Kathy Hager has always loved a challenge,
which may explain why she excels as a group specialist. In my
earlier agent positions, no one wanted to take on groups, so
through default I did, said Hager, a cruise marketing specialist at
Burkhalter Travel Agency in Madison, Wis. I set out to learn all
that I could about them.
The reason why many
agents are intimidated by booking large groups is fairly
challenging because of the large number of people to please,
especially where there are individuals who deviate from the group
plans, said Hager. An agent needs to be clear about the
expectations of the group and the group leader.
But for Hager, the
challenge is part of what she likes about creating group
A group creates a
larger feeling of anticipation, said Hager. Everyone is
Although Hager did
not begin her career as a travel agent -- she has a teaching degree
and was employed in social services -- travel was a field she
always dreamed about joining.
Id always had a
hidden passion to become a travel agent some day, she
By chance, she
happened to see a schedule for a local junior college that offered
I went for it,
Hager said. I attended classes in the evenings and did an unpaid
internship before starting at my first front-line travel agent
When Hager entered
the travel field, she got her feet wet as a generalist.
All along I have
worked in leisure at storefront agencies, selling vacation packages
and cruises, she said. Eventually, she grew into a management
As the travel
manager for Trading Places in Laguna Niguel, Calif., where Hager
was first a cruise specialist, she supervised travel agents and was
the point person for vendor relations, cruise marketing, agent
training and cruise product development.
quality service for the travel agency, and I discovered how much I
enjoyed writing policy and procedures, Hager said.
As much as Hager
loved her job at Trading Places, she and her husband decided to
move back to their home state of Wisconsin to be closer to family.
The move, she said, turned out to be fulfilling on a professional
level, as well, when she found a travel agency with which she
shared a particular affinity.
Burkhalter Travel and Cruise Shoppes to oversee cruise
has the same corporate culture of customer service that I have, she
Hager is responsible for cruise print ads, direct mail, training,
consumer shows and vendor relations as well as creating group
proposals and operating large cruise groups, both promotional and
Hager slowly got
her sea legs from a variety of sources.
I learned how to
sell cruise travel from Marc Mancini, John Dalton and Bob
Dickinson, she said. I have taken every CLIA class, and now I have
my ECC as well as my CTC.
Hager said it is
not unusual for the agency to move hundreds of people a day in
cruise groups. That being said, a key to success in managing groups
is to never lose site of each individual in the group, Hager
Some may be new to
cruising and terminology and have questions, said Hager.
At Burkhalter, the
group department ensures that each client receives information on
air safety, ports, ships, guides from tourist bureaus, maps, travel
insurance and more.
Hager said she
believes that ClientBase Plus, a customer relationship management
tool designed to provide agencies with complete contact and trip
management abilities, has greatly aided Burkhalter to more
effectively grow the agencys group business.
ClientBase Plus has
helped us to refine our marketing tactics and adjust our online
sales and information to meet the level of expertise of our
customers, said Hager. This technology is definitely a growth area
believes one of the reasons for Burkhalters success in the group
arena is teamwork.
having great resource people around you: experienced co-workers,
progressive owners and cruise line representatives willing to go
the extra mile, she said. Here we take the TEAM approach: Together
Everyone Accomplishes More.
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above and below
Tony Poe, director of marketing and public
relations at Little Rock, Ark.-based Poe Travel, designed a
five-night itinerary to Palau, a destination where he once lived
(or lounged) for four months. Poe has been noted in National
Geographic Traveler magazine for his expertise on Palau.
For sheer volume
and variety of wildlife, Poe believes Palau is simply the best
diving destination in the world. Nonetheless, diving isnt the only
attraction. Snorkeling, sea kayaking and mountain biking
opportunities abound. Also, the history and culture of Palau are
worth investigating. If diving is the focus, Poe advises that
visitors obtain advanced certifications before going in order to
take full advantage of dive spots.
Travelers arrive in
the evening via Honolulu and Guam to the capital, Koror, and
transfer to the Palau Pacific Resort. This mainstay still offers
the best accommodations, in Poes view. Palau is notoriously limited
in the cuisine department, with the exception of sashimi, he said.
The resort has a decent kitchen and changes the theme nightly. So
travelers wont go hungry. Couples can also dine privately on the
In the morning,
clients check in with their dive operator to arrange dives for the
next day. Afterward, they can get acquainted with Palau by making
stops at the Ngarachamayong Cultural Center and Belau National
Museum in Koror. Poe also recommends a visit to the Palau
International Coral Reef Center and Aquarium.
afternoon dives are scheduled; the afternoon dive includes a
lunchtime snorkel stop at Jellyfish Lake. This inland freshwater
lake contains countless jellyfish that have evolved to become
stingless due to lack of predators. Poe also recommends a night
dive at a World War II shipwreck.
afternoon dives are scheduled. For nondivers, snorkeling is an
option. A thrilling alternative is to go flightseeing over the
spectacular Rock Islands. Travelers can stop at the island of
Angaur and tour by bicycle to see World War II relics and fabulous
Palau in the afternoon or just after midnight, depending on their
preference. Divers should know it is advisable to decompress for 24
hours prior to flying, Poe said. He recommends that clients take a
guided sea-kayaking excursion to the Rock Islands to ensure that
they leave the appropriate amount of time to decompress before
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
looks for Unusual and succeeds
Rich Skinner is very clear on one point:
His clients demand quality. So when Skinner, co-owner of Cruise
Holidays in Woodinville, Wash., looks for suppliers to partner
with, he seeks out companies that provide extraordinary
We see add-on,
customized business as a point of separation for us, he
Thats the main
reason why Skinners agency is beginning a business relationship
with Alaska Unusual, based in Langley, Wash.
customers, he said, are always looking for travel experiences that
they can add to their merit badge collection.
offers programs that will enable them to do that.
The idea, Skinner
said, is to offer shore excursions in Alaska that connote
exclusivity, such as salmon fishing in Ketchikan with private boats
with captains and guides who are very familiar with the local
Agents have to be
very selective with the operators they pick because if they choose
the wrong [operator] they can alienate the client, Skinner
offers 70 shore excursions, from private helicopter flights that
follow the Iditarod dog sled race to seaplane flights to
hard-to-reach Tlingit villages.
Alaska Unusual has
even arranged for a bar mitzvah in a Tlingit Native longhouse
during a port call in Ketchikan.
We can arrange
out-of-the-box kinds of things, said Michelle Glass, Alaska
Unusuals director of marketing and sales.
Glass added that
the company works hard to make the travel agents life
Alaska Unusual only
works through travel agents.
We dont market
directly, said Glass. Our job is to make the travel agent look good
-- and we dont care if consumers know about us. We care that the
travel agents know about us.
Alaska Unusual will
work with retailers on a net or commission basis, whichever the
Hand in Hand
highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working
together. Send suggestions to [email protected] with Hand in Hand in the
Do you sometimes like to watch
PBS, the Discovery Channel, the History Channel or the Learning
Channel? Do you read novels that re-create, say, what daily life
was like in ancient Rome? If you went to Paris, would a visit to
the Louvre be a must-see? (The Da Vinci Code made it even more
famous than it already was.)
I must confess that
I do. For me, its sort of an informal, continuing-education
program, one that nurtures my mind, helps me in my job and provides
me with all sorts of facts and insights, some valuable (thanks to
Rick Steves, I now know how one can get a tour of the White House
-- its not as easy as it used to be) and some that are just plain
strange. (A PBS Nova episode recently explained how Ramses Is
long-lost mummy recently turned up in Niagara Falls. Dont even
If you relate to
these examples, you at least partly belong to what is sometimes
referred to as the enrichment niche. (Theres another name, culture
vultures, thats sometimes used, but Im afraid that it conjures a
rather unpleasant image.)
Its a huge market,
one thats surprisingly untapped by travel agents -- except for
those whose offices are located near a college or
What should you
know about this market? Enrichment-oriented clients, of course,
take sheer delight in getting to know something. They feel that
knowledge makes them better. They usually do a lot of research
before taking a trip, and their desire to go someplace is often
triggered by an article in, say, National Geographic.
They may be very
active; those who are often overlap the adventure market. Theyre
comfortable with simplicity -- its OK with them if their stateroom
on a small expedition vessel is bare bones.
When they cruise,
they prefer a great onboard lecturer -- hopefully an expert who
also communicates well -- to a Vegas- or Broadway-style show. When
they take an escorted tour, they expect both the tour manager and
step-on guides to know their stuff.
What about their
demographics? Theyre older, well-educated and are willing to spend
far more for an enrichment type of product than they would for a
Theyre attracted to
exotic destinations or familiar ones that can be explored in a
deeper way. There are many singles in this niche. To appeal to
them, find a supplier who doesnt charge double for a single
But heres the
difficult part: They tend to bypass travel agents and buy direct
from the supplier.
Why? Because they
fear most travel agents cant relate to their needs. So how can you
capture their business? The best way is to set up an alliance with
a school, museum or society and operate a special tour or cruise
for them, with some of the proceeds going to their cause. You might
even consider chartering an entire ship for them; many of the
vessels accommodate just 100 to 200 passengers.
When dealing with
individual clients who fall under this category, address some of
their hot buttons, like learning and personal growth. Sell the
guides, onboard experts and destinations, then everything else.
Provide them with learning materials, like from Intelliguide
(formerly Weissmann Travel Reports).
And try to
incorporate cultural encounters with locals, such as an excursion
to a village in Tanzania or a Norwegian Coastal Voyage, where local
people interact with onboard guests; the companys vessels are part
cruise ship, part local transportation. Also, find out about and
sell suppliers that understand the needs of enrichment-oriented
Marc Mancini is
an industry speaker and consultant who teaches at West Los Angeles
Ways to become
more credible with clients
Create a unique selling proposition. If great brands are about
relationships, then individuals have the greatest opportunity to
brand themselves, said Gary Sain, chief marketing officer and
partner at Yesawich Pepperdine Brown & Russell. It is
imperative that retailers develop brand concepts, primarily through
specialization, which set them apart from the pack. If you are one
of 100,000 travel agents, why should the customer buy from you?
Sain asked. If you are an expert in Mediterranean cruises you have
to have a knowledge and focus that elevates you from all
Be relevant. Know your customer -- not just their names, addresses,
phone numbers and ZIP codes, Sain said. It behooves retailers to
obtain more personal information about clients, such as their
hobbies, cuisine and other lifestyle preferences.
Obtain credentials that mirror your expertise. Travel industry
designations, such as certifications offered by the Travel
Institute and CLIA, provide agents with credibility. These
designations reinstate agents commitment to higher education and
being the best in their fields, Sain said.
Stress the value of using a travel agent. A lot of people assume
that travelers know what agents do, said Sain. I guarantee you that
they dont. When talking to prospective clients, he said it is
imperative that travel professionals expound on educational
credentials and other concrete reasons why using a travel agent is
of value. Tell them youre a time- and energy-saver, and you have
insight that they cant get anywhere else.
Dont sell off a brochure. Sell off experiences, said Sain, and dont
sell any product you have never experienced, because seeing is
believing. In the end, an agents travel experiences and product
knowledge are what reinforces credibility with the customer. Its
one thing to talk about the experience, he added, but delivering
the experience is where the key is.