The story of Anderson Travel in San Diego
could be the story of a number of U.S. travel agencies. Founded by
Pat and Pal Anderson, the company was a mom-and-pop operation that
grew through the 1970s, 80s and early 90s to a peak of 10 locations
and $50 million in gross annual sales.
But the retailer
was jolted in the late 1990s by commission cuts and the rise of the
Internet. Then came 9/11. The owners, co-president Brad Anderson,
his brother Van and father Pal, who at age 84 still participates in
the running of the company, wanted to come up with a new strategy.
This is where the story of Anderson Travel veers off the standard
It had become
apparent to us that we could no longer do business the same way,
operating from a brick-and-mortar location selling airline tickets,
Brad Anderson said.
The strategy was to
start a host agency specifically for veteran, home-based agents
selling leisure. The Andersons chose a name, Americas Vacation
Center, that connotes a national presence.
We wanted to think
big, and we werent afraid to change, Anderson said. We were looking
for people who were caught in the same place we were, trying to be
all things to all people. And that doesnt work in todays more savvy
A key component is
to link home-based agents to AVC through a custom-built, Web-based
technology platform. The company invested millions of dollars,
Anderson said, in that platform, Agent Power, which agents use for
vendor information, live product availability, customer
relationship management, lead and commission tracking and marketing
and sales aids.
Vans son David, a young software programmer -- led a team of 12
programmers in creating the technology.
In three years, AVC
attracted hundreds (Anderson would not disclose the exact number)
of home-based agents.
Our model is to
throw life rings out to people whose business model has sunk or is
sinking, he said. Weve been able to help agents to have the
lifestyles, incomes and prestige they havent had in the
Travel, which had a strong dependence on airline and corporate
travel and has been an American Express representative for 20
years, has been pared down to three locations. The Andersons sold
off the corporate side of the business. Today, the main business is
AVC, where the percentage of airline tickets sold is 1%, Anderson
said proudly. The company forecasts sales of $100 million
(including Anderson Travel) in 2006.
Center offers two levels of participation: Gold, with a $99
start-up fee, and Platinum, with a $495 start-up fee. Agents pay no
other fees. Platinum level agents can get leads from AVC and must
produce at least $1,000 in commissions a month.
split is 80% to the agent, 20% to AVC for the agents own book of
business; 70% to AVC and 30% to the agent on bookings from leads
provided from AVC.
In July, the
companys average agent earned $60,000 in commissions, he
AVC employs 45
staff in accounting, sales, technology and customer service
departments. The latest addition to Agent Power is AVC Buddy, an
instant-messaging system that agents use to communicate with other
AVC representatives and set up a buddy system for back-up help. The
company is also rolling out a private-label version of the AVC Web
platform that enables its agents to create their own Web
But technology isnt
the answer to everything, Anderson said. People want to talk to
people. Our telephone lines are open 24/7 for customers, and we
have a hotline for our travel agents 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a
week to give them support. They always get a live
that sales will grow, the company has blocked more than 15,000
cruise ship cabins on American Express-preferred
AVC is promoted
through direct mail, print and Internet advertising and public
relations. Press releases on the companys developments are
regularly sent to media by an on-staff PR manager.
Is the company
turning its back on bricks-and-mortar in favor of the virtual
Were not going to
get out of the brick-and-mortar business because its still a great
business, Anderson said, but were going to keep growing the
home-based affiliates and will reach several thousand, an army of
specialists who are very good at what they do.
Im not trying to
get 10 million people producing $2 a year, Anderson added. It comes
down to productivity. Its not about how many home-based agents you
have; its about how productive they are.
Think youre a good candidate for an upcoming Agent Life?
Contact Laura Del Rosso, Agent Life editor, at [email protected].
Include your agency name, agency location, telephone number and
e-mail address in the message and put Agent Life in the subject
A Mozart tour
in the Czech Republic and Austria
Travelex International, a Chicago travel
agency that organizes group tours through its Excapes division, put
together a program to the Czech Republic and Austria in honor of
Mozarts 250th birthday this year. The leader was Carl Grapentine, a
radio personality at WFMT, an FM station in Chicago devoted to
classical music. The agency has worked with other WFMT on-air
personalities for other classical music and opera tours to domestic
and international destinations. The following is a portion of the
12-day Mozart trip in the Czech Republic and Austria.
Clients have the
morning and afternoon free to explore Prague. In the evening, they
meet at the groups hotel, Casa Marcello, for a talk by Grapentine
on Mozart. A bus takes clients to Villa Bertramka, the beautiful
mansion where Mozart stayed in 1787 and 1791. The mansion features
a large exhibit of Mozart memorabilia. A welcome reception is held
in the courtyard, followed by a concert and program, A Night With
Mozart. Dinner is in the villas restaurant. Clients return to Casa
Marcello following dinner.
Prague for Vienna by private motorcoach. The remainder of afternoon
is free. In the evening, a talk on Mozart by Grapentine is followed
by a walk to Musikverein/Grosser Saal (Great Hall) for a concert by
the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. Following the concert, clients
walk back to hotel.
Clients take a
half-day city tour of Vienna with a guide. The afternoon is free.
For dinner, clients transfer from the hotel to Beethovenhaus, a
former home to Beethoven that now is a tavern.
A full day for
individual exploration of Vienna.
Clients transfer to
Salzburg via Wachau Danube Valley. In Krems, Austria, they take a
Danube River cruise to Melk, where a motorcoach takes the group to
Salzburg. The remainder of the afternoon and evening is
Clients meet in the
hotel lobby for a half-day walking tour of Salzburg, including the
Mozart family house and Old Town. In the evening, they meet for
Grapentines talk on the Marriage of Figaro. Clients walk from the
hotel to the Marionette Theatre for a performance of the
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 to [email protected]
with Perfect Itinerary in the subject line.
celebrate the ties that bind
travel suppliers relationship with a retailer often lasts for
years, and often it gets even stronger as an agent moves from one
agency to another.
Such is the case
with Dean Johnson, director of product development at Creative
Leisure, the Petaluma, Calif.-based tour company, and Suzette
Clayton, director of vacation travel for Casto Travel in San
Clayton has long
worked with Johnson and his local district sales managers to
promote Creative Leisures products. That has not changed since her
move from another agency to Casto Travel three months ago. It also
helps that Casto, a member of Virtuoso, was already doing solid
business with Creative Leisure, a Virtuoso preferred
Clayton plans to
expand the business, however. Castos call center in Rapid City,
S.D., last year opened a leisure outlet in the town as an
experiment to draw local business. One of its first promotions was
a fall and winter Creative Leisure package to Cancun geared to the
South Dakota market.
In San Francisco,
Clayton plans to promote Creative Leisures villa product line,
which the company enhanced with its acquisition of Villas of
Distinction. Clayton became a fan of villa vacations after she
booked a Creative Leisure package for nine family members in Puerto
It was fabulous,
like something out of Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, she said.
We had masseuses come in and had live music brought in. We had a
maid and a cook who every evening would prepare margaritas for our
cocktail hour. When we split the cost, it was an incredible
Now, Clayton is
preparing a fall and winter Mexico villa promotion with Creative
Leisure for Casto Travel clients. Creative Leisures Johnson said
the companys promotions arranged by Clayton have been a success
because Suzette understands marketing and leisure and works well
with our regional manager and marketing team.
Hand in Hand highlights successful examples of agents and
suppliers working together. Send suggestions to [email protected]
with Hand in Hand in the subject line.
Say hello to
the double-decker commuter jet
a desperate bid to close the gap with arch-rival Boeing and gain a toehold in the
small-aircraft market, Airbus is experimenting with a double-decker
commuter aircraft to serve airports that dont like to be called
According to grainy
photographs taken by aviation buffs through a chain link fence
surrounding an Airbus research facility, Airbus engineers have
welded a second passenger compartment to the top of a 50-passenger
regional jet aircraft, increasing capacity by 20 seats.
According to an
anonymous item published on Aerononsense.com, a Web site for
airplane fanatics, the aircraft has been seen taxiing but not
According to a
purported Airbus fact sheet circulating on Aerononsense.com and
elsewhere, the fare for seats in the extra compartment will be
discounted to reflect certain design compromises that could affect
passenger comfort and convenience.
Seats in the extra
essentially the body of a 20-passenger turboprop that is welded to
the top of regional jets fuselage --
are accessible only by a rope ladder.
One passenger in the pod must be delegated to retract the rope
ladder before takeoff because the extra passenger compartment is
inaccessible to the flight attendant during flight. Also, overhead
storage space is said to be limited.
by Travel Weekly confirmed that the additional 20 seats would
produce a 40% gain in capacity.
Assuming an 80%
load factor and taking account of the increased fuel consumption
because the additional weight and drag, it is estimated that the
extra compartment would enable airlines to achieve a 25% revenue
gain per departure.
Airbus has been coy
about details of the project, but spokesman Phlap De Ploi confirmed
that Airbus has been involved in experimental design work on a
unique commuter aircraft but declined to say whether a working
prototype has been taxiing around.
He added that 25%
would be a far greater increase in efficiency than what Boeing has
been able to achieve with its new 787 Dreamliner.
Since its founding,
Airbus has been focused on producing a family of jetliners for
major airlines, ranging in size from the A319 and A320 twinjets to
the giant 500-passenger A-380 now in production. That giant
aircraft, however, is behind schedule and over budget. Also, Airbus
answer to Boeings 787 Dreamliner, the proposed A-350, is several
pressures have apparently given Airbus the impetus to expand into
the smaller end of the market before Boeing does.
During a recent
press conference on another subject, Boeing CEO Jim McNerney was
asked about the Airbus rumor. He declined to comment on whether his
company had any similar project on the drawing board, though he
brightened when the words rope ladder were mentioned and paused to
jot down a few notes.
This fictional news report was based on interviews and
events that did not occur. The author has chosen to remain
nameless, but you can contact him at [email protected].
How to market
your agency with seminars
Know your audience. Americans have more access to information today
than at any time in history, and they still crave more. Providing
customers with tools to help them make smart decisions is a great
way to build loyalty, attract new customers and promote your
business as one that delivers added value, according to the
National Federal of Independent Businesses, a Washington-based
lobbying group for small businesses. The first step before you
select a seminar topic at your business is to know your clientele.
How old are they? What are they interested in? Match seminar topics
to your customers.
Find good speakers. Build a file of experts that you can draw on.
Look to local experts, such as professors at colleges and
Spread the word. Dont go to the trouble of arranging a seminar and
not making a splash with it. Make sure that your customers and
others in the community show up by promoting the seminars with
signs in your business, sending a notice to your local newspaper
and mailing flyers and sending e-mails to your regular
Pick a partner. Joining with a supplier or another type of partner,
such as a non-profit organization, gives the seminar more exposure
and draws more attendees. For example, a shoe store in Seattle
offered a foot-care workshop to walkers participating in the Susan
G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundations three-day benefit walk. A
seminar before, during and after the walk drew attendees who spent
more than $3,000 in the store.
Be persistent. Dont give up if your first seminar only draws a few
people. Schedule another one, and another, and another. Continuity
is the key, and it builds awareness of your business. A health food
store in Washington has a regular schedule of at least one workshop
a week with speakers discussing benefits of holistic products sold
at the store. Attendance ranges from as few as five to more than
100 people, but even though some seminars draw low attendance, all
the events are considered a success because they have built the
stores reputation as a local resource for all things having to do
with good health.