The Liberty to Sell

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What makes Ramsey, N.J.-based Liberty Travel a top leisure agency, consistently placing in the top 10 of Travel Weekly's annual roundup of Top 50 agencies?

Liberty Travel logoNo magic sales secrets, "just tried-and-true techniques generic to any salesperson," according to vice president of sales Cathy Pelaez, who's responsible for the company's sales training. For Liberty agents, "the biggest skill required is listening and asking open-ended questions that allow the client to interact in the process," said Pelaez.

"We do role playing in our sales classes, and I'll set up a scenario like a recently divorced woman who is traveling alone for the first time. A lot of times, we don't recognize what the real need is. We think the need is to buy a vacation, but it can also be to have a concern allayed, as with the woman who's nervous about traveling alone. If you can put that person at ease, she's yours."

Also key are the following company policies:

  • A strong pay-for-performance program. "Liberty agents are shareholders who have a chance to earn additional income both in commissions and bonuses," said Pelaez. In fact, some agents--such as Paul Gilbert, who works in a Manhattan Liberty office--earn in the six figures.
  • Extensive training. All new hires go through a two-week program at headquarters, and they attend periodic refresher courses.
  • Focus on value-added programs, such as a current promotion in which clients booking with a MasterCard get their choice of a variety of gifts.
  • Plenty of client follow-up. The HWT ("How was your trip?") call three days after a client returns is standard operating procedure. For new travel agents especially, the HWT call can be a great way to pick up firsthand information about any destination.
  • How-Tos for Trainers

    Cathy PelaezLiberty Travel's Cathy Pelaez offers the following tips for owners or managers looking to educate their staff:

  • Start by training yourself, and look beyond the typical industry classes. "Sales and customer service skills are all generic." For example, she takes American Management Association seminars, then relates this material to the travel industry when she teaches. For information on the AMA, call (800) 262-9699.
  • Begin training with those agents who will be most receptive to your message and the most apt pupils. "Start with some positive reinforcement, so you don't feel like you're beating your head against a wall."
  • Choose a teaching approach, either teaching all agents together or having them practice one skill at a time working in-depth with one person at a time. "If everybody's at the same level, you can take [the first] approach," said Pelaez. If there are different skill levels, work one on one.
  • When teaching adults, feedback and constant reinforcement are everything, said Pelaez. Also key are an interactive and varied format and a changing curriculum. One interactive technique is to throw out a set of provocative statements for agents to respond to. Another is role playing, particularly useful for sales training. Pelaez cautioned that agents need to be at a certain level of comfort for role playing; don't introduce this technique in your first class.
  • Writing the Plan

    Dick LandisA business plan is the key to consistent profitability for every travel agency, according to Dick Landis, the head coach at Travel Agency Management Services (TAMS), a networking and marketing group for agents based in Wayzata, Minn. Landis provided the following tips on the topic during an ASTA teleconference seminar:

  • The planning process should involve as many people in the agency as possible. "It must be everyone's plan, not just the owners', so everybody can have an equity in the business."
  • The ingredients of an effective business plan can be summed up in just three questions: Where are we? Where do we want to be? How are we going to get there?
  • To focus on where you want your agency to be in three years, try this visualization exercise, described by Landis: "Lie down on your couch and imagine you're in a hot-air balloon floating over your agency. As you look down, what do you want to see? What level of sales, product mix and profitability? What kind of training program? What automation changes?"
  • Set up a collection of specific, clear and measurable goals. The best goals are also action-oriented and realistic, which means achievable with some extra effort. They should have a date by which success or failure is to be assessed. An example: You want to increase your agency's pre-tax income by 25% by 12/31/99.
  • Determine a range of acceptability for your performance in achieving a goal. For example, in the previous goal, the minimum might be 18% increase; the maximum, 30%.
  • An effective business plan should have no more than 10 goals. For balance, be sure to include three growth or innovation goals; three dealing with actual productivity, such as sales generated by each agent, and three dealing with profitability. The last one can represent your secret wish, such as an income or vacation goal.
  • Just Rewards

    by Henry Magenheim

    Know any firefighters who rushed to help put out Florida's recent wildfires? Let them know that two Florida theme parks--SeaWorld Adventure Park in Orlando and Busch Gardens, Tampa Bay--are planning to reward them with a free one-year pass. The pass offer extends beyond Florida's borders, so agents can contact local firefighting groups to handle their travel arrangements. More than 30,000 professional and volunteer statewide firefighters responded to the call for help, but so did 5,000 out-of-state firefighters. To receive the one-year pass, firefighters must present proof of employment and photo ID at either park's annual pass center no later than Sept. 30.

    Net News

  • Access America. Access America's site enables travel agent partners to order client travel insurance, brochures and claim forms via a secure intranet. The private agent network is called Agent Net. www.accessamerica.com
  • CSA Travel Protection. CSA Travel Protection's Web site allows agents to sign up as CSA partners, request claim forms and order travel insurance on line, using the AT&T Secure Buy System. CSA is running a contest with a $1,000 cash prize for the travel agent who sells the most CSA policies on line over the next year. Go to www.travelsecure.com
  • Compiled by Jennifer Dorsey. To submit suggestions for Net News, send e-mail to [email protected].

    A Unique Opportunity

    "I sailed on a seven-night Panama Canal cruise on Premier Cruises' OceanBreeze and wasn't the least disappointed in the ship's appearance, service or dining. The highlight was the itinerary [with its] shore excursions--especially our unique opportunity to go ashore during the ship's transit of the canal. While there, we had a day of festivities. Then we were taken to a viewing overlook to watch the ship transit the locks. The jungle boat cruise from Puerto Limon, Costa Rica, was another Kodak moment. For clients age 30 to 55, this ship is a must sell."
    -- David Denault, D&D Cruise & Tours,

    Woodstock, Ga.

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