The Purdue connection

n 1993, Beatrice and Kendall Smith bought Lafayette Travel & Cruise in West Lafayette, Ind., near Purdue University, from Beatrice's father, James Irvin, who had been a co-owner since 1968. Beatrice herself had served five years as manager of this leisure agency, which was founded in 1948.

The $5 million Lafayette Travel is the official agency for Purdue's athletic department. It has an on-campus branch office run by the Smiths' daughter, Carina Biggs, who is a Purdue graduate with a degree in tourism.

Lafayette Travel & Cruise was founded in 1948 in a building that formerly housed a gas station. But the agency is involved in more than just Purdue's athletics department. It also books travel for the school's study abroad programs throughout Europe and other destinations and has sent professors on summer research projects to places like Malaysia.

In January, the agency escorted 900 fans from the university on a four-night trip to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, Calif., to see the Boilermakers play their first Rose Bowl in 34 years, against the Washington Huskies.

The agency chartered four planes for the event and used two hotels to house all the students and their friends and families.

Aside from its proximity, the agency has many other points of contact with Purdue.

Six members of the staff are Purdue alumni, including its president, vice president and assistant on-campus manager.

The Smiths are pictured here with their daughter, Carina Biggs, left, and office manager Dianna Ping, right, at a booth in the local mall where they promoting rain-forest tours. Plus Lafayette Travel employs a continuous stream of interns from the university's school of restaurant, hotel and tourism management.

According to the Smiths, the success of the agency can best be attributed to its experienced agents and managers and its close relationship with the faculty and students of the university.

Beatrice Smith, who has hired a few recent grads from the college's hospitality school, added, "We are very flexible with hours and scheduling and hire some agents on a part-time basis, allowing them to work from home at times, using remote-location Sabre terminals."

She added that the agency has been garnering quite a bit of attention from this university town because of the efforts it has made to bring its physical appearance up to date.

"When I first started here in 1989, the place was entirely run down; it looked more like an abandoned building than an agency.

"So in 1993, we gutted the whole building, painted it, bought all new furniture and framed art for the walls. Now it's a fun look."

The agency also installed creative landscaping, sidewalks made with paver bricks, antique lampposts and a new parking lot.

"The village liked what we were doing so much that they paid for half our costs and adopted the antique look for the rest of town," she added.

-- Michele SanFilippo

Getting the word out

afayette Travel & Cruise in West Lafayette, Ind., has had its own Web site at www.lafayettetravelandcruise.com for five years and has redesigned it twice.

"We get a lot of interest from the site from clients and others who have moved away but remain loyal," said agency president Beatrice Smith.

"We are always trying to capture more business on line."

Kendall Smith co-authored the book, About six months ago, the agency started marketing its group travel business nationally by way of a specially designated Web site, at www.grouptravel.net.

The agency also features an air consolidator business with its own site, at www.theconsolidators.com, that focuses on flights to Central and South America. Spanish-speaking agents handle this part of the business, which caters to the area's Latin American market.

One of the specialists is department head Olga Sego, who hails from Mexico City and has a large following among the Latino community.

In addition to its Web sites, the agency promotes its services through radio and print ads and direct-mail campaigns with the preferred suppliers of its agency network, American Express.

Also, in October 1999, agency vice president Kendall Smith co-authored "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Planning a Trip Online," which teaches consumers how to research on line but suggests buying through agencies for the service and assistance they provide.

He said that the decline in the profitability of air sales motivated the agency to branch out and focus on different aspects of the business.

"Selling air is not worth it anymore, so we charge service fees and sell value-added packages instead," he said.

"We even encourage clients who just want airline tickets to visit our Web site with its direct link to Sabre."

Ten Commandments of agent fam trips

laudine Dervaes, president of Tampa, Fla.-based Solitaire Publishing, offered the following "Ten Commandments" for agents participating in familiarization trips:

  • Thou shalt dress and act appropriately at all times as you are representing the agency and the professionalism of the industry.
  • Thou shalt participate in all functions as failure to do so without permission is not only rude but inconsiderate of suppliers and organizers.
  • Thou shalt be prompt, courteous and considerate.
  • Claudine Dervaes.

  • Thou shalt appreciate the differences one finds in foreign surroundings and not expect things to be as they are at home or complain about the differences.
  • Thou shalt not overindulge in temptations -- whether food or drink or sun or shopping or companionship. Don't do anything that embarrasses yourself, your agency or your hosts.
  • Thou shalt treat the hosts and people of the destination with respect. Honor customs and social ways and do not expect special treatment.
  • Thou shalt take notes and photos (when permissible and appropriate) and leave only footprints. Be considerate of nature and ecology.
  • Thou shalt endeavor to learn as much as possible and to enjoy the destination for its advantages -- realizing that every place is a home to someone.
  • Thou shalt be responsible for tipping and other fees or charges as necessary and be aware of what is expected.
  • Thou shalt share the knowledge and experiences of the trip with the agency staff upon return.
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