Selling and building dreams

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Jean Cartier Sauleau opened her agency in 1985 at the ripe old age of 28. Although young, she was hardly a neophyte when it came to the travel industry. Shed already worked in guest relations at a theme park, as a travel director at Intrav, as a bookkeeper at Mexicana Airlines and as a counselor for a corporate agency.

Sauleaus eclectic career helped her determine how she planned to shape her agency business.

The agency, which was then known as Cartier Travel and based in St. Louis, has since changed locations and names. Sixth Star Travel in Plantation, Fla., still caters to the same audience -- luxury travelers interested in value and service.

Sauleau, a certified travel counselor and master cruise counselor, over the years has painstakingly tracked changes in luxury demographics to ensure the agency remains at the top of its game.

When choosing where in St. Louis to open the agency, for instance, she selected a location in an upscale neighborhood. Initially, Sauleau captured the business of an older clientele but also kept an eye on younger, affluent people moving into the area.

As people get older you have to rebuild your client list, Sauleau said. Agents have to understand the needs of young luxury travelers, she added. This audience may shop at Target because it offers good value, but that doesnt mean Target shoppers eschew buying luxury products.

Theyre looking for service and looking to be pampered, she said. They may have traveled a lot in business, but they want guidance maneuvering around leisure travel.

Sauleau provides much of her guidance on cruising, which accounts for 50% of Sixth Stars business.

Sauleaus consortium, Virtuoso, helps Sixth Star offer value, she said, with complimentary membership in the Virtuoso Voyager Club, which adds perks such as guided shore events, a night in a luxury hotel and gourmet dinners.

Now, Sauleau is equally at ease dealing with world cruisers in their 90s and travelers in their 20s who spend as much as $20,000 on their honeymoons.

Were seeing younger people wanting to do nicer trips, she said. The younger clientele that is looking for that luxury experience is normally impressed by gourmet dining and fine wines and is willing to pay extra for it.

Furthermore, because younger clients still are earning income, theyre not afraid to spend money, she said. They often upgrade to lavish accommodations, such as penthouse suites. Conversely, she noted, many retirees will sail on world cruises but book much lower-priced cabins.

Sauleau also makes sure she and her agents guide clients in the right direction when choosing a ship.

Unless your client stays in the suite during the entire cruise, you cant sell a luxury clientele on a mass-market ship -- even if its the most beautiful suite in the world, Sauleau said. Not everybody belongs on every ship. You have to know your products and who belong on what ships.

Sauleau was able to distinguish the finer nuances between cruise segments long before she opened her agency. At Intrav, as a travel director escorting groups, she experienced cruising.

While with an Intrav group aboard a ship in the fleet of the now-defunct Royal Viking Line, she met her husband, Christian Sauleau. He was then a food-and-beverage manager and is now executive vice president of operations for Radisson Seven Seas Cruises.

Within a weeks time we were talking about marriage, she said.

With her husband based in Florida, Sauleau in 2002 decided to relocate the agency to the Sunshine State. She still operates a two-person office in St. Louis and employs an agent in Los Angeles. Three people, including Sauleau, staff the Florida agency.

Since relocating the travel agencys headquarters to Florida, Sauleau said it has doubled its business. Sauleau attributes Sixth Stars growing success to the effort she and her agents make to ensure that clients get the most for their money, but not at the expense of the travel experience.

Whats most important is we all need to create the added value instead of lowering the price, she said, especially in the luxury market. People are looking to get the most out of their money.

Selling is the operative word, Sauleau said. In order to create a dream vacation for the client, an agent must know how to sell.

Thats why this industry keeps falling back on price, she said. Theres a lack of sales skills.

When all is said and done, an agent must match the client to the product to create a dream. You can jump in and help them build that dream, Sauleau said.

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

 

The Perfect Itinerary

Scatting about Scotland

The Palace of Holyroodhouse is one of the most popular attractions in Edinburgh, Scotland.Claire Schoeder, a U.K. specialist at Atlanta-based Century Travel, designed a Scotland itinerary that highlights the countrys rich cultural history. The trip includes visits to Glasgow and Edinburgh. This itinerary gives travelers a wonderful taste of all Scotland has to offer, Schoeder said.

Day 1

Clients check into the Scotsman in Edinburgh, a 68-room property in an old newspaper building. Recommended, must-see sites include Edinburgh Castle, the Scotch Whisky Heritage Centre and the Palace of Holyroodhouse. Travelers dine at Haldanes, located in a Georgian townhouse in the citys New Town.

Day 2

After renting a car at the Waverly Train Station, clients head to Inverness. The route will take them through Stirling, Perth and Pitlochry. In Inverness, they stay at Bunchrew House Hotel, a 17th-century Scottish mansion amid landscaped gardens and woodland. I recommend dining there at least one of the two nights, said Schoeder. Inverness is only a few miles away, and many clients prefer to dine out of the hotel one night -- especially in the summer when the long daylight hours make driving a bit easier.

Day 3

A drive to John oGroats and Mey, where the late Queen Mothers Scottish castle is located. This is a beautifully scenic drive, and the roundtrip will take most of the day, said Schoeder.

Day 4

A trip to the Isle of Skye takes in a variety of sites, including Beauly, for a visit to the ruins of a priory. The travel time is not long, but there is quite a bit to see on the way, Schoeder said. The Loch Ness Monster exhibition at Dumnadrochit is a hoot, and the Urquharat Castle is one of the most photographed sights in Scotland. Clients stay at Kinloch Lodge, home of Lord and Lady MacDonald. Breakfast and dinner are included during the stay.

Day 5

Clients visit the Museum of Island Life; Flora MacDonalds grave at Kilmuir; the ruins of Duntulm Castle, home of the chiefs of the clan MacLeod; the Talisker Distillery; and Armadale, with its Clan Donald Visitor Center and the partially ruined Armadale Castle.

Hand in Hand

An overseas partner is a NoteWorthy resource

Some things are better left to an expert.

No one knows that better than Claire Schoeder, a U.K. specialist at Century Travel in Atlanta.

She counts on a destination-management services firm to help create memorable, one-of-a-kind trips for her clients.

Schoeder said London-based NoteWorthy Events, an on-site partner of Virtuoso, has never failed to deliver on a particular event or service, no matter what the clients special interest.

I use them for everything from high-end transfers between airports to wonderfully unique private tours in London and the surrounding areas, she said.

Schoeder said NoteWorthy Events employees have a lot of experience and knowledge, take the time to learn about clients interests and craft tours to fit their interests.

For instance, Schoeder had clients who were World War II buffs, and NoteWorthy Events arranged for local experts to take the travelers on a private tour of Winston Churchills Cabinet War Rooms.

The more esoteric the request, said Susie Worthy, managing director of NoteWorthy Events, the more fun she and her staff have with the request. What we love is a challenge, she said.

One couple wanted to see Englands crop circles, geometric patterns of matted-down grain that some people believe were created by extraterrestrials.

We found the crop-circle expert of England, and they rented a helicopter and flew over the circles, Worthy said.

Worthy, who founded the company in 1986, chalks up part of NoteWorthys success to her skill as an inveterate networker. It all comes down to networking.

She noted that there are some agents who believe that they can take care of all the details themselves. As in everything in life, you have to find a partner who can press the right buttons and get the job done for you, Worthy said.

In the final analysis, she said, its all about getting the details right.

Worthy takes a line from Sir Henry Royce, founder of Rolls-Royce, when defining her business philosophy:

Small things make perfection. But perfection is no small thing.

Going Home
The pros and the cons

By Millicent Lee Kaufman

Advances in technology have made it increasingly possible to work from home. In running a home-based travel agency, I have found telecommuting and the travel industry to be very compatible. I have also found that more and more people are doing this.

Telecommuting, or working away from the conventional workplace, enables someone to have a home office and communicate via computer technology. It enables people to work remotely and gives them options on how to manage their work and their life.

Telecommuting can be a valuable business perk -- not just for the travel agency but also for staff and independent contractors. It gives the host agency more flexibility and is advantageous as follows: 

  • Schedule flexibility. Creating a balance between work and life allows for quality time alone and with family and friends. 
  • Reduction in commuting time and expense. There are no more worries about inclement weather, car troubles, sick days or getting to work on time.
  • Issuing tickets and invoices can be done remotely, so agents dont need to rush to a specific site to print tickets and invoices.
  • Less paperwork and administration costs. Telecommuters usually are self-employed or independent contractors. Therefore, they are responsible for their own benefits and taxes. 
  • Focusing on important issues. Telecommuting enables agents to concentrate on the business, not office distractions. 
  • Expanded labor pool. A potentially attractive benefit is a bigger, and perhaps more talented and qualified, workforce that is available because they can work remotely. Location is almost irrelevant.
  • However, there are some disadvantages to telecommuting:

  • The boundary between home and office can disappear quickly. A person needs to be focused and disciplined in order to make it work effectively. Work sometimes can extend beyond traditional work hours; that may be comfortable for some but not for others. The agency may need to assist with office equipment and maintenance. 
  • Proper equipment can be expensive. Home-based agents need sufficient Internet bandwidth and dedicated phone lines. It is important to establish a good working relationship with the host agency, spelled out ahead of time, so there are no misunderstandings later. A certain amount of trust is crucial in making this business relationship run smoothly.
  • Social concerns need to be taken into consideration. Personal contact and face-to-face conversations are essential and need to be worked into an office schedule.
  • For my home-based agency, the benefits of telecommuting outweigh the drawbacks of working remotely. Its a way to have flexibility and viability in my office and at the same time, improve satisfaction, morale and productivity.

    Millicent Lee Kaufman has been a retailer for nearly 25 years and has owned her own agency since 1990. She has operated a home-based agency since 2000. E-mail her at[email protected].

    5 Things

    Tackling liability issues with independent agents 

    1. Demand a personal guarantee -- this gives access to personal assets and/or an unconditional letter of credit in favor of the host. Although not previously considered, host agencies are making these requirements more often these days.

    2. Consider fidelity bonding, which could be paid for by the host or independent contractor, and add a theft rider covering nonemployees to your agencys comprehensive liability insurance. For both the fidelity bond and theft rider, ask the insurer what the real recovery would be under a variety of scenarios of credit-card fraud or unauthorized credit-card usage by a contractor. Agencies should be aware that payouts on fidelity bonding are usually contingent on criminal prosecution.

    3. Consider requiring contractors to have comprehensive general liability insurance of their own, and if any independent contractors have their own staffers, the contractors -- just like the host -- need to look at obtaining fidelity bonding and a theft rider. This is for their own protection and provides compensation in the event of a loss.

    4. Require contractors to add riders to their homeowners insurance to cover occasional business use. Claims may result if visiting clients are hurt while on a contractors premises. If the contractor has no coverage, there is a risk clients will seek compensation from the host agency.

    5. Require independent contractors to maintain their own errors-and-omissions (E&O) insurance. If they are listed on your policy, verify with your E&O provider that their method of payment and the type of entity doing business (individual affiliated under contract with the host, as opposed to one corporation in a relationship with another) meets with the providers approval and that you are not considered a reseller of insurance. Another option is to check the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents special rate with Berkely for contractors buying their own insurance.

    Sources: Travel attorneys Rose Hache and Jeff Miller

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