"It was a life-altering experience," said industry consultant Bob
Stalbaum of the time he trained prisoners for a new cruise and tour
reservations call center located in a prison.
When he walked into the facility the first day, he was taken
aback. "I guess I had envisioned there would be a buffer zone
between them and me, but there wasn't," he said. Instead, there was
a room containing 50 prisoners, one guard and supervisors from the
travel company running the call center (a company that will remain
nameless at its request). So "I took a deep breath and began," he
Soon the barriers between Stalbaum and "them" started to
dissolve. During the first break in instructions, "one of the
prisoners came up to me and said, 'I just want to introduce myself
to you,' and shook my hand. I realized this was just another
person." Soon, noted Stalbaum, "I felt totally comfortable. My fear
He also found that his stint helped to bust some stereotypes he
had about prisoners. "Some of them are good people and some are
hardened criminals," he said. "Hearing their stories, I realized
that at any moment in time, under certain circumstances, anyone
could go awry."
The prisoners were taught the basics of cruise and tour sales so
they could field easy questions and send out brochures, backed up
by a team of four others who had industry experience.
"These were not people who had traveled a great deal, so I
showed them videos of tours and cruise experiences and explained
the motivations for travel and what role agents play in the
process," said Stalbaum.
Many students were very attentive to the course, seeing it as a
way to gain entry into the travel industry, while others clearly
showed "problems with tolerating frustration."
At the end of training, most scored 90% proficiency on a test
Stalbaum had designed. About 36 out of the 50 graduated to the call
center, which in its first week of operations took in about
$100,000 of business.
For Stalbaum, the results were also rewarding. "I gained
something as a person," he said. "I had a rare opportunity to
interface with people I wouldn't normally meet, and I walked away
with more compassion and understanding."
Another lesson for the instructor
Besides reaching some emotional truths (see story, above),
industry consultant Bob Stalbaum learned another lesson from his
stint training prisoners to staff a cruise and tour call facility:
"It's possible to train people with virtually no industry
background whatsoever how to sell travel."
This lesson was reinforced when, on another test project,
Stalbaum trained 24 people with zero industry experience. Half had
never even been on an airplane before -- but they did have a
relatively strong background in customer service and telesales.
During the five months of the project, those 24 people outproduced
the six travel people hired to serve as anchors for the
The lesson for industry owners is that they can look beyond
traditional sources for new employees. Stalbaum suggested surveying
"the country club, organization, church and synagogue scene"
looking for people he called "centers of gravity -- what others
might call pied pipers," who will generate a clientele.
When owners look for new employees, "so much of the focus seems
to be on using the CRS," said Stalbaum. He suggested instead
"finding people with potential followings who have social and
personal skills, teaching them about the product and assuming we
can get them to process a reservation. If I had a lady who could
bring in a million in sales, I wouldn't care if she couldn't get
the computer completely down pat," he said.
When you're surfing the Internet, be advised that the Positive
Space Web site, an on-line resource for agents at
www.positivespace.com, has been redesigned and upgraded, according
to Travel Technology & Magic of Evanston, Ill., which owns and
In the site upgrade, Positive Space tripled the number of linked
sites to more than 900 and organized the expanded content into
these three main sections: suppliers, technology and business.
Based on agent input, the short descriptions of suppliers and
other companies have been beefed up with useful information,
including address, phone and fax number, description of on-line
booking capabilities, commission policy and agent specials.
Greg Merkley, president of Travel Technology & Magic, said,
"Agents told us they needed more depth in the areas we covered as
well as more resources in other areas.
"As an example, we expanded our cruise coverage from five
companies to more than 40. We also created an entirely new
technology section that gives travel agents access to information
about hundreds of consultants, suppliers of Internet services and
providers of third-party software and products."
The vast majority of registered Positive Space users are from
the U.S., but total registrants represent 34 countries, including
United Arab Emirates, India and Uzbekistan.
Although many suppliers still view the Internet as a consumer
medium, Travel Technology & Magic said it sees increasing
interest in marketing to on-line agents, as evidenced by the
waiting list for suppliers to sponsor PS Connections, an e-mail
newsletter for registered users of the Web site.
For information about PositiveSpace or Travel Technology &
Magic, agents can call (847) 869-1568, or e-mail
Hotel inspection reports
Here is another of Richard Turen's sales and marketing
minutes, a regular feature:
Consumers can get
lots of information about hotels from the Internet. But one thing
they can't get anyplace else is a first-hand hotel/resort
inspection report from one of your agents who visited the property
-- which is why you should make writing such reports mandatory for
any agents who takes a fam.
But until you've developed a database of your own reports, check
out Star Service, the firm that publishes tell-it-like-it-is
reports for agents on virtually every major hotel worldwide.
Clients love them for their frank insider tone. Sample: Agents
should recommend a particular Las Vegas hotel only to "clients with
manure on their boots." Now, that's the kind of travel reportage we
need in the new millennium.
Richard Turen is managing director of the Churchill Group, a
sales and marketing consulting firm, as well as president of the
agency Churchill & Turen Ltd. both based in Naperville, Ill.
Contact him at [email protected].
Time management classic
Do you think of time
management as something that requires you to carry one of those
heavy-duty day planners around all the time, organizing every
second including bathroom breaks?
Not so, according to Alan Lakein in his classic book "How to Get
Control of Your Time and Your Life." Instead, proper time
management "will show you how to work smarter, not harder, with the
end result that you have more time for yourself, your family and
friends," Lakein writes.
Lakein details a plan for "A,B,C" priorities similar to that in
the "Juggling Priorities" video described in the box at right, but
he goes much further than the video in showing how to plan lifetime
There are useful chapters on how to create quiet time for
yourself; fight procrastination; find time you never knew you had,
and keep on top of paperwork. One useful technique is the "Swiss
cheese" method to "poke holes" in high-priority tasks you're
stalling on, by developing five-minute instant tasks to get you
Published by New American Library, this book sells for
If you find
yourself getting off-track in life and work goals, Larry
Mersereau's 30-minute video, "Juggling Priorities," may help. In
fact, one of the biggest benefits of watching a self-help video
instead of reading a book is the format.
The tape provides you with someone actively trying to motivate
you -- right there in your own living room. When you read a book,
the tendency is to say, "I'll do that exercise later;" here,
Mersereau is on screen to say, "Do it now."
The contents of the tape are less than remarkable, but well
worth hearing. The main point: Setting personal priorities is key
to moving toward a goal. Mersereau suggests putting all your
activities into three different categories: "A" priorities, which
help you build for the future; "B" priorities, which you must
accomplish to keep you in place where you are now, such as the
basic tasks of your job, and "C" priorities, transgressions taking
you away from from your goal.
Mersereau falls short with a "vision exercise" that definitely
lacked vision. Asking yourself what kind of house or car you want
in five years seems a pretty superficial way to develop long-range
goals. "Juggling Priorities" is available for $37 through
Mersereau's Web site, www.success-strategist.com .