Staying ahead of the game

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Rex Fritschi has seen propeller planes give way to jets and transatlantic steamships morph into leisure cruise ships. But for Chicago-based Rex Travel, one thing has remained a constant: What clients buy is superlative service -- something Fritschi has hung his hat on all these years.

Fritschi, who began his career at Londons Swiss Federal Railways Office in 1948, has stuck to the same sales philosophy since opening Rex Travel in 1968. Right from Day 1, I focused on upscale leisure travel. Period. he said.

Rex Travels focus, which produces an annual sales volume of about $6 million, has always been the bottom line. It was never Fritschis intent to build Rex into a mega agency. I could have become a big bombshell, he said. Profitability is what I look at.

Three years ago, Fritschi sold Rex Travel to his management team and now serves as a consultant with a Web site at www.rexclass.com. He works as an outside agent for the agency.

Over the years, Fritschi has built his business by building relationships with clients. People like going to their own dentist. If hes on vacation, you wait until hes back, he said. Such is also the case with Rex Travel, which now serves a third generation of clients. The nice thing about upscale leisure is the client has faith in you, Fritschi said.

In addition to offering top-of-the-line service and product offerings, Fritschi has always made a concerted effort to stay several steps ahead of industry trends. For instance, he said he saw the writing on the wall long before the first round of airline commission cuts hit in 1995. I could see there was no future in air, he said, and instead focused his sales efforts completely on vacations.

In Fritschis view, the 21st-century threat to travel agents is the Internet. What it boils down to is that even little old ladies can go to their PCs, and if they know what they want they can book everything online.

Fritschi, however, has found a way to capitalize on the Internet. I was talking to a client in Greenwich, Conn., who was going to visit some friends down in the Florida Keys, he said. I told her that she had to have lunch at Little Palm Island.

While Fritschi was describing Little Palm Island, a tiny gumdrop of an island located four miles offshore of Little Torch Key, he had the woman log on to the site to check it out for herself, thus using it as a visual sales tool.

In all his years as a travel consultant, Fritschi believes the thing thats changed the most is the fact that the American public has become increasingly knowledgeable. In the late 1930s and 1940s, he said, during the time of transatlantic steamships such as the Queen Elizabeth, travelers would take grand tours of Europe using the ship as transportation. Now people hop over to Europe for a wedding or a cocktail party, said Fritschi.

Furthermore, the agents word is no longer sacrosanct. In the past, clients would generally take our word for everything. Those days are over, he said. Even if they havent been to Morocco they go online and do their research. They find out everything about Morocco. Youve got to stay ahead of them.

The operative word for retailers who succeed in the future will be consultant, a professional who offers expert, unbiased advice to travelers -- and charges fees for those services, said Fritschi. If I send my attorney a four-page document to look at, he phones me, gives me some pointers and sends me a bill for $400.

Those agents who act as consultants will continue to thrive, he said. It is consultants who will make a buck and be successful. No Internet can convincingly tell people what to do. It still doesnt tell you which ship you belong on.

All things considered, Fritschis years of success have put him in a position to turn down business that isnt lucrative. But it wasnt always that way. Fritschi started his career with very little. I came over from London on the Queen Mary, the fare was $160, and I was in steerage with four men to a room in two upper s and lowers, no air conditioning and toilets and bathrooms down the hall.

Those days are a thing of the past. When new clients call from around the country, I tell them my fee, said Fritschi. If they balk I say, Goodbye, go someplace else.

TravelWeekly.com 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 address.

Perfect Itinerary

A romantic stay in Bora Bora

Cheryl Floyd, a honeymoon and romance vacation expert at All Seasons Travel in Birmingham, Ala., designed this five-night itinerary to Bora Bora in French Polynesia. Floyd celebrated her 30th wedding anniversary on the island and is quick to recommend it to her clients.

 Day 1

Clients stay at the Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa.Guests stay at the Bora Bora Nui Resort and Spa. For maximum romance, book clients in a horizon, over-water bungalow suite, said Floyd. The propertys 120 luxury suites are located on 16 acres of verdant, terraced hillside and on the water of a protected cove. In the morning, a driver picks up clients in a four-wheel-drive vehicle and transports them to the highest point on the island for panoramic views of neighboring islands. On the way back to the hotel, travelers can shop for Tahitian black pearls. They dine at the hotels Iriatai Panoramic Restaurant.

Day 2

A helicopter tour of the island takes travelers over reefs, valleys and waterfalls and around the islands highest peak. From this vantage point, you understand why Bora Bora is called the Pearl of the Pacific, said Floyd. The site for dinner is La Villa Mahana, where food is truly an art form, said Floyd, adding that with only six tables, reservations are must.

Day 3

Travelers spend the day aboard the catamaran Taravana. Captain Richard Postma will customize your cruise to include snorkeling, sport fishing, sailing and a visit to the heart-shaped atoll of Tupai, said Floyd. After a picnic lunch, travelers can watch the sunset before returning to the hotel for a romantic room service meal.

Day 4

Clients travel to a private motu by motorized outrigger canoe, which is equipped with snorkeling gear, to explore Bora Boras lagoon. The Tahitian guide will call the sharks and stingrays for you to hand feed, said Floyd. For lunch, the guide prepares a five-course, gourmet lunch. Dinner is at the hotels beachside Tamure Grill for a luau and Polynesian revue.

Day 5

Floyd recommends clients start the day with breakfast delivered by canoe to their bungalow. She suggests they visit the resorts Mandara Spa for the Bora Bora Indulgence package. The site for dinner is Bloody Marys, where the local catch is displayed on ice. Just be sure to call a couple of days in advance for a reservation, said Floyd.

The Perfect 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].

Hand In Hand

Establishing personal contact

Claire Schoeder has long believed that personal contact with hotel staff makes the booking process seamless and better ensures that the clients trip will come off without a hitch. Personal contact, in fact, is one reason why Schoeder, an agent at Century Travel in Atlanta whose specialty is the U.K., books the Goring in London.

I think personal contact eliminates a great deal of misunderstanding, said Schoeder, adding that she talks to three of the hotels concierges regularly as well as the managing director, general manager and front-of-house manager. Ive got some ornery clients, and they have yet to complain about anything at the Goring.

Schoeder, who rarely books hotels she hasnt inspected, met the Gorings managing director, William Cowpe, at a trade show in Atlanta. Id never heard of the Goring, and it looked like something I wanted to see.

When Schoeder next traveled to the U.K., she met with Cowpe and fell in the love with the hotel.

Cowpe was impressed with Schoeder.

Claire Schoeder is a perfect example of an agent who will ensure that her clients receive only the very best wherever they travel in the world, and she achieves this with her personal relationships with hotels like the Goring, he said.

Cowpe said special requests are almost always met. If, for instance, guests prefer duvets rather than sheets and blankets, they get them. If they dont like feather pillows, they find foam pillows in their rooms.

In Cowpes view, travel agents will continue to play an important role in consumers travel plans.

The Internet is a useful tool, but it doesnt answer all the questions, he said. When Claire recommends the Goring, she can talk about the hotel from personal knowledge.

Schoeder said the Goring has never failed to please her clients. They feel like theyre treated as valued family members, she said.

Hand in Hand highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working together. Send suggestions to Covey at[email protected].

Marc My Words

Buyer readiness

 By Marc Mancini

A person goes through a series of steps when deciding to purchase an expensive product like travel. Marketing professor Philip Kotler calls them the Buyer Readiness Stages. And the decision-making begins long before the client contacts you.

The buyers thinking varies considerably from one step to the next. Thats why you should tailor your advertising to their decision-making process.

Here are the six stages of buyer readiness, and how you can best approach each stage:

  1. Awareness. Before you can sell, you must make contact with those who want to purchase. Your agency should create advertising and promotional programs thatll make your name conspicuous and will attract serious buyers.

  2. Knowledge. Once prospective clients know your name, they begin the process of acquiring knowledge about what you can offer. Therefore, your advertising efforts should establish you as an expert -- perhaps even a specialist in one or more niche areas.

  3. Liking. We all tend to buy from people or companies we feel positive about. Entertaining ads, for example, will convey warmth and the humanity of your agency. Direct your creative efforts toward making your agency seem joyful, inviting and approachable.

  4. Preference. Benefits statements are the key to making prospective clients prefer your agency over another. Provide target customers with reasons to do business with you.

  5. Conviction. Your advertising should build the customers certainty that youre the agency to call first. Client testimonials, for example, provide just the right reinforcement for the preference youve created.

  6. Purchase. Once prospective clients have decided to seek you out, expert sales skills are critical to helping them make the right purchase.

And following through on your promises is essential to keeping their loyalty and repeat business.

Marc Mancini is an industry speaker and consultant who teaches at West Los Angeles College.

Five Things

Setting up an agency at home

1. Identify yourself as a commissionable entity to the supplier community. Travel agents who are creating home-based travel agencies must find secure appointments or accreditations to provide the agency with legitimacy, said Gary Fee, president of the Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN) in Jupiter, Fla. Today there are more non-ARC agencies in the marketplace than ARC appointed agencies, said Fee. Suppliers want to identify who these sellers of travel are.

Travel suppliers are now relying on data from IATA for sellers of travel that hold a Travel Sales Intermediary endorsement or from the OSSN, which administers the TRUE Code program and is maintained by IATA. CLIA codes also are used by suppliers to help identify sellers of travel.

However, the IATA-based coding programs have more qualifying criteria for a seller of travel to secure such codes, Fee said. The majority of all industry suppliers now require these industry codes to put into their reservation systems for ID purposes and to provide the supplier with a qualified seller of travel.

2. Obtain the appropriate business licensing and permits. These permits, noted Fee, could be city, county, state or association permits. Theres nothing worse than getting set up and getting a cease and desist order, he said. Ive seen it happen.

3. Create a strong sales and marketing plan. Its like building a house, said Fee. If you dont have a blueprint you dont know where youre going. A sales and marketing plan, he added, is a road map for success, outlining how you are going to proceed in business. You have to have a plan, said Fee.

4.Install the proper technology in your home office. Make sure you have cable or digital subscriber line (DSL), voice mail and fax or e-fax, said Fee. Its important to stay connected because we have to communicate on an ongoing basis with suppliers and clients. In todays world, technology is paramount.

5. Obtain errors and omissions and general liability insurance coverage.

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