It seems the woods are full of travel agents making money by
focusing on upscale leisure travel. In 1993, when Pamela Hurley
Moser was opening her two-person agency -- Hurley Travel Services
in Portland, Maine -- she wanted to be just like them.
Instead, Hurley's agency nowadays is staffed with 40 employees
and sells 70% of its business to corporate clients, with incentive
and leisure travel making up the other 10% and 20%, respectively.
So what happened?
"I started the company as a concierge leisure boutique agency
with a high-end clientele, but I quickly realized that corporations
also wanted this concierge service, so I made the shift," she
The strategy worked, Moser said, so much so that she recently
opened a second office in Mount Desert Island in eastern Maine.
Here are some of her other winning tactics:Mean business. "We run the company like a business, and we have
always operated from a three- to five-year business plan."Get help. "So many companies think they can do it all, but we
are not afraid to outsource for help with strategic planning, both
from industry and business sources."Think small. "Clients still do not realize how large we are. We
are small enough to offer the personal service business travelers
were getting from mom-and-pop agencies, but big enough to afford
better systems and infrastructure."Opt for quality. "In a typical corporate agency, you have to
have many accounts to make a profit, but the clients suffer because
they can't get through to the agent, and the agent doesn't have
time to offer quality service." Moser's solution was to lower the
client-to-agent ratio and keep it steady.Charge fees. "We charged a $5 per ticket fee long before the
commission caps, and although they've grown to a slightly higher
level than average, my clients would rather pay ... to have their
agent available to them, which in turn allows them to save hundreds
of dollars long term."Aim for happy agents. "We've never had a travel consultant
leave for a local competitor. All are paid above the industry norm,
and receive bonuses and profit sharing as a team."
Other benefits include a matching 401K plan, health and dental
benefits, a generous vacation policy, an annual employee bonding
fam trip and "a gorgeous office."
-- Felicity Long
Air 'farepricers' on the Web
Pamela Hurley Moser is not one to ignore the Internet. In
addition to having a Web site for her agency -- www.travelexperts.com -- Moser created a site at www.farepricers.com, designed to save corporate
travelers on published airline itineraries that exceed $1,000.
"We have an auditing team that searches to find unpublished,
lower options, using our network of resources," she said.
This is the way it works: Web users fill out a form on line with
the flight number and the price they were quoted. They ask
Farepricers to look at it with an eye on beating the price.
The service is free, Moser said, and participants are under no
obligation to purchase the air fare from the site.
"Most do," Moser said, adding the company can book air but is
not a full-service travel agency. If the clients request additional
arrangements, such as accommodations or car rental, they are
referred to Hurley Travel.
"We try to use the itinerary the clients want, but we also look
at other options if it will save them money," she said.
Moser said the service is available to agents, who can buy
discounted tickets and mark up the price while still saving the
"Sometimes it takes us 45 minutes to an hour to find the
information, which is something a busy corporate travel agent
doesn't have time to do," Moser said.
Q:Do I really need to set formal goals for
A: Even in a small agency with one or two
employees, setting goals will have an impact on job efficiency.
Employees need to be clear about their duties and the expected
results. A formal goal clarifies an expectation and specifies a
Setting goals doesn't have to be a big production. Involve your
employees in the process by asking them to describe their job tasks
and responsibilities. This creates a feeling of ownership for the
employees and gives them a sense that you're aware of all that they
do. Next, tell them your goals for the agency and ask them how they
think they can be accomplished.
It is important to write out the goals so that you each have a
copy. Build incentives into the attainment of each goal. If one of
your goals is to increase hotel sales by 25% within a certain
period, attach a reward to be given when the goal is met.
Goals should involve a team effort. If the agency has more than
one employee, construct the goals so that the employees don't
compete, but work together to reach success. Jobs and business
conditions change over time, so review the goals often.
Goals can be used to help an underperforming employee. Make sure
the individual agrees to the goal and tie it to some form of
Q:Is leasing equipment basically the same
as buying it on credit?
A: No. When you lease something the lessor
still has ownership. You are paying only to use the item for a
certain time period. Think of it as an extended rental. You usually
can purchase the item for market value or less at the end of the
It's certainly a viable financing alternative, especially when
you're looking at high-priced equipment, such as a full-service
copy machine, computer or automobile. Another advantage is in the
"balance sheet." A bank or other business looking to extend you
credit won't view leased equipment as a debt, even though it is a
Former agency owner Dan McManus is president of the McManus
Group publishers of business management advice. Contact him at [email protected].