The happy travel rookie

"Are you crazy? Does your husband have a real job so you can have food on the table?" That's what Beverly Armellino typically hears when she tells people she just bought a travel agency.

Armellino'sArmellino, who has owned Travel Trends in Monmouth Beach, N.J., for half a year now, is unfazed by the jeers. She loves her new job. And she went to travel school for a year before she bought her agency, so "I basically knew what I was getting into. I heard about the caps and the cuts."

Armellino bought a thriving agency owned by two women who wanted to slow down their active involvement in the business to prepare for retirement. Her story is a reminder that, yes, there are still good things in the travel industry.

She can't help comparing this job to her last one. As secretary to the head of the New Jersey Department of Health, "complaints would be passed on to me all the time," she said. "I'd have to pacify people constantly, so I learned how to deal with the public."

Typically, she'd have to face "nasty, upset people" whose angry calls for service were frequently prefaced by the phrase, "I pay your salary. I'm a taxpayer." That's a 180-degree turn from her typical daily encounters with "people who are happy because they're going on vacation" -- and she's very grateful for the switch. Armellino is also happy to be her own boss. "My husband always told me, 'you're wasting your time working for somebody else.'"

And she enjoys using the excellent organizational skills she developed as a secretary: "In travel school, they said being organized was very important," she said. "Now, when people come in and ask me about a destination, I may not know that much about it, but I do know where to call."

All these good things translate into a new peace of mind despite any headaches the industry will bring, Armellino said. "When I go back to visit people from my old job, they say, 'you look better than you ever did before.' "

On a learning curve

business cardRookie agent Beverly Armellino is happy with her new field. "Every day's a learning experience," she said. And she's out there energetically attending seminars and workshops, from ASTA's recent Vacationfest conference in Anaheim to a tour operator show, local trade shows, fam trips and meetings of her local New Jersey ASTA chapter. "You learn from going, and you learn from the people you meet."

From her time in travel school, she already knew that "air wasn't the place to go [for profits]; that comes from leisure cruises, tours and packages." Owner of Travel Trends, Monmouth Beach, N.J., she's also happy to learn how to be a salesperson, a skill she had not refined in her last job, as a secretary. "I've learned all these ways of being able to close group tour sales."

She's also realizing that she has to switch to an agent's point of view while traveling. "You never go to a hotel and look at it the way you did before you got into the business," she said. "Now, you ask yourself, 'Would I sell this hotel? Could I send my clients there and feel comfortable?'"

She won't forget Tauck Tours president Arthur Tauck's remarks during one conference. "He said he was there when commissions were 5%, and despite all the changes he has seen since, there are still ways to survive and make money [in the business]," she said.

Amarillo also was impressed by how she'll "meet lots of people, and they're all willing to help you. Competitors are friendly with each other; we're all in the same business."

You've got mail

Dan McManusSometimes the simplest ways of making contact are the most effective. If you haven't written letters to your customers lately, you're missing out on an inexpensive and effective advertising tool. With computers and mail merge capabilities, letters can easily be personalized with the customer's name and hand-signed.

The more tailored the message, the more sales it will generate. You can:

  • Tell customers who haven't been in the agency or bought from you for more than a year that you miss them.
  • Ask frequent travelers what you can do to make their experience easier, more convenient.
  • Write first-time shoppers thanking them for a purchase and inviting them to return.
  • For your very top customers, consider a personal handwritten note. By sending just two notes a day, you can turn out 40 or so a month, which means you can personally reach your top 500 customers every year.

    Don't have time to spend handwriting each letter? There's a new product available from Signature Software that translates your unique handwriting into a computer font that can be used with your laser printer. The program requires that you handwrite a document and send it to the firm, where your letters are translated into a font that can be used from any PC. The program also can be used to print thank-you cards.

    The service costs about $100 and will take a little time to learn to use. But if you're actively using direct mail (and you should be) this product can pay for itself in just a few months. For more information about the Signature font, call Signature Software at (800) 925-8840.

    Dan McManus is a former agency owner and publisher of the Successful Worldspan Agency newsletter.

    New links to consumers

    Weissmann Travel Reports is inviting agencies who subscribe to its Weissmann's World destination-report software service to link their Web sites to the company's Travel Corner consumer Web site at www.travelcorner.com.

    The connection service, called Weissmann's WebLink, is available to Weissmann's World subscribers for an introductory fee of $50. With WebLink, consumers who log onto Weismann's Travel Corner site can find a database of agencies subscribing to Weissmann's services, look up agencies in their ZIP code and go directly to those agencies' Web sites.

    "We want to steer consumers to travel agents at a time when they're researching and planning their trips," David Bole, publisher of Weissmann Travel Reports, said.

    Other features of Travel Corner include travel articles written by Weissmann editors, recipes and a travel personality quiz.

    Weissmann Travel Reports is a sister company of Travel Weekly. For additional information, call (800) 776-0720.

    Net news

    This week's Web sites offer a way to buy advance tickets to the Louvre and to plan visits to Illinois.

    The Louvre

    The famed Paris museum now offers an on-line ticketing service for U.S. and Canadian visitors via TicketWeb, a company based in Oakland, Calif. Visitors can avoid lines and use a special entrance to the museum by purchasing advance tickets at www.ticketweb.comor by visiting the Louvre's official Web site, which links to TicketWeb. www.louvre.fr

    Enjoy Illinois

    A trip planner feature on the site makes it easy to find restaurants, attractions and lodging of various types for different towns throughout the state. An easy point-and-click format lets you design a customized itinerary and print it out. www.enjoyillinois.com

    Compiled by Jennifer Dorsey. E-mail suggestions to [email protected]

    Agency calling card

    Get 20% commission when your clients use a Travel Communications Co. (TCC) Travelfone card, which allows them to make affordable international calls with an English-speaking operator while they are traveling.

    Another benefit is that unlike prepaid calling cards, users don't pay in advance but only when they activate and then use the card. That means clients don't pay in advance and risk throwing away a card with a portion of it unused.

    The card and information are printed in multiple languages and have multilingual 24-hour, seven-day-a-week support. Agents can activate the card by slipping it into a customer's ticket jacket and then sending TCC a setup form for the card. Your agency's logo can be added to the card, as well.

    Call (888) 869-0111 for more information or check out the company's Web site at www.travelcom.net.

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