hree competing Rochester, N.Y.,
Vacation.com agencies -- J.B. Travel & Cruise Center, Park Ave.
Travel and First Class Travel -- recently merged operations as the
Rochester Travel Group.
All three had belonged to a nine-agency consortium until their
owners began to sense that the relationship wasn't working.
"We thought we could accomplish more under one ARC number and
Trams contract, cut costs and save money on trade organization
memberships," said Rochester Travel Group's business development
manager Mike Yarger, husband of one of the owners.
The three co-owners, Marilyn Yeager of J.B. Travel, Margaret Yarger
of Park Ave. Travel and Diane Celento of First Class Travel,
decided to close Celento's corporate agency location and retain the
two leisure sites, which enjoy lower rents and are situated in
prime shopping areas.
"On top of the savings, we have been able to earn a lot more
commissions with preferred suppliers by pooling our total sales,"
said Margaret Yarger.
By combining the three locations into two, the new company has
at each location a larger and more diverse staff of agent
Overall, the $6 million Rochester Travel Group has six full-time
salaried agents, four part-time agents and six outside commissioned
salespeople. The agency operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on weekdays
and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Saturdays and has a toll-free 24-hour
The new company reduced overhead costs by $2,500 a month, said
Mike Yarger. Utilities, for example, were cut by at least 33% and
trade membership fees by 66%.
"The total time we spend doing accounting has also been cut
because now there is only one accounting person vs. three, so it
frees us up to focus on sales," he said.
The company's co-owners have left the structure open so that other
area agencies can join as affiliates if they want to while still
operating under their own names. (The Rochester Travel Group
founders gave up their names.)
"The reason we went this route was because we watched a lot of
agencies folding up and closing. We have set ourselves up so that
we can be an umbrella group for other agents in the Rochester area
who are getting ready to retire or to close up shop," he said.
"Mergers give you all the strengths of individual agencies plus
the ability to reach more clients because your resources,
negotiating power and diversity all increase," added Yeager, who
said she now has more clients to target directly.
Yeager said all three firms are strong individually, so she
believes the merger will work, unlike transactions that combine
weaker agencies on the verge of falling apart.
Celento, for her part, said closing down her office was
difficult because she had founded it and operated it for 11 years,
"but it was the best thing for my firm."
-- Michele San Filippo
Exploring student travel
ike Yarger, business
development manager for Rochester (N.Y.) Travel Group, has had a
lot of experience with kids as a former youth ministry retreat
organizer. So what better specialty for him to establish than that
of student travel organizer?
"When my wife, Margaret, and I first opened as Park Ave. Travel
nine years ago, we wanted to focus on a market that wasn't being
served in Rochester, which has 10 colleges in the area," he
Student travel now represents almost 40% of sales at his agency.
His firm offers cheaper prices by selling international youth
hostel cards and international student/teacher ID cards, by working
with Canadian suppliers and by flying students out of Toronto or
Buffalo, which are more affordable gateways than Rochester.
"My past experiences with young kids helped me understand this
clientele," he said.
"If you do a good job for college kids, there are those who
return after graduating," he said.
His agency has seen a 15% rate of repeat business from
The agency markets by offering discounts on purchases, running
ads in college newspapers and advertising under student services in
the Yellow Pages.
Yarger recommends establishing a presence on campus with clubs
and professors who organize class trips and need an agency to
"But the most important thing I've learned is that you can make
money," said Yarger. "A lot of agents seem to treat younger people
with disdain because of age, lack of information and shortage of
funds, but they are potential clients for life if you know how to
serve them," he said.
Making a good first impression
hat you see is what you
get." ... "Put your best foot forward." ... "A thing of beauty is a
These common sayings reflect the fact that first impressions are
And making a good first impression is one of the most important
steps any business can take to attract and retain loyal
That applies even more dramatically to our travel industry.
Through our efforts, clients actively seek to preview and
experience place and product impressions.
some ideas on how to go about making your agency convey the right
and most enticing impression, one that reflects the trip to
come:Focus on the visuals. Dramatic pictures of exotic destinations
lure clients, stimulate their imaginations and encourage them to
"put themselves in the picture."Keep it simple. There is no need to spend a lot of money or
clutter up the office with lots of extraneous displays and
As with brochures, you'll create more impact if you leave some
areas unadorned, directing your client's attention to the evocative
images you've carefully selected for them to focus on.Create themes. One area of your office may emphasize cruises,
another escorted tours.
Or you might like to organize your decor according to
destinations, with the tropics prominent in one area and Europe in
another.Appeal to all the senses. The fragrance of suntan lotion is
wonderfully evocative. The sultry sounds of flamenco music can fire
the imagination. The tempting taste of brie may be enough on its
own to sell an escorted trip to Europe.
The five senses are very powerful sales tools. And, no, I'm not
saying you need to coat your office with suntan lotion, offer brie
to clients or dance the flamenco.
But you can evoke them by saying: "Wait 'til you try the wine in
I find that this tactic works almost as well as the real
Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles