et's face facts: It's no small feat
for independent agencies to survive in large cities, and it gets
harder every year. But one such independent, CRC Travel in Chicago,
has managed to thrive by understanding and filling two separate but
"When we first opened in 1990, we felt there was a need for a
high-end agency that would cater to the gay and lesbian and
[general] leisure market that was not totally price driven --
something that we saw Chicago was lacking," said Peter Carideo,
CRC's president. "We knew we'd never survive on $599 package
Basically, CRC has stayed true to its original plan to offer
upscale products and destinations to upscale clients, be they
straight or gay. "Most of the Chicago agencies that focused
exclusively on gay and lesbian travel are gone now," said Carideo.
"We were never gay and lesbian only," he said, adding that 20% of
the agency's business comes from that market. "Gay and lesbian
travelers don't necessarily want to be segmented, either."
Which is not to say that the agency doesn't constantly reinvent
itself on one level or another to change with the times. "If
something doesn't seem to be working, we get rid of it," Carideo
Before opening CRC, Carideo held sales and marketing positions
with two tour operator firms, a large East Coast travel agency and
a cruise line. As a supplier, "calling on agencies was an
eye-opening experience," Carideo said. For instance, he was able to
figure out which elements he wouldn't incorporate into his own
agency: "I didn't want [clients] coming in to see clutter and
posters taped to the walls -- or people smoking," he said.
Instead, he created a storefront agency decorated with original
framed posters and custom-made furniture. There's even a bar, where
agents can chat with clients over glasses of wine. "If somebody's
dropping $50,000, they'd better feel like they're in a high-end
hotel or company," said Carideo. "Image plays [an important
Image, however, is more than skin-deep in the case of CRC
Travel. Carideo makes sure that the elegant look of the office is
matched by excellent service. "We answer the phone on the first
ring. We call back when we say we will. We use words like 'my
pleasure' and 'not a problem' -- even when it is."
But Carideo has learned to temper his service ethic with a
healthy respect for what's profitable, too. "We are always prepared
to turn business away if it doesn't fit the type of business that
we're comfortable selling," he said -- such as an inexpensive
package from a supplier whose quality Carideo hasn't verified. "We
know when to say thanks but no thanks to a client asking us to do
something," he said.
Carideo, whose agency produces between $6 million and $7 million
in sales volume a year with a staff of six employees, learned a
difficult yet valuable lesson from 9/11. "For two months [following
the events of 9/11], I felt like we were bleeding cash," he said.
"It forced me to look at every penny."
What Carideo found was that he needed to pay much more attention
to managing small as well as large expenses. "You will always
dissect $1,000, $2,000 and $5,000 expenditures," he said.
"The major expenses we always deliberate -- it's the smaller
ones that don't seem to ever count until they have added up to a
large number," said Carideo. "It's kind of like having a $100 bill
-- once it's broken, it's gone."
Ninety percent of the agency's business comes from referrals.
"We can pretty much qualify the client by the person who referred
them," Carideo said. "We promote our services one client at a time.
When someone calls to thank us for a job well done, we always ask
that they refer us to one friend that might be in need of our
To promote travel to the gay and lesbian market, the agency
makes use of direct mail and also advertises in benefit program
booklets for fundraisers. Carideo was also noted as a gay-travel
specialist when he became one of 125 retailers included in Conde
Nast Traveler's fourth annual "Travel Pros" issue, published in
August. He recently hired a public relations agency to help his
agency capitalize on the coverage.
In the final analysis, Carideo has learned that laughter is an
essential part of the workday. "We laugh every day," Carideo said,
"and we thank God for the mute buttons on our phones. Nothing is so
big a problem that it can't be fixed."
The Perfect Itinerary
Five relaxing days in Anguilla
loyd Cole, a travel consultant
at New York-based Valerie Wilson Travel, designed a five-day
itinerary to Anguilla for clients who love food, spa treatments --
and, most importantly, relaxation.
Clients rent a car, which they can pick up at the Anguilla
airport. They'll drive to the 47-room Rendezvous Bay Hotel, which
sits on one of the most magnificent beaches in the Caribbean,
according to Cole.
"It's a family-run place that has a lot of warmth, style and
good accommodations," he said. "It's one of the best deals and
best-kept secrets in the Caribbean in terms of what it offers."
Clients can spend the rest of the day relaxing on the beach.
Clients have lunch at Smokey's on The Cove, which sits on the
beach. "It's got a lot of local color and really good food," Cole
That evening, clients may want to sample the local nightlife at
the Pumphouse, a former salt factory that has been transformed into
a bar and restaurant that features live reggae music.
Clients sample the spa treatments at the CuisinArt Resort &
Spa, a property that boasts its own hydroponics farm, where plants
are grown in special solutions. Clients can spend the day at the
resort, opting for tours of the farm or cooking classes.
For dinner, Cole recommended Blanchards, a casual yet very
elegant restaurant that serves a mixture of Caribbean, Asian and
Clients can take a day trip to St. Martin by catching a ferry to
the island's Marigot Bay, which takes about a half hour. This is
the French side of the island, with "some unusual shops and
excellent French restaurants," said Cole.
That evening, clients can dine at Pimms, located in the deluxe Cap
Juluca Resort. This candlelit restaurant overlooks the surf of
Maunday's Bay and serves upscale seafood dishes that blend the
cuisines of the Caribbean, Europe and Asia.
Clients sample the spa treatments at the Malliouhana Hotel,
which recently opened a spa.
In the afternoon, they can take a boat ride to Prickley Pear
Cay, a tiny, pristine island ideal for snorkeling and picnics.
The final dinner should be at the Cedar Grove Cafe at the
Rendezvous Bay Hotel. This restaurant serves seafood and
Caribbean-style cuisine, and diners can eat al fresco, facing the
Hand in Hand
Going the extra mile
n a business world filled with
uncertainties, Peter Friedman knows one thing for sure: If he books
his clients at a Concorde hotel such as the Hotel de Crillon or
Hotel Lutetia in Paris, they will receive service that is virtually
guaranteed to exceed their expectations.
Friedman, a luxury sales consultant for Delray Beach, Fla.-based
Unique Travel, said he discovered Concorde Hotels through the
agency's consortium, Virtuoso. (About 15% of the Concorde's
properties are preferred Virtuoso hotels.)
Friedman soon found that the hotel firm was willing to provide
extras that would really stand out in the client's mind -- perks
that went beyond those already available to Virtuoso agents, such
as upgrades and attractive rates.
After Friedman made his first Concorde booking, Jeffrey Levine,
Concorde's director of sales for the East Coast and Midwest, called
on the agency, bringing key on-site hotel personnel with him.
Levine and his on-site staff for upping the ante on the amenity
front. For example, after Friedman mentioned that he had booked a
cigar aficionado into the Crillon, the staff sent up cigars to the
client's room, along with flowers and champagne.
Another client, who was in Paris for one night only, requested
dinner at Jules Verne, the restaurant atop the Eiffel Tower.
"That's a very hard reservation to get, particularly on short
notice," said Friedman. The hotel ensured that the client got not
only a table but a window seat.
A week before clients are scheduled to arrive at a Concorde
hotel, Friedman sends an e-mail to them asking their precise time
of arrival so they will be greeted personally at the door.
For his part, Levine believes Concorde's high service level
simply makes good business sense. "We really work with the agents
that produce business for us -- and they support us, as well."
In the end, Concorde subscribes to "the old-fashioned way of
selling," said Levine, "which is building business based on
"Hand in Hand" highlights successful examples of agents and
suppliers working together. Send suggestions to Agent Life editor
Claudette Covey at [email protected].
Marc My Words
'You want fries with that?'
e sell in a fiercely
competitive environment today. But we're not the only ones: When
McDonald's saw Burger King and Wendy's cutting into its sales, it
immediately implemented a hard-to-beat tactic: the 99-cent Big Mac.
But how can one possibly make a profit from loss leaders? And how
are travel suppliers able to provide such low prices yet still make
The secret: The price cut isn't the whole tactic.
McDonald's was able to cut its Big Mac prices by training its
staff to more aggressively cross-sell the real profit-generators:
fries, shakes, large beverages and desserts.
packaged several items into an entire meal selling for a few
pennies less than the total price of those items bought
individually. In this way, it could sell more of the profit-making
items than customers might otherwise have purchased.
These same tactics are used by movie theater owners, who now
focus on concession stand rather than ticket sales -- the
high-priced (and lucrative) popcorn, candy and soft drinks that
account for nearly all of a theater's profits.
Here's how travel agents can put this lesson to use: Promote
great air fares but make money on everything else. Sell those
As in other industries, it isn't your core product -- airline
tickets -- that provides your agency with its best profit
opportunities, even if you do charge fees. It's the "side dishes"
-- those car rentals and stateroom upgrades, those precruise hotel
stays -- that make the difference between a fragile profit and a
Your clients may still come to you for the best air fares, but
your profitability depends upon your ability to make them aware of
options they haven't considered.
Remember: When you offer the "extras," you're doing your clients
a favor. It's very often the spectacular view from that stateroom
veranda they'll remember forever, and thank you for.
Marc Mancini is an industry speaker and consultant who
teaches at West Los Angeles College.
Creating effective ads
1. Every ad should have a well-stated and
defined objective. Agents should be clear on what they want to
accomplish, according to industry marketing consultant Bob
Stalbaum, president of Havertown, Pa.-based Strategies for Success.
"How you write your ad will vary greatly on what your objectives
are. Are you trying to generate new sales leads? Promote a new
service? Or increase public awareness of your agency?" he
2. Don't expect your ads to make the sale all
by themselves. "A primary purpose of advertising and marketing
should simply be to generate inquiries and phone calls," Stalbaum
said. To catch the fickle consumer's attention, "create ads that
are intriguing and eye-catching that use creative headlines and
plenty of white space to help them stand out from the crowd," he
3. Measure the effectiveness of your ad. "You
must insist that your agents ask callers how they heard about your
company -- preferably at the beginning of the conversation,"
Stalbaum said. He swears that if agents follow this formula, they
will know at the end of three or four months "where their marketing
money is giving them the biggest bang for their buck."
4. Don't accept the first terms you receive
from your chosen media, be it radio, TV or print. "Everything is
open to negotiation," said Stalbaum. "If you are using an
advertising vehicle for the first time, ask for a test rate." If
that fails, go for an upgrade in ad size, free color instead of
black and white, or favorable positioning.
5. Use ads to start marketing to potential
clients. When your campaign lures prospects who call for
information, send them a letter and some brochures. Even if there
is no immediate sale, make sure you start a file on each prospect
for repeated follow-ups. "Good sales and marketing dictates several
follow-ups," said Stalbaum. "It's all part of the discipline
required to succeed."