Happily ever after

Honeymoon travel is one of the more popular niches in the business, but are you making the most of each booking?

Liana Carlson, creator of a 3-year-old honeymoon gift registry service called After I Do, doesn't think so.

Carlson, based in Dallas, works with travel agents to create a honeymoon registry whereby wedding guests can contribute to the trip.

Liana Carlson.A graduate of the MBA program at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Carlson came up with the idea while on her way to a wedding.

"A friend and I were bridesmaids, and we were complaining about the gifts we bought which we knew the bride wasn't going to use," she said.

Carlson decided the idea of a honeymoon registry would address the two most common complaints about wedding gifts.

"Couples are getting married after they are established in homes, and they already have the traditional household gifts," she said.

"Also, traditionally the gift-buying process involves picking something from a list that has no meaning for [the giver]," she said.

With After I Do, couples are referred to one of the company's preferred agents, or they can work with their own.

Once the agent has designed a package, Carlson breaks the itinerary into components.

"In some cases, like inclusives, it will be price estimates," she said, adding that typical components can include breakfast in bed, a hotel night or scuba diving.

Guests can opt to purchase a component, which can be as inexpensive as $30, go in with other guests on more expensive gifts or simply pay toward the total cost of the trip.

The gifts typically allow an agent to "up-sell" a trip by $500 to $1,000, she said.

As for creating the itinerary, "we leave a lot of that to the travel consultant we work with," Carlson said.

After I Do works with about 50 agents, Carlson said, offering preferred-agent status and referrals based on geography or specialty.

Noting that some honeymoon specialist agents already have honeymoon registries, Carlson said, "There is an overhead of time and money to do that. Our travel partners can still offer the registry as a marketing tool, but we take away the hassle."

Because the company is not involved in the travel plans, agents keep their entire commission, Carlson said.

Agents can call (800) 956-4436 or www.afterido.com.

A happy marriage

Kathleen Dutton, owner of 2-year-old OMO Travel Inc. in Huntington Beach, Calif., has been working with After I Do for six months, and so far the bloom is still on the rose.

"You have to be specialized these days, and my niche is customizing itineraries for honeymooners," Dutton said.

While Dutton does send couples to inclusive resorts and on cruises, she also comes up with more unusual trips, such as to a ball and New Year's Eve concert in Vienna.

www.omotravel.com.Because honeymoons are, by definition, supposed to be fabulous, Dutton is always looking for ways to punch up itineraries with extras.

"I was looking for that added service for my clients, and I thought After I Do would work with my business," she said.

"If I were a guest, I would love to give the couple a dinner cruise or a massage," she said, adding that the registry service takes care of sending out announcement cards that can be inserted into invitations, keeps track of the gifts and sends out the certificates.

Dutton receives referrals and reciprocates with referrals back to After I Do, which she touts on her own Web site.

"As a preferred agent, I can offer my clients discounts for signing up," she said.

Because honeymoons are only one of Dutton's many niches, she said: "I never go into this to sell one trip. I'm looking to be the couples' travel consultant throughout their traveling life."

Business tips

Q:I'm hiring a new agent. What's the best way to determine his compensation?

A: The level of compensation you set now will stay with both you and the employee for as long as he or she remains at your agency, so do some homework.

Generally speaking, you should base compensation on skill level or what that person is bringing to your agency that will add to your profits.

Check salary surveys provided by ASTA and ARTA.

Dan McManus.You also can compare salaries offered by other agencies in your area.

Previous job applicants, if fairly recent, also can help you determine the correct salary range.

If the new agent told you what he or she made prior, you might consider simply offering a 5% to 10% increase.

If you can't afford this, then offer an incentive, such as a bonus, if certain goals are met.

Q:Will incorporating help my business?

A: Almost always. When you incorporate, you separate your business from your personal assets.

This is an important distinction, since it lowers your financial risk.

If there is a problem with the business, such as a financial loss or a lawsuit, your personal property can't be attached unless it's been used as collateral.

If you are in business with someone else, incorporation is all but mandatory.

A partnership makes you liable for both your actions and those of your partner -- including any personal debts he or she undertakes. A corporation structure would provide separation and sidestep a lot of headaches.

Corporations can be set up for well under $1,000. They do require some administrative work -- holding meetings and recording minutes -- but the benefits are well worth the effort.

Former agency owner Dan McManus is the publisher of the newsletter The Successful Worldspan Agent. Contact him at [email protected].

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