractors within mega-agencies.
" Change is
good. My shift from a traditional agency location business
to a home-based business has helped me work in a comfortable,
pleasant, familiar environment. It also has reassured me that my
initial sentiments were correct when I opened my travel agency in
1990. I did not open a business to work for someone else -- but to
work for myself.
Kaufman has been a retailer for nearly 25 years and has owned her
own agency since 1990. She has operated a home-based agency since
2000. E-mail her at[email protected].
recommendations for making contributions to tsunami-relief
Donate to recommended ASTA charities. Log on to the ASTA
Web site (www.astanet.com), which has click-throughs to
charitable organizations. To make it simple for travel agents, weve
recommended they go to ASTAnet.com and click on the charity of
their choice thats on the ground in Asia working on behalf of
relief aid, said ASTA President and CEO Kathy Sudeikis. Were
recommending that agents give generously. National charities linked
to ASTAnet include the American Red Cross Online Donations and
Catholic Relief Services Online Donations.
clients to go to ASTAs consumer Web site at www.travelsense.org to make charitable donations. Like
ASTAnet.com, TravelSense.org has click-throughs to the American Red
Cross Online Donations and Catholic Relief Services Online
and owners should ask staff to consider their own
contributions -- as well ask customers to participate in matching
fund programs. Agents can ask their clients to contribute an extra
dollar to the $20 service fee, with the dollar going to a charity
and a $1 match coming from the agent for a total of $2 per service
fee going to donations, said Sudeikis.
clients that many traditional Asian destinations were not
affected by the tsunami. Were really committed to making sure that
people dont dismiss Asia overall as a destination, said Sudeikis.
Were being prudent about reminding people that many of the
destinations affected were destinations for more-seasoned
travelers. Theres a lot of work to do in dispelling mistaken
perceptions about which areas were impacted.
educated on what areas were devastated by the tsunami by
logging on to Web sites that are closely monitoring recovery
efforts. Helpful information can be found on the Pacific Area
Travel Associations Web site at www.pata.org and Flight of Friendship (www.flightoffriendship.com).
For more details
on this article, see "Why I'll be on the Flight of
can visit the joint Web site organized by Travel Weekly and Travel
Guard International,www.travelcompaniescare.org, for a list
of what other industry organizations are doing to help out the
areas affected by the tsunami.