Thinking 'out of the box'


It's not every agency that sets up shop in the lobby of a theater playing a travel-related play or earns extra income from honeymooners by handling travel arrangements for their out-of-town wedding guests.

Nina Meyer.But Nina Meyer, managing director of Carlson Wagonlit/Vision Travel in Coral Gables, Fla., prides herself on being an "out-of-the-box thinker" who "does business like an entrepreneur."

"Since the caps came, I have almost doubled my business," she said. Among the agency's unique marketing tactics is its connection with the theatrical review "Secrets Every Smart Traveler Should Know," which has been playing in New York for two years and just opened in Coral Gables.

Through the play's Coral Gables run until Jan. 2, there will be an outpost of Carlson Wagonlit/Vision Travel -- complete with a functioning computer -- in the main lobby of the theater housing the show. The mini-agency will be manned preshow and through intermission.

Meyer is hoping that the review's lighthearted look at travel will inspire play-goers to try the real thing. Certainly the tactic "targets the right type of people," said Meyer. "People who go to the theater are more affluent."

Meyer is also a big advocate of handling travel arrangements for weddings, bar mitzvahs and family reunions, events she looks at as "turning a single item into multiples." The agency will block discounted hotel space and air tickets for groups attending catered events and rent a bus to transport them to different venues.

Meyers will ask clients, "Wouldn't it help if we put a card in with your wedding invitations?" The card contains the agency's name and an offer to provide travel help for the wedding.

Couples are typically delighted because "we've just made their life easier," said Meyer. She'll also set up a travel wedding registry, providing wedding guests with the chance to buy gift certificates for the bride and groom that could be applied to the honeymoon or to future trips.

This is the kind of extra business that most agents can get, but "I bet nine out of 10 agents have honeymoon couples coming in and never ask about friends and families coming in from out of town," said Meyer.

Working the trade

To expand her agency's marketing reach, Nina Meyer, managing director of Carlson Wagonlit/Vision Travel in Coral Gables, Fla., works closely with trade associations (see story above for Meyer's other ideas on improving business).

Work trade shows to extend your agency's marketing reach.Recently hers was the host agency for the international orchid show in Miami, handling travel arrangements and pre- and post-tours for exhibitors as well as show attendees, thus extending her agency's reach to a nationwide base of affluent and well-educated people.

One good tactic is to call your local convention bureau to find out what trade shows are coming in, she said. For instance, when a real estate show was in town, Meyer became an exhibitor, paying a small fee for a booth. To bring traffic into her booth, she put up a big sign that said, "Take time to smell the roses," with a dozen red roses located in the back.

She asked passersby if they were "stressed out and overworked?" -- a question that virtually everybody answered with a yes. Then she followed up by asking if they'd ever been to a spa or on other stress-reducing vacations. The result? Lots of new bookings.

Meyer also advised working with associations to run joint fund-raising projects associated with travel. "Read your neighborhood papers -- they'll have a list of organizations and [the dates] when they're meeting. Then call them and ask if they want to make some money for their organization," Meyer suggested.

Such prospecting "just takes a little time and energy" as well as a positive attitude, she said. Remember "that you have to get 100 no's before you get the first yes, so with every no you get happier because you're that much closer to a yes."

Fated to be an agent

By David Wilkening

Not knowing what to do with her life, Sharon Pollard was passing through Glastonbury, England, when she went to a psychic for guidance.

Pollard believes in booking clients into chateaus and castles with a sense of history. "She told me to just keep on traveling, and I would be fine. I asked her how much longer -- maybe two weeks? She said, 'You'd better start thinking about 10 years,' " Pollard recalled.

Pollard, who'd had a love affair with travel ever since her first overseas trip to France, took the psychic's advice -- after a fashion. She came back home to her native Orlando and enrolled in travel school.

She's now been an agent for 11 years, one year longer than the psychic's recommendation. Pollard maintains an office at Regal Travel Services in Orlando, her host agency.

When booking trips, she feels "it's very important to stay at good hotels because it's your headquarters. You want a nice address." So she often recommends that clients stay at 17th century chateaus or older establishments such as castles.

"The ambience in some of them is like being in a museum. They give you a sense of history. And many are relative bargains -- you might be paying $125 a night for two people in one room," she said.


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