Much has been made of the fact that the
vast majority of travel agents are women -- 83% in 2004, according
to the U.S. Census Bureau -- but does it automatically follow that
agencies are any more family-friendly than other industries? In
fact, issues over part-time employment, flexible hours and outside
contractors are frequently the subject of debate and anxiety,
judging from the popularity of seminars and literature on the
president of Atlas Travel International in Milford, Mass., takes a
Osgood is so clued
in to the needs of her female employees that her agency was
recently honored by Working Mother magazine as one of the nations
25 best small companies for which to work. In 2006, Osgood was also
featured in the Worcester (Mass.) Business Journal as one of the
business leaders of the year.
of the recognition, Osgood says her management style is not so much
innovative as, quite simply, a no-brainer.
commitment to families came right from the beginning, she said. My
background [prior to becoming a travel agent] was all about
building relationships, and I continue to do that with my
Of the many
flexible arrangements Osgood makes with her employees, the most
popular is that she allows them -- 85% at last count -- to work
from home. Her agency is staffed with about 65 full-time employees
and a shifting number of part-time agents, and her business mix is
about 80% corporate.
To agency owners
who balk at the idea of letting so many employees work from home,
Osgood says, We find we get more productivity from our folks. They
dont have to put up with a long commute or worry about the kids at
home, and because the word is out about us, its so much easier for
us to find people to hire. I frequently get calls from agents
wanting to work for us because of the benefits we offer.
family-friendly benefits include hosting companywide parties to
which entire families, including pets, are invited and flown in
from across the country to attend.
Osgood is also
generous with maternity leave and time off for staff members in the
process of adoption.Nor are her policies geared exclusively to
women: She has a male employee currently on paternity
each agents anniversary with the company by taking that person out
to lunch and giving him or her a customized present, such as a
weekend away or a gift certificate to a home-improvement
As to whether all
this nurturing works, the proof is in the numbers: The agency
reported a 65% increase in the number of transactions in 2005 over
2004, with the trend increasing in 2006, she said.
A former inner-city
school teacher and child abuse investigator for the state of
Massachusetts, Osgood turned her attention to the business world in
Because she lacked
hands-on business experience, she researched franchise
opportunities and took the plunge with Uniglobe.
At the outset,
Osgood spent most of her time scaring up business, with the help of
one trained travel agent who took care of anyone I could get to
Lacking the capital
for quick expansion, she built her business slowly with part-time
staff who worked one at a time into full-time employees.
At a small company,
you get to know your employees families, their pets and the issues
we all have in our personal lives. People are not all about their
work, and its important to allow them to be human.
For agents seeking
to create a warmer corporate culture, Osgood suggests starting by
asking employees what they need.
Ask how you can
improve the work environment for them, then listen. They know what
they need rather than you guessing at it.
The next step is to
act on what youve heard.
The biggest mistake
managers make is to say they will do something, then not do
it,Osgood said. You lose all credibility.
If agents want to
work at home, she suggests picking a few with proven track records
until there is a comfort level with having people working from
Finally, she said,
be open to change. For someone who is used to managing people face
to face, it takes a different style when you dont see the person
all the time.
Think youre a
good candidate for an upcoming Agent Life? Contact Felicity Long,
Agent Life editor, at [email protected]. Include your agency
name, agency location, telephone number and e-mail address in the
message and put Agent Life in the subject line.
the Loire Valley
Jean-Francois Dabrowski is the director of
France Cruises, which operates as a tour operator and travel
agency. France Cruises specializes in tours of France via its
scenic waterways, as the companys name implies. Dabrowski mapped
out a Loire Valley cruise aboard the 118-foot Meanderer, which
holds just six guests in three air conditioned cabins, each with
its own bathroom and shower. Travelers are transported to and from
their Paris hotel to the vessel before and after the start of their
After breakfast on
board the Meanderer, travelers embark on an excursion to the
chateau Vaux le Vicomte in Maincy, where The Man With the Iron Mask
was filmed. The chateau, which has formal gardens and a collection
of horse-drawn carriages, was the inspiration for the Palace of
Versailles. After lunch onboard, travelers embark on a leisurely
cruise to Montcresson, known for its picturesque
The morning is
spent on an excursion to the busy market town of Montargis to
explore, browse for souvenirs and shop for confectionery from the
famous Mazet Praline shop. Travelers spend the afternoon cruising
to the village of Chatillon Coligny, which is presided over by a
excursion takes in a re-created 16th-century working farm and the
Chateau of St. Fargeau, built on the site of a 10th-century
fortress.Upon returning to the barge, the afternoon cruise visits
Rognyles-Sept-Ecluses and includes a chance to walk the ancient
staircase of locks of the old canal.
The daily excursion
is a visit to the town of Gien. Set on the banks of the Loire
River, the pretty town holds many attractions, including the Faience Factory
Museum and Boutique, the Hunting Museum and the Chateau de Gien.
After visiting Gien, passengers return to the barge for a cruise to
excursion takes travelers to the renowned wine region of Sancerre,
where they will be able to taste wine and explore the charming
hilltop village. The cruise takes in the scenery of the worlds
longest aqueduct, which crosses the Loire River. The Vaux le
Vicomte in Maincy has a formal gardens and a collection of
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 to [email protected] with Perfect Itinerary in the
dive resort give an A-1 effort
Stories of travel agencies that do well by
doing good can come from unexpected segments of the industry. A
case in point is A-1 Scuba & Travel Center in Englewood, Colo.,
which recently escorted a group of five paralyzed scuba divers to
Divi Tiara Beach Resort in Cayman Brac.
The trip was part
of a dive therapy/disabled diver program for quadriplegics and
paraplegics created in conjunction with Craig Hospital, also in
Englewood, which is known for its work with patients who have
spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
A-1 Scuba operates
a store for diving enthusiasts and a travel agency, according to
its co-owner and director of training, Scott Taylor.
Taylor, whose wife
Lynn runs the travel agency, was a physical therapist at Craig
Hospital until he retired in 1984 and devoted himself full-time to
his love of diving.
The dive therapy
program started slowly with a few disabled divers a year until, in
January, Taylor met Max Hillier, the general manager of the Divi
We talked to him
about disabled diving, and we decided to do a group trip, Taylor
Taylor said the
property was accommodating to the group, which also included divers
without disabilities, beyond expectations.
I thought each
disabled diver would get an able-bodied assistant dive buddy, but
we had a dive master, and every one else was an instructor or
The Divi Tiara
staff had a similarly positive reaction.
It is a great
privilege to allow those who have been challenged by physical
conditions to feel the freedom from their disability and to
re-energize their passion for life and getting involved in
activities, Hillier said of the partnership.
Divi Flamingo Beach
Resort & Casino in Bonaire also offers facilities for
handicapped guests and divers and has hosted disabled diving
As for Taylor, he
is contemplating organizing other tours on a regular
Hand in Hand
highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working
together. Send suggestions to [email protected] with Hand in Hand in the
Going the extra
Every once in a while, I think it
is wise to try to remember that ours is the most global of global
business models. If we cant adjust to globalization, how will our
We are taught and
we self-learn destinations.
It is a peculiar
kind of learning. We know the best rooms at the best hotel and the
best time to see the sun set in the tiny village of Oia on the
northwest corner of Santorini.
But when we send
our clients to the Greek islands do we give them any sense of the
place they are visiting? Do they know anything at all about current
issues? Do they know what the headlines are saying in the
destinations local paper?
Up to now, the
answer has pretty much been no.
So our clients go
to Greece and dont know that the Greeks consume more olive oil than
any other people on earth or that nothing can ever be accomplished
in Greece between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. because of the strong belief in
But I wonder if we
dont need to be thinking about taking on still another
responsibility in our growing role as travel
How many clients,
for instance, were sent to China this winter without being aware
that the largest annual movement of humanity in history occurred
between Jan. 14 and Feb. 28, when several hundred million Chinese,
representing about 2 billion trips, traveled between the city and
farm to celebrate the lunar new year? Had each client been given an
English-language Chinese newspaper, this information would have
The Internet makes
it possible to download information from the worlds press
relatively easily. Finding research staff to download appropriate
materials is probably not going to be a daunting task.
Many of us already
provide historical background material for our departing clients.
Some of us see to it that clients have the appropriate books for
background research. Suppliers like Abercrombie & Kent and
Tauck World Discovery provide reading lists.
But thus far, no
one is making a conscious effort to brief clients on current issues
for each destination they are visiting. What is the man on the
street talking about? What are the current issues revolving around
education, healthcare, crime and politics? What are the latest
If our clients have
to seek this information on their own, they will find it
increasingly tempting to do the whole trip themselves.
Over the years,
many suppliers have grossly miscalculated the interest Americans
have in the detailed history of the places they are visiting. More
and more travelers seek a sense of place, an understanding of
They want to know
the hottest restaurants and the hottest residential areas. They
want to know what things cost. No supplier, to my knowledge,
adequately provides this type of background material to our
clients. The plane lands in Lima and few, if any, of the Americans
getting off have any idea of current issues or conditions in the
vacuum provides an opportunity for a consultant to go far beyond
Do we need to
advise clients, for instance, that they may be offered frog juice,
made from honey and Titicaca frogs? Or that the Inca Trail is the
most popular hiking route in South America, but you have to be part
of a registered group?
Perhaps we have to
say that it is the local guide, most often trained as a historian,
who will deliver the historical goods. It is the consultants role
to provide the contemporary overview for the arriving
We must take
responsibility for imparting a sense of place to our clients. We
can use some of the free timewe all have to do it.
consultant Richard Turen owns the vacation-planning firm Churchill
and Turen, based in Naperville, Ill. An industry veteran of nearly
25 years, he has been named to Conde Nast Travelers Best Agents
list since its inception in 2000.
that lead to medical evacuations
Motor vehicle accidents. Crashes, either involving rental cars
overseas or travelers own cars in the U.S., are the most common
reasons why travelers land in the hospital, according to AirMed
International, an evacuation specialist. The majority of road crash
victims in developing countries are outside the vehicle:
pedestrians, motorcyclists and bicyclists. According to the U.S.
State Dept., more than 200 U.S. citizens
die each year as a
result of road accidents abroad.
Heart attacks or other cardiac episodes. According to the American
Heart Association, approximately 1.2 million U.S. residents suffer
a first or a recurrent heart attack each year. The stress of travel
can be a triggering factor for heart-related crises among travelers
with heart conditions.
Food poisoning. Some destinations may be particularly well known
for being hazardous places to eat, but food can go bad anywhere.
According to Wrongdiagnosis.com, an estimated 1.4 million people in
the U.S. are infected with salmonella annually (and those are only
the reported cases) and another 25,000 are infected by E
Animal, reptile and insect bites. Animal bites can cause permanent
damage and pose a risk of rabies, reptile bites can be poisonous
and insect bites can be poisonous or produce severe allergic
reactions. Smaller reptiles like snakes can hide in campgrounds,
natural swimming holes or storage closets, while poisonous
arachnids like scorpions will hide in shoes and luggage, beneath
furniture and camping gear.
Adventure accidents during activities such as hiking, skiing and
swimming. Travelers can be overzealous in their quest for fun and
excitement, while not recognizing the limits to their abilities or
taking precautions associated with such activities. Given that many
adventure tours take travelers to remote areas, accidents of this
type can be particularly hazardous, as the nearest medical facility
may be many miles away.