Going the extra mile

What do travel agents offer that Internet travel booking sites don't? The answers we hear most often are personal service and expertise.

Here's an anecdote about one agent who took those concepts one giant step further, ensuring that at least one couple never will book on line again.

Cindy Sanborn, an agent at Good Bye Travel in Lebanon, N.H., had been working with longtime clients on a trip to London for some months. "They had been waiting for the airfare to drop, and I had been watching it all summer," she said.

When clients booked tickets to London, above, via the Web, trouble ensued, and agent Cindy Sanborn stepped into help. Meanwhile, the couple's son surprised them by making the booking on the Internet. When the tickets arrived in an overnight package, in a ticket jacket without a contact number or itinerary, they noticed their last names were misspelled on the ticket.

In a panic, the couple called Sanborn, who volunteered to help, even though she didn't stand to make money.

"I asked them to bring in the tickets to let me see them, and I noticed that the misspelling was the first letter of the last name," Sanborn said, who determined that the error might cause a problem at customs or immigration.

"I called the airline, but although the sales representative I spoke to was very nice, she was powerless to change it," she said. The agent was able to provide the phone number of the Internet agency that had made the booking.

"With the couple sitting in front of me, I called and explained the situation," Sanborn said.

"When I stressed how important the problem was, the person at the other end told me that all the res agents were busy but that someone would call us back," she said. Sanborn provided the couple's phone number, received assurances of a prompt reply and never heard from the company again. "No one ever called them," Sanborn said. "It was incredible."

Finally, becoming increasingly nervous as the departure date drew near, the couple sent the tickets back from whence they came with no assurance that the matter would be resolved.

Finally, a new set of tickets arrived with the correct spellings and in time for the departure, but still no one ever called nor was there any note explaining or apologizing for the confusion.

"The upshot is that they will never book anything over the Internet again," Sanborn said.

Bon voyage
Speaking of personal service, how about giving special clients bon voyage presents that go beyond that tired old bottle of wine?

Ten Kings' Ventures in San Diego created "tailored keepsakes," which are memorabilia albums that can be built around any cruise, tour or package, according to company chief executive Mark Diez.

Carribbean Treasures is a colorful photo album that agents can buy for clients. A prototype album, called Caribbean Treasures, is a combination scrapbook, photo album and coffee table book with cruise referral certificates in the back.

An agency can personalize the album by stamping its name and address on the certificates, which then, theoretically are shared among friends and family as the album is passed around. "The certificate could be good for discounts, cabin upgrades or whatever the agency wants to offer," Diez said.

The album provides professional photographic backdrops on each page -- tying into particular destinations or ports of call -- on which clients can mount their own photos or mementos.

"To increase the presentation value of the keepsake, we are creating a treasure hunt at ports of call around the world and are developing relationships with various merchants in these destinations to sell stamps, cards and other inexpensive items to fit the book," he said.

Prices will vary by volume and amount of customization needed. A generic album for the Caribbean is priced at around $17.99, Diez said. For details, contact Ten Kings at (877) 822-7228; check out its Web site at www.tenkings.com, or e-mail [email protected].

Marketing Minute

Two-card-carrying agents
Everyone in the travel industry sports a business card.

But did you ever consider the fact that you might benefit from having a second business card designed solely for new prospects?

The "prospect card" has all of the same information found on your regular business card.

Richard Turen.But it also includes an invitation to try your service as well as a specific call to action.

I like the idea of having a business card double as a gift certificate for those who might use your firm's services for the first time.

You might offer a $50 inducement and even print a date by which reservations must be made.

This will encourage you to distribute the cards as quickly as possible.

How would you use these new cards?

Certainly not when meeting suppliers or when greeting clients in your office.

But what about the person who repairs your car, does your dry cleaning or serves you in a restaurant?

Instead of handing out a card that simply says "here's the name of still another travel agency," hand out an elegant card that states that the recipient is entitled to a $50 credit toward any upcoming vacation as an incentive to try your services.

People throw away business cards all of the time, but they don't throw away gift certificates.

What I like most about the two-card concept is that it tends to open up the whole world of potential clients we encounter outside the office each day.

Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency president. Contact him at [email protected].

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