High-tech, high-touch agency

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The principals at Lee Travel Group of Westport, Conn., have never shied away from the world of technology. Instead, they have taken full advantage of computers and the Internet to create custom solutions for the agency's clients, many of which are high-tech companies themselves.

Peggy Lee."Since my days in marketing at Duracell, I have been interested in the ways computers interrelate," said Lee Travel president Peggy Lee. In fact, Lee has been making hotel and air arrangements for many computer shows, including what was billed as the world's largest, Internet World, held recently in Los Angeles.

The company's visibility among technology firms was prominently featured when a segment on Lee Travel recently ran on Business Now, a television program that aired on ABC affiliates in four cities, including San Francisco.

How did the company get the enviable TV spot? One of the show's producers read a story about the agency in a Fairfield County, Conn., newspaper and liked the idea of spotlighting an atypical travel agency. The program included a quote from one of Lee's clients that sums up the issues raised when dealing with high-tech clients: "We have companies used to logging on to the Internet and doing things instantly, 24 hours a day, seven days a week," said Jack Powers, conference chairman for Penton Media's Internet World Division, in Westport, Conn.

Addressing that need for instant feedback, several years ago, Lee helped design a computerized event reservation and registration system (ERS). The company recently extended that venture into a separate business with b-there.com, which enables meeting planners and event organizers to research event venues, set up housing blocks and manage reservations, transportation and registrations over the Internet using ERS -- all in real time.

Once again, Lee Travel is using technology to provide gratification for those used to clicking on instant answers. But technology isn't everything, Lee said. "Our unique niche is to provide a combination of high-touch and high-tech services to meet the needs of the business, leisure and event services traveler today. If we ever think we are a 'technology company' instead of a 'service company,' we're in trouble," she said.

Doing good while doing well

Lee Travel Group of Westport, Conn., is using the Internet to raise money for a good cause: finding a cure for leukemia. Visitors to the b-there.com Web site, set up by Lee Travel president Peggy Lee, will be able to register for a raffle to benefit the Fairfield County, Conn., chapter of the Leukemia Society of America.

"A business should be an active member of the community where it is located, and philanthropy is a part of that commitment," said Lee. By filling out an on-screen entry form and buying a raffle ticket for $20, participants will be eligible to win a first prize travel package that includes two business-class tickets to any city served by United Airlines, a four-day/three-night stay at a Ritz-Carlton property of the winner's choice and roundtrip limousine transfers from the winner's home to the airport. Second prize is a Canon PowerShot A5 Zoom camera.

Travel Weekly readers can enter the raffle, which closes on June 22, by logging on to www.b-there.com/tw.

Setting up an on-line business

Peggy Lee, president of Westport, Conn.-based Lee Travel Group, said the hardest part about setting up an on-line business was "limiting my focus. The Internet is such a wide, wide world, with such immense potential, that I am always having to rein myself in to a more manageable step-by-step business plan."

Below are additional tips Lee offers to agencies eager to create a Web site and launch on-line services.

  • Give employees time to get comfortable with the Internet. When Lee installed Internet access on every employee's desktop, some managers "wondered if they were just wasting time playing," she said.
  • "But I assured them that they need to learn how to use it. Because my people are knowledgeable about finding important information, they can do it quicker than a lot of our clients can. It's part of their jobs." Now Lee agents use the Internet every day, for everything from destination research to determining visa requirements.

  • Be sensitive to client's attitudes about using technology. Some will be comfortable with on-line bookings; others will prefer more traditional methods of booking their travel.
  • Check out the Web sites of companies in a variety of industries. Study how the most effective e-businesses have traditional service and fulfillment capabilities behind them.
  • Find out how customers, leisure or business, are using the Internet. "For corporate clients, check out their Web sites. You'll find out what your opportunities are," said Lee.
  • Make sure your Web site is more than just an on-line brochure.
  • "Be open, keep exploring and have fun with it," said Lee. "Whatever you do, add value. If you do, you can beat your on-line competition."

    Contract how-tos

    Todd Wind.Minneapolis attorney Todd Wind offers the following tips on what to watch for when you are negotiating for or about to sign a contract:

  • Check to see who is signing the pact. Be clear about who is binding whom and for how much in the way of services or money.
  • Describe your expectations clearly and put them into the contract.
  • Review the boilerplate language in the document to determine how disputes will be settled.
  • As an addendum to the above pointers, Wind expanded on the kinds of boilerplate language you may see:

  • Integration clause. This standard language says the new agreement supersedes and incorporates all previous deals between the parties. It has the effect of excluding side agreements, he said.
  • Force majeure or act of God clause. This states that neither party is responsible for its contractual duties in the event of an occurrence outside the control of humans. "A work stoppage is not an act of God," Wind said.
  • Dispute resolution. Here, parties agree what law applies and in which state if there is a dispute. Also, parties can choose how to settle a dispute, such as through arbitration or mediation.
  • Payment of legal fees. In a contract, Wind said, look for language that states when, or if, either party must pay the other's legal fees if there is a dispute. Be sure those obligations are reciprocal, he said.
  • The country club presentation

    Richard Turen.Evening out-of-office presentations can produce an unusually high rate of return. But the venue is as critical as your presentation.

    Why not discuss travel in a setting that encourages clients to feel good about themselves, such as the nicest country club in your area? In exchange for hosting your presentation on premises, ask the club manager if you can obtain a copy of the membership list in order to extend invitations to all club members. This is often against club rules, but you may get lucky with some great additions to your database.

    Do not ask suppliers to "co-op" this evening. Instead, if executed well, an entire event in any upscale setting ought to be totally supplier-funded. But do think twice about turning over your clients to a DSM during the presentation. You are selling your expertise and professionalism -- not theirs.

    Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a sales and marketing consulting firm, as well as president of the agency Churchill & Turen Ltd. both based in Naperville, Ill. Contact him at [email protected].

    Virtual bellhop

    For clients fed up with flight-time luggage hassles (and newly aggravated by tighter standards for carry-on luggage), TraveLite Enterprises offers the alternative of shipping bags rather than schlepping them. TraveLite's "virtual bellhop" will ship luggage to and from clients' homes and their destinations.

    No special packaging is required, and there is no need to weigh and fill out forms for individual bags. Prices begin at $65, with economy, second-day air, next-day air and corporate discount options to and from more than 150 U.S. cities. Luggage is automatically insured at standard airline levels; more comprehensive insurance is available for a small additional charge.

    Travelers who are particularly well-suited for this service include the elderly or disabled, business people carrying materials, and sports enthusiasts who travel with unwieldy equipment, William Cippola, managing partner of TraveLite, said.

    For more information, call 877-BELLHOP or visit www.virtualbellhop.com.

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