Seeing the 'Real World'

It's not every agent who has had her love of travel activated by starring in two TV shows -- but Cynthia Roberts did.

In 1996, Roberts was a cast member of MTV's "Real World V: Miami," a documentary-style program that recorded the lives of seven roommates for six months in the South Beach section of Miami Beach, Fla., and as they traveled to the Bahamas.

These experiences encouraged her to seek travel opportunities. After leaving South Beach, she went to work at Oakland, Calif.-based Events and Excursions, specializing in arranging travel for affluent clients and their pets. As an agent, Roberts said, she found a professional outlet for her interest in seeing the world.

And as someone whose real-life dramas were spotlighted on the show, Roberts had a ready-made following among clients and coworkers. "Watching me in my everyday life [on TV, people] feel a little closer to me."

Roberts' encore MTV performance also involved traveling. She joined four other "Real World" veterans to appear in "Road Rules All-Stars," an MTV program from Bunim-Murray Productions -- also the makers of "Real World" -- that tapes the lives of cast members as they travel cross-country in a Winnebago.

On the journey, Roberts and her companions traveled around Canada, the U.S. and New Zealand. They were thrown over a cliff in a clear plastic ball and scaled a 20-story building.

According to Scott Freeman, director of development for Bunim-Murray, the show tries to present a balanced mix of activities. "Not every mission has a death-defying theme," said Freeman.

Roberts, in fact, also got to work on a dairy farm. "Who would ever think I would be milking a cow?" she said. "I'm from Oakland."

Roberts is grateful for all of these experiences that have "snowballed into a lot of great opportunities. "I feel very fortunate and blessed," she said. She plans to tour Europe this summer. "Being a travel agent makes me want to go back or get there," she said. "It just makes me want to see more."

Making TV experiences real

Young adultsMTV's travel-themed shows, "Road Rules" and "Real World," inspired cast member Cynthia Roberts to hit the road (see story above). The programs have also been luring other young viewers toward more active travel options.

Bunim-Murray Productions, which produces the two programs for MTV, has received e-mail inquiries from viewers looking for more information on specific destinations or activities featured on the shows, said Scott Freeman, director of development.

He also noted that Bunim-Murray and MTV have discussed the possibility of developing travel products modeled after the programs' travel adventures. According to one operator, young travelers are more likely to seek active travel options such as those highlighted on the two shows, such as bungee jumping and skydiving. "[Young adult travelers] will spend money to buy experiences as opposed to older travelers," said Lorraine Sharp, vice president of sales and marketing for Garden Grove, Calif.-based Contiki Tours.

The cast members of the "Real World" and "Road Rules," ages 18 to 25, fit the demographic group sought by Contiki and similar operators.

Sharp said she believes that many agents don't approach the younger travel segment, because they don't know how.

Without a strategy to reach this market, Sharp said agents may be neglecting a prime market, "not realizing that if they don't go after [young adults], they won't have any clients in 10 years."

Got a question?

Dan McManusHere are the answers to some queries about personnel and agency operations issues:

Q: One of my employees is HIV-positive. He asked me to keep this confidential. Is it OK to tell my agency manager?

A: No. As the employer, you are in possession of very confidential medical information that can be released only to employees and medical personnel who have a need to know. If you tell anyone, you may have to justify why they needed to know.

The same advice would apply for any other medical condition. Take your role as an employer very seriously.

In a recent case that involved Denny's restaurants, the chain agreed to pay $30,000 to settle a disability discrimination claim brought by an employee and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission for unlawfully disclosing confidential and medical information.

Q: When customers get angry, I become defensive. However, this usually just makes things worse. What should I do?

A: Even the best agencies get irate customers from time to time. When this happens, try not to take their comments personally. They are not angry with you. They are upset about an event or situation. Try to understand the problem from their perspective first. After they have explained the situation, apologize if you were at fault.

Then, you can offer a number of options to resolve the problem or compensate customers for their inconvenience -- exchange their merchandise or discount their purchase price, for example. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes all they want is an apology or an acknowledgement that there was a problem.

Dan McManus is a former agency owner and publisher of the Successful Worldspan Agency newsletter.

Fitness kit

The Fit for Travel kit is a product that may interest clients who want to keep up with their exercise programs while on the road.

The compact "gym in a bag" consists of a small fanny pack containing three levels of exercise bands (beginner, intermediate and advanced), a door strap, instructional charts and photos and a 30-minute video on how to use the equipment hosted by fitness specialist Adita Yrizarry. The fitness kit weighs less than one pound and can easily be packed in a suitcase.

For agents, the kit carries a wholesale price of $15 with the video, $12.50 without the video. There are also quantity discounts: 2.5% for 25, 5% for 50, 7.5% for 100 to 499 and 10% for 500 orders or more.

The kit also is available at select Hotel Intercontinental and Hilton hotels for guest use. Fit for Travel was created by SPRI Products Inc., a Dallas-based company that manufactures rubberized exercise products. For more information, call (800) 222-SPRI.

Minnesota brochures

Do you have clients visiting Minnesota? Hospitality Minnesota now has free copies of its tourism guides available. Explore Minnesota Restaurants describes 1,449 dining establishments, with information on location, menus, price ranges and special services. The Explore Minnesota Hotel/Motel & Lodging Guide features 592 hotels and motels, with rates and reservations information as well as a description of property amenities. Explore Minnesota Resorts lists 790 resorts and includes information on activities and skiing and hiking trails nearby.

Mall of AmericaExplore Minnesota Campgrounds & RV Parks includes facility information and recreational opportunities at 261 campgrounds. The newest directory, Explore Minnesota Bed & Breakfast and Historic Inns, contains information on 168 properties that include Victorian mansions. To order bulk copies of these publications, call (800) 657-3700.

Magellan Travel Books

This Hanover, N.H.-based bookstore, after years of providing reading lists to travel and tour companies for use by their customers, has opened shop on the Web to make its inventory available to the general public. You can search in a variety of ways -- by topic, author, destination, etc. www.magellantravelbooks.com

Cruise Calendar

Operated out of Atlanta, this Web service said it lists 34 destination areas worldwide and itineraries for more than 150 cruise lines. A map search accesses cruises by date for a destination selected by the user. A subscription for unlimited access costs $25 a year. www.cruisecalendar.com

Compiled by Jennifer Dorsey. E-mail suggestions to [email protected]

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