Universal's top producer

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Barbara Patterson tries to be objective in offering her family-oriented clients a choice of either Walt Disney World or Universal Studios Escape. But so many of them have been choosing the latter that Patterson recently was named top producer for 1998 for the Orlando, Fla.-based destination resort.

Barbara Patterson, et al"Universal has a good product, and as far as pricing goes, it seems to suit our clients' needs," said Patterson, owner of All Around Travel Inc. in Wilmington, Del.

An agent for 12 years, five of them as an owner, Patterson started selling Universal when Disney became too expensive for some of her budget-minded clients. "In addition to price, I also look at the age of my client's children," Patterson said.

She said children older than 8 sometimes identify more with what they see on television, such as "Rugrats" (whose characters are featured at Universal), than with Mickey Mouse.

Universal's new high-tech roller coaster park due to open next fall also should be popular with older children.

Often, in fact, Patterson's clients are confused about the various theme parks. "A lot of times, they don't realize that Disney and Universal are two different entities, so I always recommend both and leave it up to the client. I just want them to be informed consumers," she said.

"One reason she has been successful is that she has put together some very good programs with our regional sales office," said David Caesar, director of marketing and product development for Universal Studios Escape.

Patterson focuses on family packages, encouraging parents and grandparents to travel together. Sometimes she'll have single parents who are friends double up in the same room to keep rates down. But despite all the care she puts into this category, she was still surprised to win the award. "We just pay close attention to our customers and fill their needs," she said.

Value travel expert

Know what you're selling, qualify the customer, work to keep costs down and provide value for your clients. That's the advice of Barbara Patterson, whose small agency of three full-time people and 10 independents specializes in family travel. Her agency, All Around Travel Inc. in Wilmington, Del., also keeps up with travel to Florida, Jamaica and Las Vegas.

To stay abreast of Central Florida, Patterson regularly holds in-house educational meetings. Her knowledge paid off: Her agency was named top producer for 1998 for Universal Studios Escape in Orlando, Fla.

"My suggestion to any agent is to really understand the product," she said. "I also make it a point to know my own market. I know my client base. I look for things that they can afford," she said.

One of the ways Patterson has found to cut costs is to book her clients through the airport in Baltimore, which is less expensive than Philadelphia, another nearby facility.

For clients who say they can't afford to travel at all, Patterson tries to show them how proper planning can make trips feasible. Many of her clients work on the layaway plan, giving her a down payment and paying the rest in installments.

International etiquette

By Caroline Scutt

You provide your leisure clients with insider tips for their trips, so why not do the same for your corporate clients with advice on international business etiquette?

A recent article by Julie Moline, called "Coping with International Business Styles" (formerly available on the Web site TheTrip.com), outlines mistakes that many travelers make when conducting business abroad. Moline's tips included the following:

  • Slow down. Don't dismiss the pleasantries to launch into business discussions with contacts you've just met. Remember, the key is to build a relationship.
  • Don't raise your voice in order to be understood. In many countries, the louder you are, the ruder you seem.
  • Watch your body language. Hand gestures can mean different things in different cultures. A positive hand signal in one country can be a major insult in another.
  • Don't mix business with pleasure. Unlike in the U.S., where it is OK to do business just about anywhere at any time, in many corners of the world an invitation to a dinner party or golf outing is not an invitation to discuss business but to get to know your counterparts.
  • Another source of information is Protocol International, with offices in Chicago and New York, which offers workshops on cross-cultural fundamentals. Call (312) 606-7300 or e-mail [email protected]. The company's Web site, at www.protocolintl.com, is under construction.

    E-mail etiquette

    Les BakerE-mail can enhance your business with efficiently delivered messages, but there's no doubt that it can drown you, too: one travel manager reported receiving 468 such messages during the week before New Year's. If that's the weekly average, he would receive a total of 25,000 messages a year!

    Here are some guidelines on e-mail etiquette provided by Les Baker, vice president of Prism Group, an Albuquerque, N.M.-based management consulting firm:

  • Unsolicited, constant, broadcast e-mail messages are inappropriate. E-mail is welcome if the message is important, relevant and concise.
  • Be formal and precise in business e-mails. Use proper English, full sentences and spell check before sending.
  • Include important information such as name, title, address and phone number in your automated electronic signature. Avoid mixing personal and business messages. Be sensitive to mixing internal and external communication.
  • Remember that e-mails live forever and can be used against you, as was demonstrated in such recent lawsuits as the Microsoft antitrust suit. If you don't want someone to see what you've written, don't send it electronically.
  • Ask permission before you sign someone else up for a subscription e-mail service; to do otherwise is definitely an intrusion.
  • Les Baker's e-mail address is [email protected].

    Snazz up your telephone image

    Here is another of Richard Turen's sales and marketing minutes, a regular feature:

    Ours is an entire industry that barely knows how to answer the telephone. Too often, travel agents -- as well as suppliers -- fall short of the pleasant professionalism required.

    But there is absolutely no excuse to lose the telephone answering game. It is quite easy to beat your competitors -- just call them if you don't believe me.

    The goal should be moving consumers to comment, "That's a really nice way to answer the phone."

    Be distinctive, perhaps wishing the caller "a very pleasant good morning," or, "Thank you for calling Genuine Credentials Travel, my name is... ."

    Or how about wishing the caller good afternoon in perfect French?

    Seminars set a course for success

    Want to upgrade your selling skills and up your agency's profitability? Consider attending Setting a Course for Success seminars presented by industry educator Marc Mancini, sponsored by Holland America.

    Geared to agency owners, the morning workshop focuses on agency profitability. The afternoon workshop, geared to teaching frontline agents how to sell better than ever, also includes unbiased profiles of 33 cruise lines and 38 tour operators.

    The seminars are scheduled as follows: Feb. 11, San Diego, Calif.; Feb. 24, Vancouver, British Columbia; Feb. 25, Honolulu; March 16, Atlanta; March 17, New Orleans; March 18, Houston; March 30, Minneapolis; March 31, Troy, Mich.; April 1, Chicago; April 13, Bethesda, Md.; April 14, Philadelphia; April 15, Waltham, Mass.

    The cost, including lunch, is $99 per person. Call (800) 355-3019.

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