Whatever you do, dont call Admiral Travel
Gallery a travel agency, because as far as its owners are
concerned, it isnt -- certainly not in the traditional sense.
Malaka Hilton, who
co-owns the agency with her husband, Ryan Hilton, has worked
tirelessly to make Sarasota, Fla.-based Admiral
In the past, people
have viewed travel agents as order takers, Hilton said. We decided
years ago that we didnt want to be classified that way because we
do so much more.
One way Admiral
differentiates itself is in the ambience of its new offices, which
are located in the heart of the citys arts district. In effect,
said Hilton, Admiral wants to showcase the art of
We moved into this
gorgeous new office with leather walls and sliding glass doors,
Custom photography and
original artwork and handcrafts are on display. In December,
Admiral will feature its first of an ongoing series of gallery
opening and wine tastings.
Admiral employees are
never referred to as travel agents but as travel professionals and
Our vision is to employ
a person who specializes in every destination in the world, said
One of Hiltons areas of
expertise is Egypt, a destination that is like a second home to
her, in large part because she has traveled there at least once a
year since the age of four with her Egyptian-born father and
I can do things for my
customers that nobody else can, she said, adding that she hosts
barbecues at family members homes in the Pyramid district and
offers other events and activities that would be extremely
difficult for anyone but an insider to arrange.
Her husband, whom she
met at a South Africa game reserve where he worked as a guide,
serves as the agencys Africa and safari specialist. While she
oversees the personnel side of the business, he handles Admirals
Both are group experts
who take travelers on unique itineraries. Admiral partners with a
host of cultural institutions that provide its customers with
insider access to regional and international events, such as the
Cannes Film Festival and Chinese New Year.
My husband and I have
made a conscious effort to get our name out locally through charity
events and such cultural institutions as the Sarasota Film Festival
and the Oslo Theater Company. Cultural institutions have figured
out that they can raise a lot of money through travel, said Hilton.
And Ive stepped in and said, Id like to be your travel company of
Admiral also partners
with high-profile individuals, having formed working partnerships
with such luminaries as designer Salvatore Ferragamo and chef Roy
Yamaguchi, founder of 30 Roys restaurants in the U.S. mainland,
Hawaii and on Guam.
Exclusive product is
our niche, and its very important to us, said Hilton. We cater to
those travelers who want the wow factor.
Ferragamo will escort
an Admiral group next year on a tour exploring Italys Tuscany
region. The itinerary will include a private tour of Florence and
the Ferragamo Store and Museum. It will also feature a visit to his
familys winery in Tuscany as well as the exclusive Il Palio horse
race in Sienna.
Yamaguchi will join an
Admiral group next year on a South African Winelands and safari
tour, which includes a private dinner with the chef at the Cape
Grace Hotel in Cape Town.
When I meet people I
like to envision how we can do business together, and then I just
start brainstorming, said Hilton. Sometimes it works and appeals to
the people I talk to and meet, and sometimes it doesnt. I make sure
its not only appealing to me and the future of my business, but to
theirs as well.
Hilton said that
creative thinking, impeccable service and 24/7 accessibility are
what draws new customers and marketing partnerships.
My cell phone is
printed on my business card, and I keep my cell phone on all the
time, said Hilton. My customers know that no matter where they are
or what time it is, they can call me.
Hilton said success
will come to travel counselors who couple creativity with
flexibility. The ones who will succeed have to be dynamic and
willing to adapt to change, she said. This is a dynamic industry,
and its always changing.
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
A tour of three
Charmaine Mirza, who specializes in custom
travel at Tampa-based Exeter International, offered this five-night
Baltics itinerary. The itinerary is a portion of a seven-night
vacation. This itinerary would appeal to
travelers who are interested in slightly off-the-beaten-path,
historical destinations, said Mirza. Travelers visit Tallinn,
Estonia; Riga, Latvia; and Vilnius, Lithuania.
Travelers check into
the Three Sisters Hotel, located in the heart of Old Tallinn. A
walking tour of Tallinn, a city of ancient castles, stone towers
and medieval streets, takes clients through the heart of Old
Tallinn, Toompea Castle, St. Marys Cathedral and the Alexander
Nevsky Cathedral. Other highlights include visits to the town
square with its Gothic and Baroque town hall and the citys guild
houses. The site for dinner is Restaurant Maikrahv in the Old
driver and guide takes them outside Tallinn to visit Kadriorg Park
and Palace. Founded by Peter the Great, Kadriorg Palace now houses
the National Gallery of Arts Foreign Art Collection. They dine at
Restaurant Gloria, which Mirza said feels like a step back in time
to the 1930s. The restaurant, which serves international fare, is
known to have the best wine list in Tallinn.
A four-plus hour drive
transports travelers to Riga, where they check into the Grand
Palace Hotel. Travelers can spend the afternoon taking in Rigas Art
Nouveau architecture and St. Peters Church, one of the oldest in
the city and an excellent example of Gothic architecture. Other areas to explore include the
Riga castle complex and the medieval Jurgendstil District. Clients
dine at Restaurant Melnie Muki, an establishment popular with
locals that is located in a medieval cloister.
Travelers are driven to
Vilnius, which dates to the fifth century B.C. During the
approximately five-and-half-hour drive from Riga, they can stop at
the 17th-century Rundale Palace. They check into the Stikliai
The day is reserved for
a tour of Vilnius beautiful churches, the Gates of Dawn, Vilnius
University, the Gediminas Castle Museum and the KGB Museum. The
site for dinner is Restaurant Medininkai. Located in Old Town, it
has a 16th-century courtyard and serves traditional dishes with a
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].
offers cruisers something special
Skinner doesnt just sell cruises. He says he creates
multidimensional travel experiences that are completely
One way in which
Skinner, co-owner of Cruise Holidays in Woodinville, Wash., makes
this happen is by working with suppliers that bring those extra
dimensions to the cruise experience.
One such company that
Skinner works with regularly is London, Ontario-based Boutique
Escapes, which specializes in pre- and post-cruise tours, shore
excursions and FIT land vacations. We tell them our clients
interests, and they set up everything, said Skinner.
The experiences are
tailored to customers profiles, Skinner said, pointing to a recent
trip that Boutique Escapes designed for his clients in Santa
We booked the clients
in a farmhouse, and every day theyd drive back [from sightseeing]
in anticipation of what the chef was going to prepare for them,
When something goes
wrong the company fixes the problem in a heartbeat, Skinner
We had customers who
prepaid a Rome hotel, and there was no record of the prepayment, he
Skinner called Boutique
Escapes on a Sunday, and within an hour, the problem was
The hotel day manager
had forgotten to brief the night manager that the clients had
prepaid, Skinner said, adding that the hotel provided the clients
with a bottle of wine for the inconvenience.
Sharon Assis, who
operates Boutique Escapes with her two sisters, Susan Lawrence and
Sandy Velikonja, said agents are provided a complete program for
their clients, be it a land tour or shore excursion.
We look after the
client so the agent doesnt have to, she said.
The company, which has
a longstanding relationship with Cruise Holidays franchisees,
simply works toward creating out-of-the-ordinary travel
experiences, said Assis. We want raving customers -- in the
Hand in Hand
highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working
together. Send suggestions to Covey at [email protected].
Airline posing as
corporate travel agency
Companies change directions to
attract new customers. Sears gave up its catalog and now owns
Kmart. Automobile dealers once sold one brand, such as Chevrolet or
Ford; today, they sell a variety of cars, including U.S. and
foreign brands, under one roof. The most recent travel company
changing direction is United Airlines.
In an effort to emerge
from bankruptcy with a running head start, United has decided to
discard the marketing practices that it and other airlines have
used for years and take a new approach. Its target market is small
to midsize corporate accounts. Its strategy is to lure those
companies to their new site, UnitedGoBusiness.com. Its home page lists the program
savings, rewards and features (my comments are in
Exclusive, up front
discounts, up to 4% off published fares. (Will agencies have the
same discounts in their GDSs?)
No transaction fees.
(Didnt United tell agencies to charge fees when they eliminated
fee. Unlike other corporate online booking tools. (Unlike
progressive travel agencies offering online booking tools?)
Mileage Plus bonus
miles -- 1,000 per booking. (Will the miles be given to the client
when agencies book them on the site?)
Air, hotel and car
inventories. Displays United and other airlines. (Is this an
airline or a travel agency?)
Online exchange and
cancel. (No phone calls?)
Compare fares. United
and competitors. (Just like an agency GDS.)
management. (An agency creation.)
Reporting. (Just like
Redeem unused tickets
(Wow, a new term for e-ticket tracking.)
Allow employees to book on behalf of others. (A routine practice in
messages. Real-time communications. (Agencies started this back in
support. Supports your travelers 24/7. (With real people the way
travel agencies have been doing forever?)
What an endorsement for
all agencies serving corporations! An airline is finally admitting
the travel agency model is much better than the airlines for
attracting and serving business travelers.
One would have thought
an airline moving into this end of the travel business could have
been more creative.
It would have been nice
if United had one original idea. Instead, it copied agency programs
right down the line. I guess United cant break that match it
United has two major
objectives for moving in this new direction. The first is to
dramatically reduce the booking fees it pays to the GDSs. United
has achieved that by reducing its cost to about $2 per booking with
its Web site and the help of Orbitz.
It appears the second
goal is to compete against airlines and agencies in the corporate
arena. It will be interesting to see if United will go it
Just imagine what
United could do if it teamed up with the corporate travel agency
community and they worked together.
Let agencies provide
their clients with the same discounts they will give on the United
GoBusiness site. Allow agencies to give 1,000 bonus miles when
their clients contact the agency and the agency books it on the new
site. Make joint calls with the agencies that have been effectively
closing accounts for years.
United has seen the
light and understands the corporate travel agency programs and not
the airlines are the choice of the business world.
Lets hope United has
the wisdom to work in concert with the corporate agency
The airline has enough
on its plate fighting off the growth of the low-cost carriers,
negotiating with its unions, facing the erosion of its market share
and, of course, finding a way to be profitable.
The last thing in the
world United needs is to go head to head -- alone -- against the
most creative, aggressive, tenacious and profitable group in the
travel industry -- the corporate travel management
John Dalton is an
industry consultant, trainer and speaker. He can be reached at
(336) 431-1596 or by e-mail at [email protected].
Selling more tour
Know the product. There are an array of tours and packages. Variety
and choice are the name of the tour game these days -- variety in
types of tours, prices, activities and destinations, said Hank
Phillips, president of the National Tour Association. Success in
this vibrant market dictates that agents need to be students,
developing a strong understanding of whats out there that will
appeal to their clients needs and interests.
a business developer. Dont just wait for the phone to ring,
especially with group tours. Look for clients in the form of local
organizations, clubs and churches, Phillips said. Retailers should
target groups that represent special interests or activities that
can translate into special-interest tours and packages.
Know your client. The best travel experiences are those that
connect with the travelers interests, preferences and their
imaginations, said Phillips. When selling tours, he said retailers
need to drill down into what the client is looking for, what he or
she likes and doesnt like and any special needs. Often the best
salesperson is the one who asks the most questions.
Communicate. Personal relationships can fail due to a lack of
communication. Agents and operator relationships can meet the same
fate for the same reason, said Phillips. Maintain contact with the
tour operators you work with. Find out whats new and whats hot in
what the operator is offering. Communication with the operator
helps the agent understand how the tour company operates and what
information is needed from or about the client. When a tour is
booked, dont delay in communicating the needed information to the
Loyalty. In todays business world, too often there is too little
loyalty, Phillips said. If you find a tour company that does good
work and provides good value, stick with that company, he said.
Travel agents and tour operators share a longstanding and mutually
beneficial relationship, said Phillips. Due to challenges that both
partners are experiencing, that relationship has never been more
important than it is today. Keep the business flowing.