The slippery slope that led Ken DeMatteo
from his former career at a teacher into the travel industry in
1982 was, in fact, a ski slope. At the time, DeMatteo had been
teaching for 17 years and indulging his passion for skiing by
running the high school ski club.
Now the president
of Sports Travel International, a division of Globetrotter Travel
Management in Olney, Md., DeMatteo is known for arranging trips for
sports fans that enable them to rub elbows with some of the biggest
names in college coaching.
his 23-year journey in the industry, DeMatteo remembers the ski
trip that started it all.
I was planning to
take the kids to Utah for a spring break ski trip, and one of my
students had an uncle who was opening a travel agency, he
through him and soon began bringing in more business as his
interest in travel grew. He eventually became on outside
Then, when he could
no longer keep all his professional balls in the air, DeMatteo took
the plunge and became a full-time travel agent focusing on
wholesale ski programs.
Like his entry into
travel, the switch to college sports began
We used to handle
an account for the company that did the highlights show for the
Notre Dame football team, he said.
Inspired by the
show, DeMatteo contacted former Notre Dame head basketball coach
Digger Phelps and asked him to lead a golf tour in Ireland in
exchange for a free trip. DeMatteo publicized the trip through an
ad during the highlights show.
The next day was
Saturday, so we decided to go into the office to see if anyone had
called, he said. The phone was ringing off the hook.
took off, and pretty soon ski travel took a backseat as he forged
relationships with other big-name coaches.
I had done a tour
with basketball coach Rick Pitino [when he was at the University of
Kentucky], and he wanted to take the team to Italy. He asked me if
I could do it, and I said I could, but I didnt really have a clue
how to put the trip together, he said.
DeMatteo did his
homework and began the laborious process of trying to set up games
with Italian professional teams, a process he considers daunting
even years later.
overseas for sporting events tend to be of a lower standard than
American athletes are used to. The lighting is not as high-tech,
and the officiating tends to be biased, DeMatteo said.
Having said that,
DeMatteo said the coaches and players take the hiccups more or less
in stride, and the trips have been hugely successful because -- and
here is where DeMatteo separates himself from other travel agents
who arrange team travel -- he invites the fans along.
Kentucky fans are
very fanatic, and we had 150 on that first tour because these were
people who couldnt get tickets to see the team at home, he
Since then, the
list of former and present coaches DeMatteo has lured to be tour
hosts include Mike Montgomery, Bill Curry, R.C. Slocum, Steve
Lappas, Herb Sendek, Gerry Faust, Ara Parseghian and Lou
have been diverse, from Venice, London and Melbourne, Australia, to
prime golf destinations in Ireland and Scotland.
admits that his niche would not be easy for most travel agents to
duplicate, particularly without strong ties to a university sports
program, he does offer tips for retailers interested in sports
tours, especially for the uninitiated, he suggests finding a strong
Theres no point in
reinventing the wheel, DeMatteo said. If youre putting together a
ski trip, it just makes sense to work with a ski tour
air and hotel rooms would be hard to do on ones own, plus operators
have in-depth knowledge of the destination, said
He also suggests
designating someone in the agency to be the expert on the sport in
question and start with something simple. Golf vacations, for
example, can be pretty straightforward when working with a hotel
that will help secure tee times, he said.
Once the tour is
organized, market aggressively, DeMatteo said. I have my own
mailing list that Ive compiled over the years, but I also set up a
table at all the games.
consider getting plugs on sports radio shows, attending sports
banquets and sending out newsletters to fans, he said.
said, agents need to know how to manage group travel before
thinking about specializing.
They need to be
able to create brochures, do the accounting and promoting and
prepare the group for travel with luggage tags, travel documents
and currency conversion charts, he said. If they can do that, they
are already ahead of the game.
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adventure in Costa Rica
Lauren Goldenberg, a graduate of ASTAs
family travel specialist program and owner of the Family Traveler
in St. Augustine, Fla., traveled the world for many years before
making travel a career seven years ago. Goldenberg specializes in
designing customized travel for families with children. The
following is a portion of a 16-day family tour to Costa Rica,
created in conjunction with local tour operator
Days 1 and
picked up at the Hotel Bergerac in San Jose for a boat trip to
Tortuguero, named for the giant tortugas or sea turtles that nest
on the beaches in this region every year from early March to
mid-October. Families will explore the area on the canals that run
the length of the park. Travelers check in to the Pachira Lodge in
Tortuguero, where they will stay for two nights. Their stay
includes transportation, lodging, entrance fees, tours, all meals
and a guide.
by boat to the dock, then by land to the Sueno Azul Resort in
Sarapiqui. They spend the afternoon on a private guided walk in La
Selva Biological Station, where they can experience and learn about
tropical ecosystems. About 250 researchers from 26 countries come
to the facility each year.
picked up in the morning for a whitewater rafting excursion on the
Sarapiqui River. The trip traverses Class 3 rapids (moderate,
irregular waves) on a river that stretches through lush vegetation.
The area is home to hummingbirds, toucans, woodpeckers, parrots and
scores of other native bird species. The afternoon is devoted to an
exploration of the Arenal Volcano, followed by a visit to the
Hidalgo Family Hot Springs. Also known as Ecotermales, the springs
feature four hot spring pools within the tropical forest, which is
teeming with many species of birds native to the region. A
home-cooked dinner is included. Travelers transfer to the Arenal
Observatory Lodge in La Fortuna.
Travelers spend the
morning horseback riding at La Fortuna waterfall, set in the rain
forest overlooking the town. After riding
horses, they can take a dip in the pools at the base of the
waterfall. The afternoon is devoted to a trip to the
Hanging Bridges for a guided nature walk. Located
in front of the Arenal Volcano, the trails and 15 bridges give
families an up-close look at the birds, flowers and the lush
vegetation of the rain forest.
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 to [email protected] with Perfect Itinerary in the
specialist gives thumbs-up to activities site
you need more proof that the Internet is not the enemy, consider
the case of DJM Travel & Cruise in Chicago. CEO Dennis Miller
doesnt just book air and hotel for his Hawaii-bound clients, he
makes a significant portion of his commissions on activities booked
The site is the
research and booking engine of the Activities & Attractions
Association of Hawaii, or A3H, a nonprofit organization that
features about 200 activities and attractions statewide.
Hawaiifun.org is an
outstanding product, especially now that it has an interface
booking engine, Miller said. We are putting together a big See
Hawaii marketing project where were going to feature the
Agents select a
requested activity and date, check availability and make a booking.
They receive 15% commission on the activities, which include
helicopter tours and sunset dinner cruises.
We are paid by
membership dues for the most part, and our goals are to make the
industry efficient and expand the distribution panel, said Toni
Marie Davis, executive director of A3H, explaining that the
organizations focus is on prearrival bookings.
Davis said agents
booking activities are e-mailed a confirmation at the same time
clients receive personalized e-tickets via e-mail.
Their new system is
live, so it shows last-minute availability, and it displays a
complete description of the activity, Miller said. That way, if a
client has questions, the information is right there.
Another plus is
that commissions are tracked automatically. The vendors are really
good about getting that check in the mail usually within seven days
of the end of the tour, Miller said.
DJM Travel &
Cruise has an 80-20 leisure-corporate ratio. Miller said he uses
the site to book activities for meeting attendees.
Not only does the
product allow us to make additional revenue, but it provides the
kind of concierge-level service we like to give our clients, he
Hand in Hand
highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working
together. Send suggestions to [email protected] with Hand in Hand in the
Hit em where
One of the reasons I still love
going to work is the abundance of new, creative approaches to sales
that are still waiting to be utilized by the retail community.
These are exciting times, and we are seeing the emergence of a new,
affluent, somewhat younger clientele that is less likely to be
influenced by traditional, heavy-handed, price-oriented
But there is one
approach that seems to work well with both the retired and the
still-working affluent consumer that is truly different. I call
this client cluster soft marketing (CCSM). I hope you will consider
adding it to your repertoire.
The essence of CCSM
is to find the clients where they are, where they appear, instead
of in their homes or at work. The reasoning behind this approach is
simple: You may be reaching them as a truly captive audience,
without the confusion of a mailbox full of thinly veiled
Direct mail doesnt
work for time-stressed people in dual working households. Our
clients dont have much time to carefully sift through their mail
before beginning dinner. Bills, personal letters and magazines get
saved, and usually everything else gets tossed.
But there is a
better way. Reach the clients where they are, when you have their
And dont kill them
with ads. Instead, smother them with your precious knowledge and
advice. A personalized newsletter, free of advertising, that is
thoughtfully written with honest advice would be a welcome addition
to any number of client cluster locations.
Here are just a few
places and approaches you might consider:Bookstores: Your newsletter or magazine
could feature travel book reviews among its pages.Physicians offices: You may be surprised at
how much doctors will appreciate newsletters that are free of
advertising for their waiting-room patients. But your name, address
and phone number will always appear, and thats all you need.Supermarkets: This is a big one, if you can
pull it off. So you are going to need a hook. Try devoting some
portion of your newsletter to dining and food markets you have
experienced during your travels. This could help increase, for
instance, the sale of more exotic produce.Hair
salons and spas: You have a perfect audience with a bit of
time on their hands.
cover can be personalized for every potential client cluster
location. This costs the local business nothing and helps forge a
partnership between your agency and the place where potential
Most of you belong
to a consortium or marketing organization. Get them to customize publications you may already
be receiving for the client cluster locations. Approach car
dealerships, credit unions and banks, among others. They would all
love to have a quality publication with their name on it at no
cost. All you are looking for is proper distribution.
And if you really
want to hit a home run think travel newsletter plus skim latte,
consultant Richard Turen owns the vacation planning firm Churchill
and Turen, based in Naperville, Ill. An industry veteran of nearly
25 years, he has been named to Conde Nast Travelers Best Agents
list since it began in 2000.
business via public relations
Generate buzz. The first step, according to Margie Fisher,
president of Zable Fisher Public Relations in Boca Raton, Fla., is
to create a pitch designed around a topical event. Fisher
extrapolated her suggestions for Travel Weekly from her
Do-It-Yourself Public Relations Kit, available at www.zfpr.com. The Oscars
are in March, so why not come up with a mock Oscar package, where
clients spend three days in Hollywood, stay at a fancy hotel and
get pampered by a hair and make-up stylist? she suggested. The
point is not so much to sell the package but to get media
Publish an e-newsletter. This is a low-cost tool that enables
agents to be in touch with clients or potential clients in a
non-disruptive way, Fisher said. She suggests that agents promote
not only travel specials but also insider tips that offer clients
some value. Even if they arent interested in the topic you are
writing about, they are frequently being reminded of
Become involved in a good cause. The whole point is to build
relationships with people, so its critical to find a cause that
really interests you, Fisher said. She suggests joining a committee
with the eventual goal of becoming a board member. Donating a
vacation to a fund-raising event is a good way to get
Conduct free seminars and workshops. Pick a catchy topic, like how
to travel in style to Europe on a dime, Fisher said. Offer an hour
or two of information, but not enough for attendees to book travel
on their own. You are giving people a chance to meet you and want
to use you as a travel agent, said Fisher.
Network effectively. Fisher suggests arriving early at a meeting or
event and asking someone you know to introduce you to people. Give
people a reason to contact you: Instead of dispensing your business
card, hand out your newsletter, for example, and make use of your
down time to make contacts, she said.