Newsletter champ

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"Cheeseburger on ice." Wouldn't that headline grab you and make you keep reading?

It was the topper for a chart comparing average cheeseburger prices at major U.S. ski areas, with cute drawings of little burgers representing each dollar of the price.

The Go West Tours newsletter.The chart ran in the fall 1998 edition of the client/supplier newsletter for Vail, Colo.-based Go West Tours.

Mike Beltracchi, the company's president (and newsletter editor) came up with the cheeseburger idea as a way to graphically show the difference in overall prices between typical ski areas. "Lift ticket rates wouldn't be as interesting," he said. "And everybody's got to have lunch."

The cheeseburger chart is typical of the material in the newsletter, which Beltracchi tries to keep both entertaining and instructive.

He also tries to provide a sense of who the people in the industry are, frequently running client and supplier profiles.

Since Go West's sole specialty is ski groups in the West (Beltracchi calls the firm a hybrid of a travel agent and a tour operator) he often focuses on "common problems groups may have."

For instance, a piece headlined "Don't Lose Money on Empty Beds" provided tips on how to price trips to protect against the pitfalls of falling short of group minimums.

Beltracchi also uses humor, as was the case when he ran a photo of four ski trippers with the following caption: "How would you match these four guys into a 2BR condo with only three beds? How would you break the news that two of them would have to share one bed? Probably from a long distance."

He often writes about airline issues because "everybody thinks their problems with airlines" are unique.

Addressing a topic that is obviously much discussed among groups -- airline seat assignments -- Beltracchi wrote, "Please keep in mind that this is not usually a life-or-death issue" and told the story of how he was on a flight with someone who suffered a seizure. "During the whole incident, I didn't hear the person who had the seizure, nor the flight attendants, nor the paramedics, say that the seizure was caused by the location of the person's seat."

Improving your newsletter

Want to write a better newsletter? Mike Beltracchi, president of Go West Tours, whose newsletter is profiled in the article above, provided the following tips:

  • Most important: Understand the audience you're writing for and what you want to communicate to them. Beltracchi, for example, intends his newsletter to serve as a "bridge between clients and suppliers."
  • Keep it entertaining as well as informative. The best newsletters "can't just be a straight hard sales pitch -- that is like hitting somebody in the face," he said.
  • Create relationships between clients, your company and suppliers. Beltracchi, for example, wrote about how one of his employees was expecting twins; he also profiled various suppliers so "customers can see there are real people making decisions for creating their trips."
  • Keep articles short and to the point and on topics people can relate to. For example, almost everyone -- except vegetarians -- could relate to the cheeseburger chart he ran in one issue.
  • Learn how to choose good photographs. Ideally, said Beltracchi, "every picture should tell a story. If possible, they need to be more than people just standing around."
  • Make it interactive when possible. In one issue, Beltracchi solicited readers' recipes for a cooking and entertaining guide he planned to distribute to ski group leaders.
  • Ode to the Orient

    A few months back, Heidi Lakani, the senior escort for Travcoa's around-the-world-by-private-jet program, was a guest on our weekly cable television series. She is the best-traveled person I know, so I asked her to recommend her favorite destination for those who can only take one trip abroad.

    Richard Turen.Without pausing, she said the Orient because "the starting points of reference are so different than the States."

    She was right. I've just returned from a two-week tour of the Orient with a group of clients.

    My overall impression is pure astonishment that more Americans are not visiting the likes of Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore.

    Asia delivers the excitement of strangeness and the sense of discovery with a comfort level that can exceed any other portion of the globe. It is a heady mix. We cooked dim sum with the chef at the Peninsula Hotel and sailed to a small island past the beauty of Hong Kong harbor at night, to enjoy dinner at one of a string of shoreside seafood restaurants.

    In Bangkok we stayed at, arguably, the world's best hotel -- the Oriental -- with a terrace overlooking the active Chao Phraya River. From time to time, we would take a boat across the river to enter the property's spa (housed in a separate building), one of the world's best spa facilities.

    We toured ancient temples made of gold and sailed the canals that are home to the boat people just outside the city.

    In Singapore, we had breakfast with an orangutan at the magnificent zoo and toured the "public" housing that is so integral to a nation that is seen by many visitors as "the best-run city on earth."

    If, indeed, there is a new generation of travelers who seek to bring something back from each vacation, the countries of Asia ought to be recommended far more often than they are.

    Richard Turen is an industry consultant and travel agency president. Contact him at [email protected].

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