Location is everything

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Location, location, location. This cliche of retail real estate theory is also a big reason the agency Now, Voyager has become such a force in the gay travel market.

The agency is located in the heart of San Francisco's Castro district -- a neighborhood with a large gay population and many gay-owned businesses, according to owner Jonathan Klein.

Jonathan Klein."It's not so much that all of our clients live in the Castro area -- it's that gay people in the Bay Area identify the Castro as the place where the gay businesses are and go out of their way to patronize them," said Klein.

Its location has also helped attract national business to the agency -- enough so that roughly 15% of the names on its mailing list are outside the Bay Area. "Virtually the only nationwide advertising that we do is when [gay cruise operator] RSVP Vacations will place an ad listing agents geographically," said Klein.

Those ads are what get Now, Voyager's name out there to the rest of the country -- and when someone without a good gay local agency needs to book a trip, he or she "will often think about calling an agency in San Francisco, because this is 'gay central,' " said Klein.

The 15-year-old agency generates over $4 million annually, 90% with the gay market. "It wasn't necessarily easy to focus on this market when we started. Most people said we were crazy," said Klein. "Back then, people saw it as a difficult segment to work with."

Why? "If you want to deal in cliches, there's the thought that gay clients tend to be sophisticated and demanding," said Klein. He admitted that "you do have to be on your toes a lot" when helping his clients -- but he enjoys that.

Klein was honored by the gay travel newsletter Out and About this year, being one of two agents who became part of that publication's Hall of Fame. (The other, Newt Deiter, of Rancho Mirage Travel, Rancho Mirage, Calif., was profiled in a recent issue of Travel Weekly.)

"Jonathan and Newt both helped found the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association and continue to be among the most proactive agents marketing gay travel," said Out and About's editor in chief, Billy Kolber-Stuart.

Now and then, voyager

What's the story behind the name of the San Francisco-based agency Now, Voyager? "The inspiration is from a wonderfully poetic passage on travel by [Walt Whitman], one of the central figures of American literature," according to the company's Web site ( www.nowvoyager.com).

"Now, voyager, sail thou forth to seek and find," reads the passage.

"We figured that's a good inspiration to go out traveling," said the agency's owner, Jonathan Klein.

Another inspiration is the 1942 Bette Davis movie "Now, Voyager," though Klein noted, "We don't go around saying that our name is from the movie -- we might get in trouble for that."

Still, callers hear dialogue excerpts from the movie when they get put on hold -- and sometimes say, "Can you put me back on hold? I was at a good part," according to Klein.

"Now, Voyager," is not one of what Klein called the "first-string of Bette Davis cult movies," such as "Whatever Happened to Baby Jane," but it does have a large following of its own. "One thing that people love is its theme of transformation," said Klein.

In the movie, Davis' character "starts out as a repressed, dowdy spinster, and ends up blossoming in the end."

"What really does the trick is, she goes on a cruise. There's a good PR job for the benefits of traveling right there," said Klein.

What is a spouse?

We offer health insurance to our employees and their spouses. One of my employees has called a live-in lover a "spouse." Is this OK?

That depends on your insurance policy. Many insurance carriers have specific requirements for spousal coverage, which you may be violating. Contact your insurance carrier to check its policy.

Dan McManus.If it specifies only legally married partners, you need to investigate, but tread lightly. You don't want to single out individuals to check, or you could appear to be practicing discrimination. Circulate a memo outlining the requirements for spousal coverage as provided by the insurance company. In the memo, discuss your concern that some who claim spouses may not qualify and ask such employees to contact you for a suitable remedy. Another way to search is to check W-4 forms that indicate whether employees are married or single.

I've hired an employee under a 90-day probationary period. After a month, I let him go. He is claiming he had 90 days to perform. Was my action appropriate?

State laws that govern this vary greatly, but generally, as long as you have reserved the right to fire any employee during the 90-day probation, you are on solid legal ground.

From a nonlegal standpoint, consider that it is easy for an employee to misunderstand any policy. The person may truly have believed that he had 90 days to prove himself.

To avoid this problem in the future, be sure to explain your policy carefully. Also, with this policy, the employee has the right to quit at any time without giving you notice. A good policy might be to have each party give the other a day or two of notice so they can make adjustments as necessary.

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

On-line kvetching

You think your agency hears some strange customer complaints? MSN Expedia, Microsoft's on-line agency, gets some doozies of its own.

These gems were shared by Seth Eisner, Expedia's director of operations and data management, at the Hotel Electronic Distribution Network Association's midsummer conference in Phoenix:

  • My cat stepped on the keyboard and purchased the ticket, not me.
  • My girlfriend and I had a fight at [Dallas-Fort Worth] and she got on a flight without me. Can you help me find her?
  • Every time I use your site, it causes my birds to fight.
  • Your site didn't warn me they wouldn't take personal checks in Ecuador.
  • I think you should banish Supplier XXX from your site.
  • I'm having trouble booking a seat for my string bass.
  • Hotel X put my belongings into trash bags and moved us to another hotel.
  • Telling secrets

    "Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know," the long-running Off-Broadway musical revue that spoofs the travel industry, is hitting the road with a live cast recording and upcoming regional productions around the country.

    Produced by Jay Leonhart, the CD and cassette versions of the show (on the RCA Victor label) were introduced earlier this summer. The recording features the current Off-Broadway cast, including Jay Leonhart, Ray DeMattis, Maribeth Graham, Denise Nolin and Nick Santa Maria.

    The show will open in Boston at the Park Plaza Hotel on Sept. 30. Other "Secrets" productions will open in the next few months in Cincinnati; Miami, Palm Beach and Orlando, Fla.; Portland, Ore., and Seattle.

    In New York, "Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know" has been playing for almost two years and continues at the Ibis Theater, 327 West 44th St. The show celebrated its 650th performance on June 1.

    Based on Wendy Perrin's travel guide of the same name, the revue contains more than 20 original songs and sketches, which take the audience around the world in 100 minutes. While visiting more than 40 countries, world capitals, tropical isles and even a volcano, cast members encounter a variety of travel mishaps and cultural embarrassments.

    MyMapQuest

    A new option called MyMapQuest enables members to create address books of frequently visited places and then use the entries to create maps and driving directions. MyMapQuest also enables users to create and save an unlimited number of customized maps.
    www.mapquest.com

    DogFriendly.com

    Check here for listings of places in California where people can go with their dogs. The site includes mentions of hotels and restaurants, as well as parks, beaches and outdoor recreation areas where dogs are accepted.

    Dog-friendly festivals and special events are provided as well. Point your bowser -- uh, browser -- to: www.dogfriendly.com

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