Honeymoon specialist

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Almost a decade ago, before one-stop shopping was as common as the phrase "love and marriage," a group of local business acquaintances pooled their funds to build a small mall catering to the altar-bound.

Suzanne Barry"We all knew each other, and we thought, since we're all in the same business, why not invest in our own community and build a mall?" recalled Suzanne Barry, owner of Associated Travel Services Inc. in Joliet, Ill.

The group was smart enough to build in a growing area, which today is loaded with housing and medical centers. Five other thriving shops at the 18,000-square-foot condo mall include a florist, hairdresser, bridal store, tuxedo shop and insurance company.

While her agency also does regular leisure business, Barry said her preference is for honeymooners. "Our clients come back and show us pictures. They're like our friends. You just can't help but feel good about what you're doing," Barry said.

Barry knows of no other similar bridal mall, though on the frequent fam trips she takes, "everyone says to me, 'What a great concept.' But when I ask, no one else tells me they're doing it."

Barry's agency also benefits because of changing trends in the marriage market. Instead of exchanging their vows at a local church, for example, more couples are traveling to vacation destinations.

Another helpful trend: In the past, honeymoon trips typically involved seven days and nights. But more working couples marrying at later ages translates into longer trips. It's common now to have a 10-day honeymoon or even 14 days, Barry said.

The typical honeymoon couple spends anywhere from $4,000 to $8,000, though one twosome spent $27,000 on a two-week trip.

But income potential for Barry's agency goes far beyond the honeymooners themselves because of family members who attend weddings that often take place in resort-like destinations.

And that's not all. "I get a lot of moms and dads of the bride and groom who say, 'After this wedding is over, I need a trip myself,' " she said.

The bridal mall

Bridal Mall MagBeing located in a mall filled with other wedding suppliers such as a bridal dress store helps attract a flourishing honeymoon business to Associated Travel Services in Joliet, Ill., according to Suzanne Barry, the owner.

The mall members also formed the Illinois Bridal and Party Association, which has about 100 members in six northern Illinois counties. The association produces a quarterly bridal magazine, distributed to stores such as Service Merchandise, which is among the area outlets with bridal registries.

The magazine includes tips on such topics as how far in advance to plan a wedding; its paid ads help pay the association's miscellaneous expenses.

As a member of the bridal association, Barry's agency also participates in various bridal shows. One recent event at the Renaissance Center in Joliet drew 53 marriage-related exhibitors -- and was attended by more than 1,000 consumers, Barry said.

The setting for Associated also attracts honeymooners, providing a tone of calm to soothe nervous brides-to-be. "We don't have the typical metal desks but wooden ones. We have a couch and a rocking chair and it looks real comfortable, like the study or den of a home," Barry said. "We make it clear to our clients that we're not just order takers [but consultants]. We don't want them to pick the wrong place for their honeymoon," she said.

Education how-to's

Roberta Schwartz

Roberta SchwartzHere are some tips on developing a good agency training program, as presented by consultant Roberta Schwartz at the recent ASTA Vacationfest:

  • Keep in mind the basic principles of adult learning: People learn best when they actively participate in the process and believe that the goals of the learning experience are directly related to their own personal goals.
  • Employees will retain more of what they've been taught through an experience that is hands-on, interactive and practical. Consider role-playing when trying to teach sales skills, for example.
  • Feedback for the training should be immediate and meaningful, and trainees should be accountable and responsible for what they have learned.
  • All too often, an agency's training budget is what's left after everything else is accounted for. Ideally, begin by creating a wish list for all the training you would like to see happen in the next year. Then develop sales goals. How much of an increase in sales and profits is needed to self-liquidate the cost of the training?
  • There are basically two paths to training- using your own resources and going outside. With your own resources, there is often less out-of-pocket expense, but will you get a good enough return?
  • One good idea is to appoint a staff training coordinator responsible for developing, implementing and measuring the effectiveness of the training program.
  • A big part of the training equation is finding the time to do it! Regular staff meetings offer a perfect opportunity, but you can add dedicated training time both in and out of the office.
  • Doing Disney right

    Richard TurenDisney products ought to be the single biggest gun in the leisure agency's arsenal. Families booking Disney are your single greatest potential source of business. As a main topic for your next staff meeting, you could do far worse than "what have we done to develop and direct Disney business toward our firm?"

    Disney has never been shy about taking direct bookings, and every leisure agency needs to accept the challenge of convincing the client that booking with an agent produces tangible benefits.

    Disney has its own training program, and, as one would expect, it's quite good. But it is far better to set up your own. Create a stringent training program and reward staff who qualify. Don't advertise that you have an on-staff Disney expert. That has legal connotations. Do advertise that you have on-staff Disney specialists.

    "The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World," by Bob Schlinger, is significantly more candid than anything put out by Disney. Use it as a textbook. You might want to write reviews of Disney visits for your local paper, or set up a weekend seminar for potential Disney group leaders.

    If you want to do something off the wall, make a deal with a local limousine company to provide transfers to the airport for all of your Disney-bound clients. Arrange to have the driver wear Disney ears and have fun kits for the kids, with a card from your agency waiting in the backseat.Disney does create magic and millions. You need to tap into both.

    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].

    More ASTA legal aid

    Need help with CRS contract talks? ASTA Marketing Services' newly enhanced Discounted Legal Services Program now includes breaks on legal fees for CRS contract negotiations.

    The program, available to all active ASTA members, will continue to provide a free 15-minute initial consultation and written estimate of fees. For CRS negotiations, the fee schedules are as follows:

  • For agencies with five or fewer res terminals, the program's suggested fees will not exceed the $750 to $1,500 range.
  • For agencies with six to 12 terminals, fees will not exceed the $1,750 to $2,500 range.
  • For agencies with more than 12 terminals, fees are subject to individual negotiations with the participating attorney. These fees are based on negotiating a contract with a single vendor for single-location agencies; actual rates may vary.
  • The attorneys also offer 15% off their regular fees for work relating to sales, mergers or acquisitions of travel agencies; employment contracts, and supplier contracts.

    Participating member attorneys are Paul Cronin, based in Newton, Mass; Gary Davidson, Miami; Laurence Gore, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Rose Hache, Houston; Mark Pestronk, Fairfax, Va.; Barry Roberts, Chevy Chase, Md.; Arthur Schiff, New York; Susan Tanzman, Los Angeles.

    Austrian seminars

    To help agents learn more about Austria, representatives from the Austrian National Tourist Office, Austrian Airlines and the Austrian Consulate General are going on the road with a series of free workshops and trade shows.

    The spring series will take place in the following venues: Essex House, New York, April 12; the Boston Park Plaza Hotel, April 14; the Westin Fairfax, Washington, April 15; Chicago Hilton & Towers, April 20; the Sutton Place Hotel, Toronto, April 21; the Hotel Omni Montreal, April 23.

    In each city, the events will begin at 5 p.m. -- except for Montreal (which will lead off earlier, at 10 a.m. ) -- and include a trade show, a destination seminar and a party.

    The office's schedule of fall cities will be: Atlanta, Oct. 4; Miami, Oct. 5; Dallas, Oct. 6; Houston, Oct. 7; Los Angeles, Oct. 12, and San Francisco, Oct. 15. For more information, call (212) 575-7723.

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