Musical pied pipers

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It may sound punny, but musical performers do make great pied pipers -- those folks who attract members of an affinity group to travel together. That is a truth that Phil and Doris Davidoff have put to good use by developing fan club cruises for their agency, Belair/Empress Travel & Cruises in Bowie, Md.

It was the Davidoff's son Donald who first decided to tap this market -- partly because he was a fan of the acoustic guitar duo Lowen & Navarro and wanted to know them better.

Lavin's site at www.christinelavin.com promotes Cruises with Christine. He figured other fans would have the same dream -- and what better place to make that dream come true than on a cruise, which is "such a strong bonding experience," according to Doris.

"So we e-mailed [Lowen & Navarro] and they said, 'that sounds intriguing,' " she added. Although the musical group had never cruised before -- nor had most of their fans -- they were up for the new experience.

The first Lowen & Navarro sailing attracted 54 passengers, the second, 99 --with a solid base of repeaters. Now Belair/Empress Travel is gearing up for the third version, set for Carnival's Imagination, Nov. 9 to 13.

From this beginning the agency developed relationships with other performers that Lowen & Navarro suggested -- such as Eddie From Ohio; Venice, a group with a West Coast following, and perhaps the most well-known, folk singer Christine Lavin.

Lavin is noted for her humorous lyrics; one of her songs, "What Was I Thinking?", which laments various purchasing and other mistakes she's made, was used in a Fruit of the Loom TV commercial.

"I sat down with her after seeing her show [and found] she's a very friendly, open person who loves to mingle with her fans," said Doris. "That's the kind of performers we want -- those who want to be up close and comfortable with their fans."

Or, as Phil puts it: "She's a bundle of energy and a 100% nut -- but in a good way!

"If you come to her show early, she'll polish your nails -- and I think it's wild when she picks up the baton!" (Lavin's encore usually includes a baton-twirling performance).

Savvy selling: How to fan the flames

Without the Web and e-mail we never could have done it," said Doris Davidoff of her newest specialty, musical performers' fan club cruises.

Davidoff, vice president of Belair/Empress/Travel & Cruises in Bowie, Md., promotes these cruises on her agency's Web site, as well as the performers' Web sites, and is setting up a site just for this specialty at www.fanclubcruises.com.

The Belair/Empress Travel site at www.belairtravcom.The agency focuses on soft rock and folk performers who are known in their market but are not superstars, such as Christine Lavin. "There are hundreds of these kinds of performers all over the country," she said.

For other agents thinking along these lines, Doris and Phil Davidoff, Doris' husband and the agency's president, had these further tips:

  • Pick the right performers. "They've got to have a Web site and a large enough group of fans" to make it worth your while, said Phil. Performers should be capable of filling midsize venues -- and as for music genre, "you might be careful of heavy-metal groups known for dropping their pants during a gig." They tend to attract a fan base that "you might not want to escort on a trip," he added.
  • Promote the group before you promote the cruise. Most passengers you get in this way will probably be first-time cruisers whose reason for getting on the ship "is to be up close and personal with the talent," said Doris.
  • Look for the right ships -- usually those focusing on three- or four-day trips. "The biggest challenge is the limited number of itineraries" for shorter cruises, said Doris, although "some fans might have the time and money to do one-week cruises."
  • The Country Data Bank

    Did you make your deposit to the bank today? I refer, of course, to the Country Data Bank (CDB).

    The concept is simple. Start an easily accessible file on the office computer that lists every major destination alphabetically.

    Richard Turen.Every staff member, including the bookkeeper, is going to be asked to contribute to the CDB. Deposits are monitored by the agency owner, and those who contribute the most and best advice get rewarded.

    The CDB is the melting pot for the collective wisdom of your staff and the world's best travel writers. Sure you read about a beachfront stand near the Four Seasons on Nevis that prepares wonderful fish dinners. But you won't remember where you read it. That's why you clip the article and enter its relevant points in the "bank."

    When a client is traveling, your agents reprint or verbally recommend appropriate items from the CDB.

    At my agency, none of us have the time to work at the bank more than a minute or two each day. But, since you're only going to be entering a sentence or two with an address and phone number, that is time enough. Your CDB belongs to the agency. It could become a valuable asset of the firm if everyone contributes.

    Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency president.

    Contact him at [email protected]

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