Rich Skinner and business partner Steve Sibley opened a travel
agency three years ago, they were certain that a narrow focus would
glean maximum results. Skinner and Sibley, who co-own Cruise
Holidays of Woodinville, in Woodinville, Wash., decided that
bargain-basement cruise sales were not for them.
We decided to
specialize from the middle of the ship up -- from balconies to
suites. Because its a little higher-priced product, theres more of
an opening to focus on better service, said Skinner, adding that
the agency would let the commodity marketers set their sights on
lower-end product and prices.
By selling higher-end
cruises, the agency is able to concentrate on multidimensional
travel experiences that can be customized. Cruise Holidays nine
employees arrange intricate pre- and post-cruise tours for clients
and spend considerable amounts of time ensuring that travelers are
matched to the right stateroom, ship and itinerary, Skinner
Everybody who works for
us is very strong in product knowledge, he added.
To reinforce the
agencys upscale image, the two men chose a location for Cruise
Holidays that would draw a more affluent client. The storefront is
located in the middle of Woodinville wine country, a quarter of a mile away from the Chateau St. Michelle
We feel very
comfortable with the gourmand part of the business and those people
who appreciate the finer things in life, said Skinner.
To further drive home
the agencys upscale image, Cruise Holidays phones are answered:
Cruise Holidays of Woodinville, Home of the Luxurient
The term luxurient
traveler, said Skinner, is used as a marketing tool. The agencys
Web site is www.luxurient.com.
Skinner said the
agencys target demographic is travelers age 40 and above with
incomes of $100,000 a year or more.
Our market is college
graduates who are reasonably sophisticated travelers, said Skinner.
For us to have intelligent customers enables us to customize their
Although Skinner said
that repeat and referral business are the agencys lifeblood, Cruise
Holidays nonetheless works hard to bring first-timers into the
To edify the
uninitiated, Skinner has written a loose-leaf handbook called
Exploring the Magic of Cruising with Vinnie the Cruise
In the book, Vinnie,
Skinners West Highland terrier, has never cruised, but instead has
to settle for the wonderful tales spun by his people who have
cruised far and wide on amazing cruise ships around the
The book covers the
history of the cruise industry, the difference between cruises,
misperceptions about cruising and cruise trends.
Front-line agents spend
so much time giving customers basic information about cruising,
said Skinner. This book was written to cut down on that time by
explaining the cruise experience and the differences between cruise
While Skinner is the
marketing force behind Cruise Holidays, Sibley spearheads all
e-commerce initiatives. (Or, as he puts it, I do
Sibley has more than 25
years of experiencing selling advanced technology products at
Hewlett-Packard and its Agilent spin-off.
Skinner has been
connected with the cruise industry for the past 20 years, nine of
them as the director of public relations for Holland America
Following his stint at
Holland America, Skinner owned his own public relations firm and
helped introduce ships for Holland America, Windstar Cruises, Royal
Caribbean International, Delta Queen Steamboat Co., Celebrity
Cruises, Norwegian Cruise Line and Silversea Cruises.
PR background a
Skinner makes good use
of his public relations background.
We do a fair amount of
news and press releases, he said. We write releases the provide
something useful to journalists, such as why European cruises are a
good value or why its smart to book Alaska early to obtain the best
marketing and technology have played a huge role in the agencys
success, a simple passion and enthusiasm for the cruise industry is
equally important, Skinner said. For me, travel has always been the
neatest thing. A dividend to hard work has always been being able
to take advantage of really great travel experiences.
wants to hear your story. Think youre a good candidate for an
upcoming Agent Life? Contact Claudette Covey at [email protected], and please include your
agency name, agency location, telephone number and e-mail
Poe, who founded Little Rock, Ark.-based Poe Travel in 1961,
designed a five-night itinerary to Sri Lanka, a destination he has
visited a dozen times. The Isle of Serendib is a place where in a
remarkably small area, an astonishing kaleidoscope of climates,
scenes, wildlife, ancient art and world-class beaches can be found,
Clients are met by
their guide at Colombo Airport and driven to the Cultural Triangle
in central Sri Lanka. During the drive, they visit Sigiriya, a
former fortress set atop a giant rocky outcropping above the
jungle. The site is famous for its magnificent ancient paintings.
Clients stay at the Elephant Corridor, designed by architect Sir
Geoffrey Bawa. Clients dine that evening at the hotel
Clients embark for a
full day of sightseeing at the ancient, deserted cities of
Anuradhapura and Polonnaruwa. They return to the Elephant Corridor
for a treatment at the hotels Ayurvedic and wellness spa, followed
by dinner at the hotel.
Travelers are driven to
Kandy to see the Temple of the Tooth, one of Buddhisms holiest
sites. They enjoy a light lunch
at the cafe of the Queens Hotel, a favorite of Leonard Woolf, the
writer Virginia Woolfs husband. Travelers continue into the
mountains to the hill station of Nurawa Eliya, which is set among
miles of rippling tea plantations and truck gardens. Lodging, by
special arrangement, is at the baronial Hill Club, a bastion for
the tea growing aristocracy. They dine at the propertys club for a
Clients spend the
morning enjoying the grounds of the Hill Club before departing for
Colombo. En route, they visit the famed Elephant Orphanage at
Pinnawela by feeding time to watch elephants cavort in the river
below. Travelers proceed to Mount Lavinia, one of Colombos poshest
beach neighborhoods, for a swim, dinner and an overnight stay at
the 100-year-old Mount Lavinia Hotel, a favorite of British actor
and playwright Noel Coward.
The day is spent
sightseeing in Colombo, visiting the citys elegant Cinnamon Gardens
quarter, the National Museum, the Old Dutch areas and maybe some
gem and jewelry shops. The site for lunch is Barefoot, a
contemporary cafe-cum-shop in what is, in essence, an artisans
cooperative. Travelers check into the Colombo Hilton with its
pretty grounds and pool. They dine at the hotels Sri Lankan al
fresco restaurant set amid the gardens.
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 Covey at [email protected].
Tony Perez Travel
an expert partner in the Yucatan
Ramos knows Mexico inside and out. She has, after all, traveled to
the destination more than 90 times. Ramos, an independent
contractor with Worldview Travel of Santa Ana, Calif., also knows
which tour operators to work with in order to provide her clients
with vacation experiences that shine.
One such company is
Tony Perez Travel Service, a company operated by Ignacio Nacho
Perez, whose specialty is the southeast Yucatan region.
I consider Nacho to be
the Yucatan expert, said Ramos.
Perezs company, which
is based in Merida -- the Yucatan state capital -- can sate the
travel requests of any type of client, said Ramos, whether they
have common requirements or special interests.
The clients can just
sit back and relax and travel at their own pace while the company
driver and guide takes care of all the sightseeing details, she
Because of Perezs solid
contacts in the Yucatan region, the company can coordinate a host
of special-interest tours, such as woodworking.
Ramos was able to book
a woodworking hobbyist on a trip that visited an array of artisans
throughout the region.
With 25 years of
experience in the Yucatan, it is not surprising that Perez has many
We know all the stone
and wood artisans, said Perez. We can take travelers directly to
No matter what a
clients interest -- spa, culinary or cultural -- Perez said his company will be able to tailor a
program to match.
Agents who send clients
his way will get a taste of Mexicos rich diversity, including its
archaeology, colonial history and distinct scenery.
Sometimes agents need a
reference when booking travel to the Yucatan, said
And were a very
reliable tour operator.
Hand in Hand
highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working
together. Send suggestions to Covey at [email protected].
Whats the difference between price
shopping and browsing? If youre actually interested in making a
purchase but are looking for the best deal, youre price shopping.
If youre vaguely looking for something that will strike your fancy
-- or even just killing time -- youre browsing.
How can a travel agent
tell the difference between the two?
A price shopper almost
always contacts you by telephone, seems rushed and has already done
plenty of research. Browsers, on the other hand, may be interested
in a trip in a vague sort of way, but dont know where they want to
go, or even when.
Here are some tips to
deal with each:
Price shoppers: Before
quoting a price, ask a few open-ended, qualifying questions.
Explain that you want to be sure that the product really fits the
clients needs. Your concern may set you apart from other agents
Then, if necessary,
suggest they call you with the best deal they can find and youll
try to match it. Its unlikely anyone else will have made this offer
(or bothered to ask questions), so youll make an
Muddy the waters by
suggesting a few options they may not have considered. This will
make it more difficult for them to base their decision on price
Browsers: Find out, by
using carefully chosen, closed-ended questions, what gave them the
urge to contact you.
What price range would
interest them? Would they be traveling with a friend? A spouse?
Your questions will
help them focus their thoughts and may help them realize that
theyre serious, after all, about buying a vacation through
Marc Mancini is an
industry speaker and consultant who teaches at West Los Angeles
extra to your cruise clients
Surprise travelers with gift baskets in their staterooms. We always
give clients gift baskets with soda and snack items, said Jeff
Gordon, president of the Gordon Group, a Davie, Fla.-based travel
agency specializing in high-end cruises. There are, of course,
people who are price-driven, but there is also a good portion of
the population who would rather have the added value, caring and
concern, he said. We add loyalty through value-adds rather than
During the holidays, add extra items to the gift baskets. In
addition to the standard soda and snack items, the agency adds
other goods that have the Gordon Group logo. Items might include
water bottles with pop-up tops, pens, diaries and fold-up canvas
Present clients with their cruise documents in an inventive
fashion. Gordons agency uses bank deposit zipper bags, which he
says are a big hit with the agencys customers because they can be
used later on for other purposes. The bags feature the agencys
logo, toll-free number and the line, Thank you for sailing with us.
Sturdy luggage tags with the companys logo are also included in the
Send clients bon voyage cards before they sail. The Gordon Group
sends upscale cards on linen paper that say: With all your
dreaming, planning and packing, the time has come to get going. We
hope your vacation is all you dreamed it would be -- wonderful
adventures and memories. Bon voyage.
Call clients when they return from their vacations. Gordons wife,
Karen, who runs the administrative side of the business, calls the
client. This way, the agency can ensure that the client was pleased
with the booking agent as well as the cruise experience, Gordon
said. We really want to hear about everything, including the good
and the bad. We need to know if theres anything that needs to be
corrected, Gordon said.