ad Atlas Travel International
President Elaine Osgood been overly concerned about taking risks 18
years ago, she would not be at the helm of a $65 million agency
with 47 employees and two locations.
Osgood opened what was then called Uniglobe Atlas Travel in
Milford, Mass., with little else than an enduring commitment to
offer the best in customer service. Prior to opening the agency,
she had spent eight years in the social-services field working with
"I got a strong nudge from my husband to switch careers," Osgood
said. "I would come home every night and talk about how my day went
-- which was a little more than he could handle."
Like many who have spent years in a given career, Osgood wasn't
sure how she was going to reinvent her professional life. After
much soul searching, she began investigating the prospect of
operating a franchise and researched a host of options -- from
video stores to a Jiffy Lube.
Then she saw a newspaper ad that changed everything. It promoted
Uniglobe Travel franchises. She and her husband refinanced their
house to fund the Uniglobe down payment.
"I decided to take the risk," she said. "And I was going to
figure out a way to make it work."
That first year, Osgood, with just one employee, concentrated on
learning how to run a business.
"I went out on the street knocking on doors and telling
corporations and customers why they should do business with us,"
she said. "It was a challenge. Basically, I told them I was going
to make sure they were taken care of. All I had to offer was my
She relied on Uniglobe's programs and services to help her build
the travel agency. "Uniglobe was strongly encouraging new
franchisees to build a strong corporate base of business," Osgood
said, adding that she followed that strategy "hook, line and
Within 10 years, Uniglobe Atlas Travel was the No. 1 Uniglobe
franchise in the U.S. However, "The return on the investment just
wasn't there anymore," Osgood said. "The program was no longer
providing what I needed in my business development."
So in 1997, Osgood struck out on her own as Atlas Travel
International and signed on with WorldTravel BTI.
"I wanted to be part of an organization that would provide me
with an international network," she said. The agency now is
WorldTravel BTI's exclusive Northeast regional affiliate.
In the last several years, Atlas Travel has expanded in other
ways. In 2000, the company launched a travel store that sells
clothing and travel accessories in a boutique attached to its
Lexington, Mass., location. In 2002, it acquired Global Odysseys,
which customizes meetings and incentives programs for companies of
all sizes. Both businesses, Osgood said, are thriving.
For its part, business from Global Odysseys is one of the
company's strongest growth areas. Osgood said that meetings and
incentives business began coming back with a vengeance in
fourth-quarter 2003 and has shown no signs of diminishing.
"The first quarter of this year has been very strong," she
Six percent of Atlas' business comes from meetings and
incentives. Corporate business accounts for 82% and vacation sales
12%. The agency's vacation agents, Osgood said, are all specialists
in the areas they sell and have either visited those regions
extensively or lived in them.
"We have very savvy travelers," she said. "They need to deal
with professionals who know more then they do."
Osgood has never been one to rest on her laurels when it comes
to any element of her business. "Everybody talks about service and
bending over backwards for the customer," she said. "We act on
For instance, Atlas recently developed a number of products that
cater to corporate customers. Although many corporate agencies
offer clients electronic itinerary options that break down
expenses, Atlas also is able to provide details on ticket
"When clients have unused tickets and want to buy new ones, they
can't always find the paper trail," said Osgood. At Atlas, that
paper trail is available with the click of a mouse. Atlas also
provides clients with an electronic link for airport check-in that
enables them to print their own boarding passes.
If clients have questions about an itinerary, they simply click
on a "Push to Talk" button, which automatically connects -- by
phone -- to the agent who made the booking.
"You don't have to remember the actual agent," said Osgood.
"Anytime you want to talk to the agent, just click on the button."
Your phone rings and the connection is instant.
Last year, Atlas posted a 20% increase in profits and expects to
exceed that number this year. No one is more astounded -- and
delighted -- than Osgood herself.
"I'm just amazed," she said. "And I'm having a blast."
The Perfect Itinerary
Taking the Garden Route in South Africa
heryl Chegwidden, a travel
consultant and Africa specialist at Betty MacLean Travel in Naples,
Fla., designed a five-day South Africa itinerary that explores the
Garden Route along the country's forested coast. This itinerary is
a portion of a 14-night vacation.
"The best way to see the Garden Route is to drive the
countryside on your own," Chegwidden said, adding that travelers
uncomfortable with driving on the left-hand side of the road should
opt for an English-speaking driver/guide or accompany a tour
Clients drive two hours from Cape Town to Hermanus, located on
Walker Bay near the southernmost tip of Africa. Hermanus offers
some of the best shore-based, whale-watching opportunities in the
world from June through October, Chegwidden said. Clients stay
overnight at the Birkenhead House, a private estate with 11
bedrooms. Dinner is at the estate.
Clients embark on a five-hour drive to Oudtshoorn, which is
famous for its ostrich farms. They spend the day exploring the
Cango Caves. Clients overnight at the Rosenhof Country House, which
features 12 guest rooms. That evening, dinner is served in the
Clients visit an ostrich farm before a two-hour drive via the
Outeniqua Pass to George. While in George, Chegwidden recommends
clients visit the town museum and Wilderness National Park. Clients
overnight at the 150-room Fancourt Hotel and Country Club Estate,
where they can play a round of golf. Dinner is at the hotel's Le
Pecheur restaurant, which features local seafood dishes.
From George, clients travel on a two-and-a-half-hour morning
excursion to Knysna aboard the Outeniqua Choo-Tjoe steam train,
which operates year-round except from mid-May to mid-August. In
Knysna, they take in the sights of the Knysna Lagoon and visit the
Featherbed Nature Reserve. Travelers overnight in Knysna at the
Belvidere Manor, which features 30 cottages. Dinner is at the
Clients drive four hours to Port Elizabeth, stopping en route at
Tsitsikamma National Park to take in its nature trails, giant trees
and caves. They stay overnight at the eight-bedroom Hacklewood Hill
Country House and dine at its restaurant.
Hand in Hand
Silversea 'redefines' its ties with trade
ary Jean Tully's travel agency
has long been a strong supporter of Silversea Cruises. But now she
believes her agency, Mississauga, Ontario-based Cruise
Professionals, stands to further boost its Silversea sales --
thanks, in large part, to the line's new sales team.
That team, headed by David Morris, senior vice president of
North American sales, has made it a point not only to reward
Silversea's travel partners but to listen to their input on the
onboard product, Tully said.
Silversea also created a travel agency advisory board, whose 40
members met for the first time last month in Dallas.
"It's a huge step for Silversea to bring its top accounts
together to talk about what's good about the product and what needs
improvement," Tully said.
Morris said, "We're really redefining the relationship Silversea
has with agents. We're taking a good relationship a step
One way in which that relationship is being boosted is with the
creation of a agency recognition program and an online booking
program, both of which were unveiled at the advisory board
The recognition program features two levels. Associate-level
retailers receive, among other things, enhanced override pay,
24-hour access to the new booking engine and reduced fam rates.
Silver Society-level agents receive the same benefits as
associate retailers plus a dedicated reservations desk, priority
wait-list clearance and other perks.
The advisory board meeting also included a detailed briefing on the
onboard product and extensive feedback from agents.
"We listened to what they thought and what they wanted," Morris
A case in point: Agents at the meeting overwhelmingly agreed
that Silversea ships were in need of a casual-dining option on
formal nights. Morris said the line is testing such an option.
In the end, Tully said she and her advisory board colleagues are
pleased with the way in which Silversea is enhancing its
relationship with travel agents.
"David's made Silversea more agent friendly," she said. "He's
instilled confidence in the direction the line is taking."
Hand in Hand highlights successful examples of agents and
suppliers working together. Send suggestions to Agent Life editor
Claudette Covey at [email protected].
Setting up a home-based agency
have received a number of telephone and
e-mail responses from agents about my Going Home column: Why did I
become a home-based agency? How did I set up my office? How did I
move into my office? How do I manage my staff and outside
For starters, I became a home-based, ARC/Iatan-appointed agency
to lower my costs and to keep my business life simple so I could
focus on what I did best -- sell travel.
Change is not easy and, after overcoming my initial doubts, I
realized that I needed to get organized and position myself
proactively rather than reactively when industry changes occurred.
I wanted to establish procedures and find available tools that were
designed to aid me.
I live in a house that is close to my former office. I felt
wistful every evening when I walked home from work because I was
entering a home that was underutilized. I knew the house contained
rooms with a private entrance that were self-contained and removed
from my living quarters. I believed it could become the ideal
I first checked with ARC to make sure my home office would fit
the requirements for a restricted-access agency. I then obtained
the necessary forms required to switch from a fully appointed
agency to a restricted-access agency.
I also requested a change-of-address form for moving the agency
to a new location. I then checked with my town about building and
office codes and ordinances to make sure working from my home was
I set an official date for the move a few months in advance.
This enabled me to work on the necessary construction to renovate
the space and work out the technical aspects of moving.
Construction of the new office space took about six months. With
advice from an interior designer, I coordinated the renovations
with the various contractors -- carpenters, plumbers, electricians,
painters, office-furniture designers and, most importantly,
computer and telephone technicians. Finally, I chose to install a
high-speed, broadband Internet access line for office use.
When the new office space was nearing completion, I arranged for
my computer reservations system and telephone system to temporarily
operate side-by-side with my new operation, to make certain there
would be a smooth transition.
Any new office space requires a certain amount of planning, but
the cost and effort involved in creating the home office encouraged
me to be innovative -- and also increased the equity of my house at
the same time.
Millicent Lee Kaufman has been a travel agent for 21 years,
owning her own agency for 13 of those years. She has operated a
home-based agency since November 2000. She can be reached at [email protected].
Making the most of a trade show
1. Determine what shows to attend by asking the
show manager for a breakdown of who exhibited at the show the
previous year and the job titles of those presenting. "Ask for the
names and contacts of attendees with companies of a similar size to
yours -- and ask them if they found the show valuable," said Kate
Koziol, president of Chicago-based K Squared Communications, a
marketing and public relations company. Koziol also recommended
that agents ask colleagues and vendors what shows they believe are
2. Several weeks before the show, contact those
vendors and associates and arrange appointments during off-show
hours. "Have a mission," Koziol said. Also review the attendee list
(if it is available at registration) and study the trade-show floor
map to determine what last-minute changes have been made and whom
you want to put on your "A" list, she said.
3. Find out what press will be there. "Create a
press release and some background materials on your company and
schedule interviews," said Koziol. "Press interviews book up early,
so don't wait until the last minute." Study the publications you're
targeting in order to fashion an appropriate news angle.
4. Attend every public function held during
off-show hours -- and don't forget your business card. "You never
know who you might meet and where that connection might fit into
your future," said Koziol. "Many people would rather eat glass than
walk into a roomful of strangers, but networking is crucial to
developing business allies."
5. Follow up with vendors and other business
contacts within 10 days. "You might have their card, but they might
have misplaced yours," said Koziol. "A simple e-mail or a
hand-written note will stand out favorably in their minds. Never
let a contact go cold, but be careful not to become a pest."