Sometimes, it seems, the glass is really half full. When we asked
agents to write in with stories on what's best and worst about
working with supplier sales reps, we got -- surprise -- a selection
of faxes and e-mails from retailers, all celebrating their favorite
reps. No one chose to address the negative at all. So it seems that
even in the face of corporate cutbacks and decreased visits from
suppliers, there are still some heroes out there.
Agents who wrote in say that if you need some help, these are
the right names to call.
there's Sheila LeBlanc, district sales manager at US Airways
Vacations (the only company affiliated with an airline that agents
mentioned). LeBlanc "saved the day" for Merle Toon, a travel
consultant at Aquarius Travel in Canton, Mass. The problem: Toon
had booked a group of six to New Orleans, but when she checked on
documents for three of her clients, she was told their bookings had
been canceled due to lack of payment. "I had called in a credit
card for payment, but for some reason it never showed up," said
Toon. Of course, flights were sold out or available at a much
higher rate than the original.
Desperate for help, Toon called around at US Airways Vacations
and finally was told to contact LeBlanc. "She called me back within
24 hours and managed to get my clients on another flight. We saved
the booking, my clients' business, and us from a possible lawsuit,"
LeBlanc is a 12-year veteran of the industry, based in Franklin,
Mass., who covers all of New England for US Airways Vacations. She
services more than 2,000 travel agency accounts. "The best part of
the job is my relationships with agents," LeBlanc said. "That's
what keeps me going."
Toon also celebrated Marilyn Dean-Emmett, her Holland America
rep. "I had an $11,000 booking to Alaska that I almost lost to an
agency on the Net because it had a lower rate than I'd first
offered the client." Dean-Emmett was able to get Toon a rate for
her clients that was actually lower -- by almost $2,000 -- than the
Internet agency's. "I retained the booking, as well as a big, fat
commission check," Toon said.
Professional but humble
willingness to go the extra mile. These qualities aren't yet
extinct in supplier sales reps, according to Grace Opolski, general
manager of Leucadia Travel & Cruises, Leucadia, Calif.
For example, she praised Samantha Hammer, a Carlsbad,
Calif.-based rep, as "professional but humble." Hammer is an
independent contractor for AIM, the company that handles field
marketing for Avis as well as such suppliers as Sheraton Hawaii and
Universal Studios Hollywood. "Our agency is a leisure agency, and
once I mentioned to [Hammer] that Avis, on the leisure side, tends
to be more costly," said Opolski. "She passed the information on to
her manager, and during the next visit, she made sure to bring me
coupons and upgrades for Avis, which showed me that she'd listened
to me and had acted upon my complaint."
Hammer, who works with 218 agencies in San Diego, said she's
come to know most of them very well. "So many of them don't have
somebody they call on when they have a problem," she noted. "The
industry has lost the idea of service." Hammer does give good
service "because I feel a responsibility to the people I represent,
and to myself, to do something of value."
It's a nice feeling to be able to help someone," she said.
The best service
Mid-Atlantic sales manager for Couples Resorts and Swept Away,
working out of Aston, Pa., is another supplier sales hero, praised
by Denise Whitmoyer, a travel consultant at the Travel Store,
Royersford, Pa. "If we're putting a group together and somebody has
a special request, she always calls the hotel directly to ask if
her contacts can do us a favor," said Whitmoyer. "She always comes
in to update us on her products, and if we call her with a
question, she almost always knows the answer -- or she'll get back
to us within an hour."
Fletcher's 10 years as a travel agent have a lot do with the
good service she gives the agents in her territory. "I know they
don't need an answer in three weeks. They need an answer now," she
said. Fletcher moved into the supplier side when she realized she
wanted to stay in the business but still needed a change. "Now I
have the chance to work with a really educated client -- the travel
agent," she noted.
The better the sales rep, the more the agency will sell her
product -- a phenomenon noted by Vicki Cox, owner of Carlson
Wagonlit Travel in Burlington, Wash. Her favorite is Seattle-based
Michelle Ott, a multiline rep from Comprehensive Travel, a company
that reps World Explorer Cruises, B.C. Rail and Rocky Mountaineer
Rail Tours. "Her enthusiasm for all the suppliers she represents
pumps up everyone in our office," Cox wrote. "She will call or fax
my office with special offers and encourage us to promote them.
Never is there a word of discouragement, only encouragement for a
job well done."
Cox said it's surprising that Ott is a multiline rep, since, she
noted, most of those reps "breeze into the office, drop off their
card and a zillion brochures for suppliers that we don't even sell.
They are usually too busy to provide training -- and seldom return
calls. "But Michelle comes in and does training, sometimes on a
one-to-one basis. She often has the suppliers call us direct. Her
[ability to] follow through is wonderful."
Efficient Web searching
So you're checking out luxury hotel options in Nice, and you
decide to see what you can find on the Web. You go to your favorite
search engine, type in Nice hotels -- and get a million
There are ways to narrow the Internet search efficiently,
according to a piece by Matt Lake in the Sept. 3 issue of the New
York Times' weekly at Circuits section. Here's a summary of tips from
the article:Know the difference between search sites to find the kind best
suited to your needs. First, there's the directory version, such as
Yahoo!, which is best for researching general topics. Then there
are search engines such as Hotbot and Alta Vista, which work best
"when looking for specific information -- things like the author of
a book," Lake wrote. The third kind of site does the broadest
search, providing the user with a list of choices culled from other
Web search sites. Called metasearch tools, they include such sites
as Metacrawler, Ask Jeeves and Dogpile.Read the instructions for each site.When using the search box, "type in several relevant words
instead of just one or two," Lake wrote. "In general, the fewer
words you enter, the more general your results will be."Put phrases in quotes -- for example, "Strawberry Fields" to
tell the search engine that you're looking for a phrase instead of
two separate words.
A critical look at search sites
The New York Times article on efficient Web site searching also
critiqued 11 Web search sites. Yahoo (www.yahoo.com), for example,
is "excellent for researching broad general topics but tends to
return too many results."
Ask Jeeves (www.askjeeves.com) is "an excellent beginner's site
that's also good for anyone's general queries." Infoseek
(www.infoseek.com) "produces very accurate and relevant results"
for those "searching for Web pages, news stories and Usenet
postings." Metacrawler (www.metacrawler.com) is "excellent for
getting a quick hit for what's out there," canvassing seven search
engines and then tabulating the results.
Better, faster surfing
For more tips on how to surf the Web more efficiently, check out
the following books and articles:The complete text of the Sept. 3., 1998, New York Times piece
on efficient Web searching, "Desperately Seeking Susan or Suzie NOT
Sushi," written by Matt Lake, at www.nytimes.com/circuits. This article also includes
favorite search engine picks by assorted Internet-savvy experts,
including film critic Roger Ebert, who writes a movie column on
Yahoo! Internet Life magazine."World Wide Web Searching for Dummies," by Brad Hill (IDG
Books; $24.99)."Internet Search Techniques," by Karin Rex (Ziff-Davis
Education)."Finding It on the Internet: The Internet Navigator's Guide to
Search Tools and Techniques," by Paul A. Gilster (John Wiley;
$24.95)."Searching Smart on the World Wide Web: Tools and Techniques
for Getting Quality Results," by Cheryl Gould (Library Solutions
Press; $40)."Researching Online for Dummies," by Reva Basch (IDG Books;
$24.99)."Secrets of the Super Net Searchers," by Reva Basch et al.
(Cyber Age Books; $29.95)."Search Engines for the World Wide Web: Visual Quickstart
Guide" (Visual Quickstart Guide Series; $16.95)