What do travel agents offer that Internet travel booking sites
don't? The answers we hear most often are personal service and
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.
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
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
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
The "prospect card" has all of the same information found on
your regular business card.
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
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
How would you use these new cards?
Certainly not when meeting suppliers or when greeting clients in
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].