Making the most of the Web

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It was May 2002 when Pat Saizan, with no background in the travel business, launched her home-based agency, Saizan Travel, in Altamonte Springs, Fla. It was October before she made her first sale.

That sounds like a recipe for a short career, but a determined Saizan invested in education and technology.

Today, she has an all-leisure business heavy on all-inclusive resorts (45%) and cruises (30%) that grosses about $400,000 to $500,000 annually.

She aims to grow sales considerably and expresses her financial goal in terms of take-home pay: She wants to be making $100,000 a year in commissions within the next two to five years.

It was technology, and a career that might have been, that lifted Saizan Travel out of the start-up doldrums.

In August 2002, Saizan bought a Web site from Online Agency. A month later, she bought the vendor's Web site optimization package.

She wanted her site to appear high on the free lists produced by the search engines. She said it was important to optimize her Web pages by using algorithms that Google and Yahoo use.

The optimization package worked, bringing in her first customer and many more after. But Saizan said the algorithms changed all the time, so she learned how to optimize her Web site herself, by changing her pages when the search engines changed.

Along the way, she became something of an Internet techie.

"I love it," she said, adding she would have found her career in the Internet world if the Net had been around when she was making those first choices in the 1970s.

Instead, she became a nurse. Then she changed course as a result of a chance encounter: During a cruise with her husband in January 2002, Saizan said she met a number of teachers who had left the classroom to become travel agents. The idea sparked Saizan's interest.

She enrolled in a travel program with the Galiano Career Center; she took the home-study version although the center is in her hometown. Her education continues: She is working toward her Travel Institute CTC certification now.

Aside from cruises and all-inclusives, her business is about 15% Europe (Ireland, Italy and the U.K.) and 10% Hawaii. And although all-inclusives account for nearly half of her bookings, Saizan wants them to be a larger part of her business.

About every four months, she travels to inspect resorts she sells, and many of these trips get her on the cruise ships, too. Because she is in Florida, it is easy to hop on a ship to visit several islands. Shore excursions are resort inspections.

Her host agency is Joystar, for which Saizan is a mentor in the micro-hosting program. She teaches and assists inexperienced Joystar agents. Their commissions are distributed to her, and she redistributes the earnings and keeps 30%.

It is no exaggeration that the Web made all the difference to Saizan's business. She said she tried other approaches to drum up sales: YellowPages.com, magazine advertising, even the local church bulletin. They were all busts, she said.

Saizan optimizes her online opportunities with multiple Web sites, as follows: CruiseVacationTravel.com, HoneymoonChoices.com and SaizansTravel.com. In late March, she bought two dot-travel domains, AllInclusiveVacations.travel and AllInclusiveResorts.travel.

Her customers come from all over the U.S. with less than 5% from Florida. She must satisfy state registration laws outside Florida, but as a Joystar-hosted agency for all sales, she said she can use Joystar's registration numbers on her Web sites.

She said her customers shop for ideas on the Web but call her toll-free number or e-mail her to pursue bookings.

"They are busy," Saizan said. "We talk and we establish a relationship, and we work out what is best."

About half her bookings are with repeat customers because "they trust me."

What's next, besides growing the business? Perceiving a need for networking and shared learning experiences with other agents, Saizan proposed and received the go-ahead from Joystar to create local chapters of Joystar affiliates. The purpose is part social, as well.

Saizan's love of the Web may be about to create a new business for her.

In May, she expects to begin selling, at $25, a downloadable PDF version of her book, "Search Engine Optimization and Internet Marketing for the Travel Agent."

Think you're a good candidate for an upcoming Agent Life? Contact Nadine Godwin, Agent Life editor, at [email protected], and please include your agency name, agency location, telephone number and e-mail address in the message and put "Agent Life" in the subject line.

Perfect Itinerary

A honeymoon in Ireland

Pat Saizan, owner of Saizan Travel in Altamonte Springs, Fla., prepared the following Ireland itinerary for a honeymooning couple.

Day 1: Arrive at Shannon Airport. Pick up a rental car at Dan Dooley at the airport.  Drive northwest to Galway for an overnight at the Marless House Bed and Breakfast in Salthill, an oceanside town about a mile and a half from Galway. That evening, go into Galway for an evening pub crawl.

Day 2: Drive to the Galway Docks. Take the Aran Ferry to Inishmore, the largest of Ireland's three Aran Islands. Rent bikes at Rothar Arainn Teo and explore the island. Return to Galway around 3 p.m. Drive to Nellie Dee's Bed and Breakfast in Doolin, a town known for traditional Irish music. Have dinner at one of the town's pubs and enjoy the music.

Day 3: Drive south to County Kerry. Drive halfway around the Ring of Kerry until you come to Cahersiveen, where you will spend the next two nights at the SeaBreeze Bed and Breakfast. That afternoon, go the Eagle Rock Equestrian Center for horseback riding on woodland trails and on the beach.

Day 4: Spend the day in Cahersiveen and enjoy the ambience. There are lots of good places to shop and eat in town.

Day 5: Drive north to Kildare. Check into the Kilkea Castle, which was built in 1180 and is the oldest continuously inhabited castle in Ireland, according to its Web site. Explore the medieval rose garden. Dine that evening at the castle.

Day 6: Drive to Dublin Airport to drop off your car at Dan Dooley. Take an airport bus to the O'Callaghan Mont Clare Hotel, on Merrion Square in Dublin. Enjoy the theater that evening.

Day 7: Explore Dublin via the hop-on, hop-off bus tour, which allows you to explore Dublin on your own and see the areas that you are most interested in. Overnight at the Mont Clare.

Day 8: Return home.

The Perfect Itinerary is an example of an itinerary an agent crafted his or herself, not available anywhere else, but can be duplicated by other agents to sell to their clients. To send an example of an itinerary you've customized, e-mail to [email protected] with "Perfect Itinerary" in the subject line.

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