Peak performance

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Tyler Peaks father taught him a lesson that has yet to fail him. My father taught me to treat a customer the way you want to be treated, he said of Jack Peak, who founded Jack Peak Travel in 1962. He taught me that if theres ever a problem, the agency would always make right.

Tyler Peak, who reopened the San Jose, Calif.-based agency as Peak Travel in 1996, charges his employees to exceed the customers expectations.

Ive always believed that the relationship side of the business is the most important, he said.

Peak, who met his wife, Kim, at Jack Peak Travel, assumed ownership of his fathers agency in 1982, and in July 1990 sold the company to US Travel Systems, where he remained under contract for nearly five years.

I sold the company in order to achieve financial security but ultimately found than an even greater benefit was the experience of working for a large company and the exposure that gave me to many remarkably talented individuals, Peak said.

Valuable lessons

Peak said he learned innumerable valuable lessons about the travel agency business under the tutelage of US Travel. They always believed in the value of training for its management staff, said Peak, adding that sales, account management and personnel retention were recurring educational themes.

The company also enabled Peak to discover how quickly a company could react to change and embrace that change rather than resisting it, he said. This lesson has been of incredible value in the last several years when dealing with our changing industry, fees, consolidation and commission cuts.

After a yearlong hiatus from the business -- a time when Peak relaxed and played golf -- he decided to get back into the business by opening an incarnation of Jack Peak Travel, which he named Peak Travel.

It was at this time that Peaks credo -- treat people well, be they customers or employee -- paid off.

I pictured a travel company that would prosper by primarily focusing on the leisure product, he said. What I discovered was many of the agents and associates that I had worked with in my previous lives sought me out and wanted to join me in this new company.

Many of these folks were heavily involved in the corporate side of the business and ultimately brought their relationships with customers to us.

High-tech, high-touch

Today, the agency is about 60% corporate and 40% leisure and has 265 corporate customers, ranging from four people who travel twice a year to $3 million accounts.

We are high-tech, high-touch, Peak said. We have really good agents to back up the sales.

On the leisure side, the agency sells a great deal of Hawaii, Mexico and cruises. Peak is a firm believer in education and recently returned from a familiarization trip to Hawaii with 30 of his leisure staff.

These sorts of trips serve two purposes, Peak said. First, the agents learn about the destination, and second, they enable Peak to cement relationships with staff.

Also, because Peak Travel has acquired, merged or otherwise joined forces with 12 agencies since 1996, the fam trips are an excellent way to meet some of the counselors from travel agencies that have joined Peak Travel.

In the end, the agencies that will prevail will be those that nurture relationships with clients.

The large online agencies will continue to thrive, Peak said, but he has found that his agency retains its clientele through the high-touch, high-tech approach.

Peak said his daughter, who recently graduated from college, has expressed an interest in working for the travel agency. Peak said that would delight him -- after she gets her feet wet in another travel-related company.

She is doing just that, and is now working for a hotel company.

Although Peak has clearly made good on his own, he nonetheless wants to ensure that his daughter is fully aware of her own abilities.

Its a risk you take to do the right thing for your kids, he said. Shell be more valuable to me by earning her stripes.

To contact Agent Life reporter Claudette Covey, send e-mail[email protected].

The Perfect Itinerary

Spontaneity in Australia

A couple enjoys Kangaroo Island at dusk.Murray Mills, a counselor at All-Travel in Los Angeles, created an Australia itinerary that incorporates wineries and wildlife. The itinerary, which is a portion of a longer vacation, was designed to enable travelers to make sightseeing and dining options spontaneously.

Theres such a thing as planning and such a thing as overplanning, Mills said. People need to leave themselves open to enjoy the spontaneity that theyre so unaccustomed to in their everyday lives.

Day 1

Travelers journey by four-wheel-drive to the Barossa Valley, Australias premier wine-producing region, to visit wineries and sample gourmet cuisine. They then travel to the Clare Valley to spend a night at a sheep station and enjoy a country dinner with local wines.

Day 2

Clients explore the mining town of Burra before heading out to the Murray River wetlands for views of the river. They return to Adelaide in the late afternoon and check into one of a rich array of hotels and bed-and-breakfasts there. If they have extra time, travelers can visit the National Wine Centre of Australia and the National Aboriginal Cultural Institute.

Day 3

Early in the morning, travelers fly to Kangaroo Island (shown above), where they meet their guide, who takes them on a tour to spot kangaroos, koalas and a variety of birds. At Seal Bay, they can walk among the sea lions. Lunch is a picnic in a bush setting. They can choose among a number of island hotels. That evening, travelers can dine at a local restaurant to sample such local seafood specialties as King George whiting and marron (a freshwater crayfish).

Day 4

Clients travel to Flinders Chase National Park, where they will visit the New Zealand fur seal colony, explore the formations of Admirals Arch and Remarkable Rocks and visit the Cape du Couedic lighthouse. At the Hanson Bay Sanctuary, theyll have the chance to spot koalas before continuing to Kelly Hill Conservation Park to watch kangaroos graze on the open plains.

Day 5

Travelers tour the eastern part of the island to visit Frenchmans Rock, where a French sailor etched details of the visit on one of the basalt rocks. They can also take a tour of the Cape Willoughby Lighthouse and stop at Pennington Bay.

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 youve customized, e-mail Covey at[email protected].

Hand in Hand

Hunting for new biz with a trusted partner

Sometimes agents dont have to look far when hunting for supplier partners. Sometimes the bounty of the hunt can be found in their proverbial backyard.

Such has been the experience of Bill and Pam Pietrykowski, who operate Rufe Snow Travel in Fort Worth, Texas.

Rufe Snow Travel is promoting fishing trips though FTW Outfitters.The couple recently decided they wanted to capitalize on a burgeoning market: hunting and fishing trips.

I arrange what the client wants to do and book the air, said Pam. Then we put the client in touch with FTW Outfitters, which qualifies the client on a hunt that will precisely meet their needs.

Bill met Tim Fallon, owner of Barksdale, Texas-based FTW Outfitters through unrelated business ventures years ago. It was Fallon who took Bill on his first salmon-fishing expedition.

He hunts everywhere, said Bill of Fallon. I think this is a business people in this area are ready for.

Fallon, who also owns the 9,000-acre FTW Ranch in southwest Texas, said that he never books any operator that he has not visited personally.

We wont book an outfitter that we havent hunted with as a paying client, Fallon said.

This ensures that FTW can operate on a no-strings-attached basis, and not be beholden to any given outfitter for any reason.

Also, the company wont book clients who havent been met or referenced through a friend or business associate.

If we wouldnt want to spend a week with them, why would we send them to one of our outfitters? said Fallon.

Rufe Snow Travel is promoting the FTW Outfitters partnership through print media to let the community know that were here for people who want big-game hunting and fishing trips, said Pam.

FTW and Rufe Travel Snow believe they have honed in on a lucrative, untapped market.

Theres a market for these trips and FTW Outfitters is the perfect fit for Rufe Snow Travel, said Bill.

Hand in Hand highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working together. Send suggestions to Covey at[email protected].

Marc My Words

Help wanted

 By Marc Mancini

Marc ManciniAfter years of turbulent change and financial challenges, things are looking better for travel agents. They have figured out whats worth selling and whats not. Many of their customers have gone from post-9/11 fears to bolder travel patterns.

The threat of Internet competition has become less frightening, too. Traditional agencies boast online presences, while Travelocity, Expedia and Orbitz hire travel agents, as well as many service people, to guide online customers in making their more complicated vacation decisions. And many agents who struggled in a storefront set-up now thrive as home-based sellers.

But theres a serious new threat looming: Where can they get the new hires they need for these good times?

In the last month alone, Ive received at least a dozen calls from agency managers desperate to find personnel to help them keep pace with marketplace demand.

How did we get here?

The reasons are many: After 9/11, too many agents called it quits. Those that remain are graying.

According to the Travel Institutes latest survey, nearly half of all front-liners are over 50 years old. A mere 5% are under 30.

Its hard for agencies to provide competitive salaries. Moreover, the public seems to believe that the industry has become so automated that travel is a dead-end career. We know better.

In a way, though, we must blame ourselves. Ive heard repeated stories of travel agents telling young people to forget about a career in travel. That doesnt help.

So what can you do to find your next agents? Here are three ideas:

  • Look for career-changers. They have mature skills and are willing to trade what theyre doing now for a more interesting (if less lucrative) business, like travel. Prime candidates are teachers, police officers and health care professionals, as well as anyone who already sells for a living. The downside: Theyll need training.
  • Create a relationship with a travel school. Yes, many have gone out of business, but others have picked up the slack. (The process mirrors travel industry consolidation, with fewer but bigger players.)
  • Attend travel events. Networking with peers might lead you to a knowledgeable and skilled agent whos unhappy with his or her current employer and might benefit you. Above all, lets be kinder to our profession. Its not perfect, but its a lot more satisfying than many other businesses.
  • Marc Mancini is an industry speaker and consultant who teaches at West Los Angeles College.

    5 Things

    Getting the most out of CRM technology

    1. Understand what CRM (customer relationship management) is. It is a sum of all planning, development and activities needed to create a personal relationship with your customers, said Rick Kaplan, a principal of Marina del Rey, Calif.-based WeCan Partners, a consulting firm focused on the travel and hospitality industries. Your customer base is your most valuable asset, and the better you understand them, the more likely they are to stay and be an ongoing profit center.

    2. To grow loyal and profitable relationships with customers, you must manage the customer experience at every touch point. The process begins with management and staff creating a high-level CRM plan that reviews potential customer interaction and creates a plan for improving customer experience. It is critical to have everyone buy into the plan, said Kaplan. Everyone must understand the financial drain of customer defections and the significant benefits of customer retention.

    3. Start to gather information about your customers, and tell them they are important, and you appreciate their business. Think less about demographics and more about psychographics -- their preferences based on behavior and attitudes. Dont forget to ask them how they want to be contacted: telephone, direct mail or e-mail. Make it meaningful and rewarding to do business with you, said Kaplan.

    4. Junk mail and spam are the enemy. Use your data to tailor communications to be relevant and timely. Dont treat all customers the same. Think about different levels of service for different customers.

    5.  Create a central repository for data. Almost all current agency tools provide CRM capability, said Kaplan. You can turn to companies outside of travel that specialize is CRM systems, and you even can build your own tools with off-the-shelf products such as Access. If you have a program such as Trams Client Base, take the time to understand its power and the financial rewards it can provide.

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