The dancing travel agent

Fred Anlyn, owner of Terra Linda Travel in San Rafael, Calif., hopes to waltz his way into agency profitability. Anlyn is turning his hobby, ballroom dancing, into his agency's specialty by combining dance lessons with travel for people who sit on the sidelines and tap their feet when the music starts.

"We are marketing to people in their 40s and up who have always wanted to learn how to dance. Now they can learn to dance while on vacation," he said. In the past year, Anlyn created a new division for his agency, Dance Travel International, to promote a series of travel packages that include dance instruction and sightseeing. The instruction typically is two hours per day, in swing, salsa, waltz and other popular ballroom-dance styles. Anlyn said the instruction was kept short so that husbands -- who typically only grudgingly attend dance events -- have plenty of free time to play golf or partake of other activities after accommodating their wives by taking the dance classes. Fred Anlyn

He knows what it's like to be the grudging dance partner, since he had to be coerced into taking his first lessons by his wife. However, he quickly became an enthusiastic amateur competitor. Now, "dancing is what I look forward to in life, " he said. Anlyn has begun advertising his programs in dance magazines and through direct mail. The company's Web site -- www.dancetravel.com -- also sells the programs and includes a photo gallery of dancers for browsers to check out. Although Anlyn said the company is "gathering a critical mass, still, we're tryin to determine how to get people who don't dance but would like to. "How do you find them? We haven't quite gotten that down yet."

Dance Travel also works with those who are serious hoofers, booking dance competitors around the country to the many competitions throughout the year, at sites that range from Columbus, Ohio, to San Francisco. And Anlyn is wholesaling programs to other agents.

Dance tours available

If you have clients who want to learn ballroom dancing, Dance Travel International, the San Rafael, Calif.-based division of Terra Linda Travel that sells dance travel packages, will pay 10% commission to agents on programs it is wholesaling.These include a one-week "dance camp" for beginners and those who want to improve their skills, held in Marin County, Calif., May 16 to 22. The trip includes 12 hours of group lessons and hotel accommodations with full buffet breakfast and a dance party. Optional activities include tours of San Francisco and the California wine country as well as hiking. The price is $649 per person, double.

There's also a dance cruise to the Mexican Riviera May 9 to 16 on Carnival Cruise Line's Elation that includes daily group lessons and is priced from $999 per person, double.For true dance-contest aficionados, Dance Travel is offering a package to the 1999 Hawaii Star Ball, held in Honolulu, during the third week of September, with accommodations at the Hawaiian Regent Hotel; prices are not yet available. For more information, call (800) 777-8871.

And keep this in mind: Lessons are a necessity for anyone serious about dancing, according to Fred Anlyn, owner of the company. "Trying to dance without knowing any steps is like trying to speak French without any vocabulary," he said.

Web warnings

Not long ago, I received a call from Laura Bly, a staff writer for USA Today and travel columnist for the Los Angeles Times, warning that even at the mega-travel sites on the Internet, she's found out-of-date information and blatant biases. The credibility issue also crops up for agents using the Internet to search for travel information for their clients. So when Web surfing, it pays to keep two things in mind.

First, although many sites are launched with great fanfare, a significant number fail to keep themselves maintained adequately. Second, cast a critical eye on the purpose of the site. If it is to promote a destination, attraction or property, you can bet that every beach will be isolated, every village quaint. Similarly, sites that are dependent on banner advertising or travel transactions for revenue are unlikely to be overly critical.

You can (in most cases) avoid commercial bias if you visit traveler chat rooms, but without knowing the travel style of the person behind the postings, can you trust his or her advice? We in the industry know that even the best tour operator serves up a nightmare trip occasionally, yet gripe sessions or lavish words of praise in chat rooms are usually based on a single experience. On the Web, anybody can take on the trappings of an expert, and you have good reason to be cautious about what you read.

Michael Kinsley of the Webzine Slate summed it up by saying that, in essence, when he goes out to eat, he wants his food prepared by the chef, not the guy at the next table. Feedback from fellow travelers, like meals prepared by fellow diners, should be taken with a grain of salt.

Arnie Weissmann, editor-in-chief of Weissmann Travel Reports (owned by TW parent company Cahners Travel Group), will be checking in occasionally with his thoughts on travel agents and the media.

Dive trade show

scuba diverThe International Diving Equipment and Travel Trade Show (DEMA) aims to help agents who sell dive travel with educational seminars as well as a trade show featuring providers of destination services and scuba-related hard and soft goods. Held Jan. 13 to 16 in the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, the program includes seminars on the legal aspects of selling dive travel; relationship marketing; selling specific dive travel products, such as land-based and eco-friendly programs, and an introduction on taking the plunge into this specialty, with specifics on players, packages, prices and wholesalers.

There's also a success story panel with tips, tricks and words of wisdom from seasoned pros. For a more complete list, check out the firm's Web site at www.dema.org. Sponsored in part by Travel Weekly, the DEMA show also allows agents to add to their educational credits; agents enrolled in ICTA's CTA or CTC program will receive seven continuing educational credits; all attendees receive the rating of dive travel specialist from the Dive Travel Association. The cost is $115 including handouts, a lunch and cocktail reception. Call (800) 282-2027.

Turnkey marketing program

Philadelphia-based industry consultant Bob Stalbaum thinks that cross-selling corporate clients leisure is one of the best ways for agencies to get more business. "What makes the most sense is to target customers who are already using you," he said. The cost of reaching these clients is much less than paying for an ad in your local newspaper where you're trying to talk to people who are completely unfamiliar with your services, he added -- and you can piggyback your leisure message onto vehicles already reaching corporate clients, such as flyers placed in their business travel tickets.

Stalbaum's company, Strategies for Success, is offering a direct-mail product that agencies can use to cross-sell corporate business on leisure or to sell directly to leisure clients. Designed and written by Stalbaum, the pieces of the campaign include a brochure that can be customized to feature from nine to 10 different trips and can be printed in up to five colors; four different ticket stuffers, and an ad campaign in three different sizes.

Once Stalbaum has customized the pieces for a particular agency, the finished product is given to the agency on a disk so it can be used again and again. For more information, call (610) 853-6971.

More on fees

By Robert Joselyn

Agents can probably expect "future changes in traditional revenue streams," according to Scottsdale, Ariz.-based industry consultant Robert Joselyn. "In any situation where you now receive a commission that is realistically out of proportion to the work performed, you had better consider yourself extremely vulnerable," he warned. Commission cuts are "going to happen whether you or I like it or not. The issue becomes, what are you going to do about it?"

Speaking during an ASTA teleconference on service fees, Joselyn told a record 4,800 listeners that to remain profitable, travel agencies will have to get a better handle on expenses and charge clients service fees. "We need to know what profit we are making and losing on every single sale," he said. "In order to do that, we need to know what it costs us to provide these services." To determine what amount to charge, Joselyn suggested the agency should consider its overall expenses and how much revenue is necessary to remain profitable. Dividing that total by the amount of time agents actually spend selling travel should help determine a basic fee structure.

Joselyn said agencies also should pass along the marked-up costs of other services they provide to the client, such as the labor costs associated with express mailing documents or booking bed-and-breakfast reservations. "There's no doubt that the agency that implements fees will lose [some] business," Joselyn said. "But if implemented correctly, [the benefits] far outweigh in revenue any business lost."

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