Kal London has been a travel agent for 30 years, but as host of his
own radio show, "Travels with Kal," on the air since last July, he
is taking on a new role as a member of the media. "It's a different
feeling," he said -- and it's one he likes.
For example, when he taped a live broadcast amid the grand
opening hoopla at the Royal Towers of Atlantis on Paradise Island
in the Bahamas last December, he was happy to scoop the national
radio shows by broadcasting the day before they did.
His on-air role
at two Connecticut stations -- WMRD in Middletown and WLIS in Old
Saybrook -- also helps "keep me very knowledgeable" about what's
happening in the travel business, he said. "The best way for me to
educate myself is by interviewing all these people," said London,
the owner of All World Travel in New Britain, Conn.
The people London interviews on his show included local sales
reps from many suppliers and his highest-ranking interviewee yet,
Randy Garfield, president of Walt Disney Travel Co., whom he called
"the feather in my cap."
But as he continues to get more into the role of on-air
journalist, "I think our show has gone to the next level and gotten
more professional," he said.
Like any budding journalist, he is trying to make the show
livelier by bringing on guests whose agenda goes beyond promoting
their own companies.
For example, when he did a live report about the opening of Las
Vegas' Bellagio, he also interviewed a showgirl and an Elvis
During last year's hurricane season, he spoke on the air with Ed
Perkins from ASTA's consumer affairs department on consumers'
rights in the face of canceled flights. And he highlighted a report
from one of his agents who had been to Puerto Rico and was able to
provide an eyewitness account of the damage the hurricane had
"If there's something in the news that is travel related, we try
to get someone to talk about it," such as listeners surveyed about
Carnival's total nonsmoking policy on its new ship, the Paradise.
The response? Overwhelmingly positive.
Kal London says his
radio show "Travels with Kal" has given his agency, All World
Travel in New Britain, Conn., more visibility in his community as
well as more business, though it is hard to quantify exactly how
much. "I do know that many people call in and say they heard the
show," and clients often book trips featured on the program.
The show started in a half-hour format but was expanded to an
hour, changing its time slot to a more popular one -- from early
afternoon to 5 p.m., "drive time" in radio lingo.
London pays $200 to the two sister radio stations that run his
show and handle its production. But about 80% of the fee is picked
up by suppliers that pay for ads that run before, during and after
In fact, London foresees the day when the show will make a
profit from selling commercial time alone. The basic format
includes standard segments: "What's New" in Las Vegas, Disney and
Hawaii, along with a segment called "You Asked for It," which
attempts to answer client questions.
London's training for the show's basic interview format included
previous stints doing travel shows on public access TV.
He suggested that agents interested in doing something similar
approach radio stations in their area that will sell them broadcast
Better than machines
What makes booking with a travel agent better than booking on a
Web site? Mindful of the recent incident in which ASTA expelled
on-line agency Preview Travel for running a series of travel
agent-unfriendly ads, we asked ASTA's executive committee this
question. Their responses:
"Agents are better because we will 'vet' what the consumer reads
on the screen. I had a client who brought in information he had
gotten on the Internet about a property that was supposedly
centrally located as well as the 'best little hotel in Florence.' I
couldn't speak to the 'best' part, but at least I could tell him it
wasn't centrally located." -- Joe Galloway, ASTA president
"An agent gives consumers a total packet of information that is
unbiased and saves them time and money. Plus, the agent brings
value to the transaction by providing personalized, special
information. For example, I know about the most romantic hotel in
the world, the San Pietro in Positano, Italy." -- Richard Copland,
ASTA senior vice president
"What you get on the Internet is static, not that different from
reading a brochure or a review in the newspaper. Travel agents give
[this information] their value judgment. And even with
Priceline.com, people don't know what price to ask for and
sometimes will get the full fare." -- Kathy Sudeikis, ASTA
"There is no bonding between you and the machine. Travel agents
bring relationships into the equation; it's the ability to trust in
your agent that is most important [to consumers booking with a live
person]. And with an on-line agency, you're never sure that you're
getting the lowest fare." -- Eric Ardolino, ASTA treasurer
Market that niche
by Robin Fetsch
In a previous column, I suggested ways to select your own
special- interest travel niche. Once you have selected your areas
of specialization, how do you get the word out?Tell everyone! This is the perfect excuse to send a promotional
letter to present and potential clients and to submit a press
release to your local paper. Also, be sure to advise other local
agents of your new specialization and offer reciprocal
referrals.Offer your services. Libraries, schools and clubs are often
looking for interesting guest speakers. Contact your local library
and ask if it would be interested in a slide presentation on your
recent trip to, for example, South Africa. If your special interest
is also your personal passion, be sure to actively promote your new
expertise to fellow enthusiasts.Change or refine your image. This is a great time to revitalize
things. If you can afford it, get a new logo and change your
business cards and stationery.Partner with local businesses. You've decided to specialize in
biking vacations in Europe? Go to the local bike shop and put
together a joint promotion, offer a travel discount, post flyers,
see if the manager would like to lead a small group.Partner with travel businesses. Make sure you establish
relationships with suppliers you trust. Let them know how you plan
to promote their products. Ask if they can help with advertising or
And enjoy your work once again!
Robin Fetsch operates Specialty Tours from her home in Falls
Church, Va. She can be reached by e-mail at [email protected].
A not so-radical alternative to service
Here is another of Richard Turen's sales and marketing
minutes, a regular feature:
Why not decide that you are only going to stock your store with
highly profitable items, from this day forward?
Take the first
step by eliminating all but the highest-quality cruises, tours and
hotels from your inventory. Then set a minimum transaction
requirement of perhaps $1,000 per person to use your firm's
This is a quiet little "trendette" (smaller than a trend), that
has largely gone unreported. But many of the top agents in the
country now place a value on their services by not accepting
business below a certain dollar threshold.
Your staff will, of course, have to have flexibility for certain
long-time clients. But think of the benefits of imposing product
standards instead of service fees like every other travel
Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a
sales and marketing consulting firm, as well as president of the
agency Churchill & Turen, both based in Naperville, Ill.
Contact him at [email protected].
Another kind of business
Here is a travel agency with a difference: The theater ticket
business is half of the total mix at Access Travel, Edmonton,
The company buys its tickets from a variety of brokers,
including New York-based Theater Direct International, for a net
price and charges a service fee to clients, making money on the
volume of tickets sold, which is substantial, said Aron May, the
company's marketing manager.
Access advertises this service in a variety of media and also
publishes three separate theater guides for New York, London and
Stratford, England, that are sent to a database of clients
The company is also building a Web site that will have complete
listings of the shows in all three destinations, said May.