Mark Comfort believes in aggressive
marketing and advertising, but dont ask him whether he has a two-
or three-prong strategy that he uses to promote his travel
agencies, Cruise Holidays of Kansas City and Comfort Tours and
On any given day,
he may be considering the addition of another tactic to his
arsenal. The aim, however, is always the same: making sure that the
agencies are topmost in the minds of residents in Kansas City, Mo.,
when they think travel.
We have a
consistent marketing philosophy, but it evolves, said Comfort, who
owns the agencies with his wife, Mimi. Mark, a former Sealy
mattress factory representative, and Mimi, who was a department
store buyer, opened the Cruise Holidays franchise in
In 1996, the couple
expanded by launching Comfort Tours and Travel, a full-service
agency, to handle clients looking for noncruise travel. Mimi
handles personnel and financial matters. Mark concentrates on
marketing and sales.
His first and most
long-term marketing strategy has been the traditional route:
newspaper advertising. For the last 16 years, Cruise Holidays has
advertised in the Kansas City Stars Sunday travel
The ad always has
had the same look and style, with a rope border and four suppliers
showcasing cruise specials. The headline is Dont Trust Your Cruise
Vacation With Anyone Else.
The ads are part of
a co-op program with cruise suppliers, who pay most of the cost.
Ive always had the philosophy that we should pay every bit of the
same share as vendors, Comfort said. So, Im paying a fifth of the
cost of the ad. Its important because cruise lines appreciate that
were not trying to get something for nothing.
The newspaper ads
are the agencies primary lead generator, which may come as a
surprise to those who believe that, with newspaper readership down,
the avenue is not as productive as it once was.
People talk about
the death of newspapers and how advertising is not as effective,
but the key is that were in every week and its in a travel section,
Comfort said. Theres a huge percentage of people above the age of
40 who still read newspapers. And were evolving our marketing to
make sure we also reach those under 40 who dont read
Another part of
Comforts strategy is his hour-long Saturday-morning travel show on
KCMO, an AM radio station in Kansas City. Comfort has been the
shows host for the last seven years and the exposure has been
tremendous because it allows us to reach an audience that does not
read newspapers or receive our agency newsletter.
starting the program, Comfort took the radio stations offer to
control the advertising, meaning he is in charge of the sales. I
basically bought the hour and got the sponsors, which are my cruise
partners, he said.
Carnival Cruise Lines, Holland America, Princess and Norwegian
Cruise Line pay for two one-minute commercials during the hour.
Comfort and his staff often create the cruise lines commercials,
using customer testimonials.
Another source of
new customers has been Comforts public speaking. He routinely
appears before Rotary and other groups in the city. Recently, a
financial planner who is a fan of the radio show hired Comfort to
speak to potential clients. A cruise that was being given away at
the event was a carrot to draw people to the financial planning
realized that we need to get back to basics, Comfort said. Talking
to groups and organizations is a tremendous way of gaining new
customers. I talk about my favorite travel experiences, like going
on African safaris, and give travel tips. It makes our agency known
and makes us look like the travel experts in our area.
Kansas City also publishes a newsletter four times per year that
goes to 32,000 customers. There are frequent seminars and cruise
nights in the agencies 20,000-square-foot office building, which
can accommodate up to 600 people.
The two agencies
employ 22 full-time agents, 18 of whom work at Cruise Holidays, the
larger of the two companies. Comfort does not disclose sales
volume, but he said seven of his Cruise Holidays agents sell over
$1 million in cruises a year, one of them over $2 million a
Whats next on the
marketing front? Were doing a supermarket chain promotion with
Price Shoppers, which has 900,000 customers and has a goal of
getting 400,000 of their e-mail addresses. Its giving away a
Holland America cruise. Were going to get a lot of publicity out of
techniques include weekly e-mail blitzes, although Comfort said
response to e-mail promotions has been just so-so.
They are way down
on the list of what creates business for us. But what we have found
is that they work well when they include last-minute specials and
when we announce seminars, he said.
Comfort is going to
stick with the e-mails and put more resources in improving the
agencies Web sites. I will evolve as customers buying habits
evolve, he said. My goal is to communicate with the customer the
way they want to be communicated with.
TravelWeekly.com wants to hear your story. Think youre a
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and cliff diving (maybe) in Jamaica
Carol Rone, manager of Kansas City,
Mo.-based Comfort Tours and Travel, designed an itinerary, sharing
her views on the best that Jamaica has to offer. Rone has been in
the travel industry for 26 years, and her agency specializes in
Arrivals into the
Montego Bay area can be as early as midmorning, since Jamaica is so
easily accessible. The one-hour, 20-minute transfer to the east
side of the island and the Ocho Rios/Dunns River area gives clients
an island tour, showing the variation in terrain and the small
townships of Jamaica. After arriving at the newly renovated Sunset
Jamaica Grande resort to start their all-inclusive stay, guests
dine in one of the resorts five restaurants. A must try are the
offerings spiced with jerk seasoning, for which the island is
assortment of activities await clients, from climbing Dunns River
Falls (a natural, 800-foot waterfall)
to a Blue Mountain Tour, where they can meet coffee farmers as well
as have a waterfall swim in one of the natural fern grotto rafting
areas. Water sports of all types are available at the resort, and
some are included in the all-inclusive plan. A visit to the famous
James Bond Beach is a must.
Clients head to the
west side of the island, the Negril area, for the more laid-back
atmosphere, where they can enjoy some nice beaches and sunsets.
They can take a half-hour flight on small aircraft or check out the
islands scenic adventures by land, a journey of nearly three hours.
Clients arrive in time for an afternoon excursion by horseback
through the Rhodes Hall Plantation or simply ease back with one of
the islands drink specialties, a hummingbird.
The day starts with
a visit to the fully operational Negril Lighthouse, which is a
historical marker. The Royal Palm Reserve is a haven for
bird-watchers and includes a sightseeing nature walk. The
afternoon/early evening finds clients at Ricks Cafe, where clients
can watch the local cliff divers -- or even take the plunge
themselves, if the spirit moves -- and enjoy another one of Negrils
fine sunsets. Shopping at the local straw market or small shops
offers a chance to purchase a perfect souvenir such as a local
throughout the day, so another beach day in paradise is an option.
There are many fine stores for last-minute shopping at the
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 subject line.
team up to offer holiday coupon
Some people are eager to see a box from
Tiffany under the Christmas tree. Others look for something more
season, Scott Pinheiro of Santa Cruz Travel, Santa Cruz, Calif.,
bet that a lot of people would like to discover on Christmas
morning that a loved one is planning a Hawaii vacation.
agency manager, linked with Happy Vacations, a wholesaler, to offer
local residents coupons good for $100 off Hawaii packages of seven
nights or more booked through the agency. The co-op campaign
featured newspaper ads in the holiday gift guide of a local
newspaper, Good Times.
The $100 coupons
were designed to be clipped out and used by readers, who could
bring them to the agency to buy Hawaii packages as Christmas
We saw the trends
that gift cards are really big items for the holidays, said
Pinheiro, who is ASTA area director and is the son of former ASTA
president Jeanne Epping. People also get together with relatives
and friends during the holidays, so theres bound to be some
discussion about travel for the next year. So its a good time of
year to stimulate interest in a Hawaii vacation.
The coupons were
valid through 2006 in case readers decided to take advantage of the
offer after the holiday season.
Thanksgiving, Pinheiro contacted Happy Vacations to discuss the
campaign. He got the go-ahead for a 50-50 split on the price of the
ad and the $100 discount.
president of Happy Vacations, said such promotions build customer
loyalty to retailers but are not important revenue
giving away the profit on that booking to get an edge in the
marketplace, he said. The name of the game for retail agencies is
to build the customer base. Maybe they have to bait the hook this
time but next time they will get the client back. Were investing in
the agency and in their efforts in building their customer base. It
will pay off in the future with customer loyalty.
Hand in Hand
highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working
together. Send suggestions to [email protected] with Hand in Hand in the
I have to get
out of here
Many agents seem to believe the
more cruise product knowledge they exhibit to a client, the more
they will be considered an expert and the client will book with
them. But before the client contacts anyone, they are motivated to
take a cruise by other factors that far outweigh product
Travelers have two
basic motivating factors. The first is a desire to go to certain
places or sail on specific ships. The other is the stress of
everyday life and need to escape.
They usually utter
one of two phrases that tell you which one is their primary
motivation to travel: I cant wait to take a vacation to ... or I
have to get out of here; I need a vacation. These two comments are
driven by two different motivations. Cruise ads on TV address
We all know the
product-knowledge approach to selling, but in todays world the most
effective way to get people cruising is to focus on the reasons why
they might want to escape their normal lives.
It might be their
job, the boredom of their everyday lives, the world news depicting
politicians and crime or just plain stress that tells you the
reasons they need to get away. What they are buying is not a cruise
but chance to experience a different lifestyle than the one they
lead at home.
So rather than give
you examples of how to approach selling to those who wish to
escape, Id thought Id take a shortcut.
Do you remember the
song Makin Whoopee? I have changed the words to demonstrate that
the more you know about your clients, the easier it is to sell.
Just use my lyrics and start singing, and perhaps youll understand
my point of view. If you dont know the melody thats OK -- the words
should convey my message.
He goes to
work, he hates his job. There is his boss, oh what a
unhappy, her comments snappy. Hes just a loser.
They never win
at any game. The food at home all tastes the same.
Their lives are
borin, by eight theyre snorin.
They both are
home one evenin, half-watchin their TV.
They see an ad
bout cruisin, tells them to go to sea.
It says go
cruisin and change your life. Forget the news, your job, the
Your lives are
frightful, a cruise delightful. Dont be two losers.
They see an
agent right down the street. She tells
them cruisin is hard to beat.
Escape and youll go ape. When you go cruisin.
friends and neighbors, too, theyre going cruisin, long
changin, lifes rearrangin. Theyre going cruisin.
Now theyre out
buying great things to take with them on their
Its like theyre
two new people, what happened to their blues?
Here they are,
theyre on the ship. They watch the land become a
The ship is
leavin, and they aint heavin. Cause they are
believe the sea, the sun, the food, the service and all the
The shows are
thrillin, and theyre so willin. To be cruisers.
Tuesday, bout 4 oclock. Back to the
cabin, they lock the lock.
snorin, theyll soon be roarin. Theyre
Now theyre back
home and happy, tellin all those they know.
change your mind-set, thats why ya gotta go.
So thats the
story of only two. Their travel agent knew what to
She knew their
profiles and sold their lifestyles and made them
Well, thats my
message. Travel is an escape. So free
lots of people and send them cruisin.
John Dalton is
an industry consultant, trainer and speaker. He can be reached at
(336) 431-1596 or by e-mail at [email protected].
Web site traffic
Change it up. Promote something different every week or month to
pique the interest of customers so they keep coming back for more.
In 2004, we implemented an aggressive Web marketing campaign and
our e-commerce-based revenue grew from 10% to more than 75% in just
one year, said Maureen Kennedy, general manager of the Travel
Institute. Each month we choose new products to promote so our
customers see the full range of our offerings. Then we develop a
specific marketing campaign for each product to keep the effort
tailored and fresh.
Zero in on your target. A targeted e-marketing campaign is more
likely to win over those you are trying to reach. Segment your
database based on product appeal and purchase history. No one likes
to get bombarded with messages that are irrelevant to his or her
needs, said Kennedy.
Be there or be square. If you want to increase traffic to your Web
site, you need to be present in the marketplace. Trade shows,
bridal fairs, chamber of commerce events and local service
organization meetings are great ways to see and be seen. When
hosting a booth or networking at an event, give away something that
directs potential customers to your Web site, said Kennedy. People
get so busy at events that they dont look at what theyve collected
until they get back to the office. Find something that stands
Connect with allies. Our partners willingness to promote our
offerings has been key to our increase in traffic, said Kennedy.
Develop strategic alliances that will result in your promotions
appearing on partners Web sites and in newsletters and other
Keep customers in the loop. Keep customers coming back who have
already used your services. Monthly newsletters or e-mails will
remind them that there is always something new on your Web site
they should check out. Once they open the e-mail, its likely theyll
be interested in at least one of the new offers presented, Kennedy