Marketing for the millennium


Gerry Jung doesn't like the term "travel distribution system." "If we call ourselves that and function as such, we have become replaceable," he said. Instead, "we can position ourselves as local or regional experts to help suppliers -- with the ability to attract new customers."

Gerry Jung.Jung, the owner of Vacations Plus in New Berlin, Wis., was discussing Marketing for the New Millennium, at ASTA's Eastern Regional Conference last month in Mashantucket, Conn. He provided these tips:

  • It's important to take uninterrupted time once a year to fine-tune your marketing approach. In Jung's case, he flies with his agency partner to a resort, where he can knuckle down to the task with a clear head.
  • Do a Zip code analysis of your current customers to discover what geographic areas you're really serving. The results can be surprising. In Jung's case, "we discovered 40% of our customers were actually in the next town, which changed our approach."
  • In order to get an idea of how your agency is perceived in your community, consider running some low-key, casual focus groups. Tell clients you'll provide pizza and soft drinks and ask them questions about your business.
  • Having a firm grasp of your market means being up on both demographic and psychographic details. For demographics -- which include basic details such as income level, age range, etc. -- check out local newspapers and radio stations, which often do extensive studies for potential advertisers. You can at least see the outlines of your market in this information. And to narrow things down further, you may want to check out your preferred suppliers, which usually have a detailed picture of who's buying their products.
  • "It's definitely more challenging to get psychographic than demographic data," which keys into a consumer's likes and dislikes and psychological quirks. Among the best ways is to have students in a market research or statistics class at a local college do a project for you, for a small fee. College classes "love to do 'real-life' projects," said Jung. The key is to plan the project in advance.
  • One big part of marketing is knowing exactly who your competition is, but sometimes it's hard to locate home-based agencies in your community. In that case, ask suppliers.
  • Building a better ad strategy

    Here are more ideas on marketing and advertising from Gerry Jung, the owner of Vacations Plus in New Berlin, Wis. (see story above):

  • Co-op ad dollars "are far more available than we realize," said Jung. "Suppliers say that 50% to 60% of their co-op budget is unspent.
  • "I go to suppliers with a specific, targeted plan and ask for 50% of payment toward ads. Typically, they'll give me 75%, just because I've done my homework." Jung's plan usually includes a breakdown of his market's demographics, a goal and a commitment to product training.

  • Jung formed an ad co-op with noncompeting agencies in the same market "for a larger ad presence at a manageable cost."
  • "The ultimate trade secret is that information on your market is your true value," said Jung.
  • "Do you think on-line companies such as are overvalued? Maybe, maybe not. It has created the greatest, most detailed customer database we've ever seen, and then it probably sells those lists, which are its real value."

  • While consumers of today want price, service, convenience, expertise, a personal connection, and time savings from their agents, "accountability is probably the most important value that agents have, vs. the Internet." Consumers worry, " 'If my trip goes wrong, who's going to take care of me?' If they can get you on the phone [vs. booking with a Web site], their comfort level goes up."
  • The gay road less traveled

    Billy Kolber Stuart.When it comes to recommending a vacation to gay clients, most travel agents are familiar with the "usual suspects" of gay destinations: Key West, Provincetown and Palm Springs.

    Here are some alternate recommendations for those who want to try something new or for when availability is scarce at popular resorts. Many of these destinations are regional resorts catering primarily to local residents of a nearby metropolis.

    If you have gay business travelers booked to one of these gateways, increase commissions by suggesting an add-on getaway to these resorts. For more information on all four destinations, check out the Out and About Web site at

  • Rehoboth Beach, Del., (Gateway cities: Philadelphia, Washington, Baltimore) is a popular mid-Atlantic spot. It features a number of gay-specific and gay-friendly guesthouses and two gay-popular beaches.
  • Ogunquit, Maine, (Gateway cities: Boston, Portland) is a popular alternative to Provincetown, with the small- town charm of coastal Maine. Although it gets busy, especially on summer weekends, it is always relatively low key and friendly.
  • Russian River, Calif., (Gateway cities: San Francisco, Sacramento) is a rustic gay destination, popular with outdoorsy types from the Bay Area. If a cottage in the woods with an outdoor hot tub is what your client needs after a big presentation in Silicon Valley, Russian River is the place.
  • Saugatuck, Mich., (Gateway cities: Detroit, Chicago) and its sister town of Douglas are the summer getaway for Midwestern lesbians and gay men. The lakefront beach is the prime attraction for swimming, boating and socializing.
  • Billy Kolber-Stuart is the editor of the gay travel newsletter "Out and About" and the co-author of two books about gay travel.

    Battle ribbons for traveler?

    Richard Turen.What is the first conversational item among guests who meet on a cruise ship or a tour? That's right, they talk about their past cruises and tours. But few agencies have found a way to tap into experienced cruisers' sense of accomplishment. If we've been on 14 cruises, we want everyone on the ship to know it.

    That's why I advise agencies to consider designing ship/cruise line logo pins for their upscale clients -- something that clients can wear on formal nights as a demonstration of cruise line loyalty. I'd suggest a design of rectangular pins that can be worn like battle ribbons, clearly showing the ship and date.

    Your yuppie clients probably won't like such pins unless they incorporate the Nike or Starbucks logo. But for many of your clients, these battle ribbons may represent a compelling reason to continue to book with your firm despite competitors' mailings regularly coming at them.

    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].

    Using a Y2K disclaimer

    Linda Robison, president of Academy Travel and Tours in Colorado Springs, Colo., has been updating a Y2K disclaimer the agency sends out with passenger itineraries to head off potential problems.

    At the end of last year, "when we had lots of people on the waitlist for millennium cruises, and the cruise lines didn't know what the fares were going to be, and if they were going to provide air or not," Robison worked with one kind of disclaimer. That was a statement saying that "we just act as the intermediary for tour operators and cruise lines, and any changes are beyond our control."

    But now, those initial issues have been ironed out. The agency's new Y2K disclaimer includes recommendations listed "because of the 'reported' uncertainty of some computerized systems," noting agents may feel better prepared if they:

  • Reconfirm reservations directly with the airlines.
  • Request a paper ticket or have e-ticket receipts printed in advance.
  • Have baggage clearly labeled both inside and out.
  • Make sure the airlines have phone contacts for both your origination and destination cities. After business hours contacts are especially helpful.
  • Expect crowds of people, long lines, full gate areas and full flights.
  • Practice patience, kindness and understanding.
  • Internet tips

    Robin Fetsch.The Internet has become an excellent resource and marketing tool for the home-based agent, but to use it to best advantage is a challenge. Here are some suggestions:

  • Qualify Internet clients, too. One of the first things you should do after setting up a Web site and/or e-mail account is to learn to qualify clients right up front. Just as you'd do with a prospect walking into your storefront agency, you need to get a name, address and phone number before you hand out any free information.
  • But before you go to any work gathering information, ask for a deposit!
  • Be selective. I know many agencies, of all sizes, that are frustrated by the number of Internet inquiries that don't translate into sales. As more people become comfortable with using the Internet for business, they will show more loyalty to those who serve them well. In the meantime, think three times before dealing with comparison shoppers.
  • Get references. There are many sellers of dubious products out there.
  • Last year, I booked a family in a two-bedroom flat in Paris found on the Internet, but not found by my weary clients on the day of their arrival. Fortunately, they located a hotel nearby, but my agency lost the $500 deposit paid to this counterfeit operation on their behalf.

    Stick with sites you are comfortable with and names you know. Otherwise, ask the supplier for references from other agents in your state.

    Robin Fetsch operates Specialty Tours from her home in Falls Church, Va. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].


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