It had been two decades since Giuliano Lorenzani and his wife, Judy, bought Boca Raton Travel & Cruises, and it was time, he said, to take the agency "from yesterday to tomorrow."
And that is what the agency did late last year, he said, with the introduction of new technology that is very visible to the clients: high-definition TV. In fact, several HDTVs, and big ones at that: one for every seller at the agency's single-location storefront in Boca Raton, Fla.
The TVs enable customers to see what the counselor sees on a screen. And because clients can visualize what they are buying or rejecting, Lorenzani said, they have a more pleasurable shopping experience.
Initially the agency tried putting two computer screens on each counselor's desk, one facing the customer. But the computer screens proved too small for clients to view comfortably, "so we kicked it up a notch," Lorenzani said.
There are seven 40-inch screens mounted on the wall behind seven workstations, and a 50-inch HDTV hangs behind a workstation that can be seen by passers-by. The screens show travel-related DVDs, but each counselor, when serving a client, can switch off the DVD to display what is on the counselor's screen instead.
In this way, Lorenzani said, the agents -- by relying on suppliers' websites for visuals and suppliers' or other sites for maps -- can give clients an immediate idea of what a hotel or ship looks like. With the aid of online maps, they can also point out the location of hotels or other points of interest, he said.
This kind of interaction fosters bonding with clients and "helps people to be more excited about travel and less about saving $2," Lorenzani said.
It also is a way to correct misperceptions about destinations or products. Lorenzani said numerous clients come to the office and make requests based on their own or someone else's online research.
The agents can, when appropriate, use the Web to illustrate with maps or photos when a requested product is not the right choice.
"This brings us more business, and we can combat misinformation" he said. "Believe me, there's a lot of that."
Historically, it has been difficult to paint the picture of a product for clients, he said, and brochure details sometimes require a magnifying glass. "We sell a product that you can't see, touch or smell" before the purchase, but, Lorenzani said, "I've taken care of one of those."
When Boca Raton Travel & Cruises, a largely leisure agency with sales of $13 million to $15 million, introduced its upgraded technology in November, it also unveiled a new interior design for the office.
The desks are mocha-colored and, Lorenzani said, "the front is round and friendly, no sharp corners [and] not aggressive." For a sharp, "modern contrast," he said, the chairs are white acrylic and aluminum.
The agency has undertaken a public relations campaign locally to bring people into the office. Even established customers, Lorenzani said, are "wowed." Since the HDTVs were unveiled, clients have been "coming back and coming back with friends to look at things." Lorenzani noted that as a result, the staff has had to be more mindful of managing its time, but he added that his agency "doesn't sell at the low end, so there is room for interaction while producing profitable transactions."
Staffers are "so excited" about the new setup, Lorenzani said, that they have been coming to work early. "This gives them a lot of self-confidence. ... They are in bragging mode."
Similarly, suppliers have been enthusiastic, Lorenzani said, in the belief it will be easier for the agency to sell their products. They note, he continued, that wall-to-wall HDTVs take cruise nights, for example, "into a totally different dimension."
Essentially, he added, the suppliers are right. He had expected the dynamic visuals to make it easier to sell more and to sell up. "It's already happening," Lorenzani said.
Lorenzani has other ideas to promote the "warm rapport" he wants with customers. He calls his approach "the concept of the piazza." He plans to add chairs and an umbrella outside the front door, and the new sitting area will include free WiFi.
Also, he plans to offer half-day Saturday classes, for a fee, to teach people how to book their own travel. The class fee would be applied to a trip if an attendee booked with the agency instead. That approach, he said, is "better than being combative" about some consumers' preference to do it themselves.
Boca Raton Travel & Cruises, a member of Ensemble, promotes with direct mail and a range of other options: radio, TV, events and some print media. It does not sell on the Web. Its site "is a business card, if you want," Lorenzani said. At one time, he said, he had had a booking site to compete with the discounters, "but why go after that?"
Lorenzani has 35 years in the business, the first 15 as a manager at Ambassador Travel, a company that owned and managed travel agencies in the Federated Department Stores.
When the company changed hands in 1989, Lorenzani was out of a job, so he decided to buy his own business and settled on an agency that had been around since 1956.
He is president, and his wife, Judy, is vice president. Including the owners, the agency employs 12 and hosts six independent contractors.
A private tour of Lake Como
The following custom deluxe package, called Springtime on Lake Como at Villa d'Este, was created by Boca Raton Travel & Cruises for a small group of clients.
Day 1: Transfer from the Royal Palm Hotel to Miami Airport for your flight to Milan.
Day 2: Arrive at Milan Airport, where you will be met by a private escort who will accompany you for your entire tour. Transfer to Villa d'Este, followed by dinner at the hotel.
Day 3: Private motorboat cruise on Lake Como and lunch in Bellagio. Dinner will be at a typical restaurant.
Day 4: Excursion to Lugano, Switzerland, with lunch. Visit a fashion outlet mall. Dinner at the hotel.
Day 5: Excursion to Verona for a tour and lunch. Dinner at the hotel.
Day 6: Excursion to Milan for a city tour, lunch and shopping. The tour includes a stop at Santa Maria delle Grazie church to view da Vinci's "The Last Supper."
Day 7: Half-day visit to Como and its Silk District; Como is called the silk capital of Europe. Lunch is in Como; dinner is included at the hotel.
Day 8: Depart Villa d'Este. Transfer to Milan Airport for flight back to the U.S. On arrival at Miami, transfer to the Royal Palm.