Walking in their clients' shoes

hicago-based education and marketing firm Nodland Travel Enterprises presented its first-ever Travel Specialist Retreat March 22 to 25 in Santa Fe, N.M.

The retreat was hosted by company president and 20-year industry veteran Helen Nodland, who has been running educational seminars on adventure and exotic travel for conferences and the like for the past six years.

Forty agents gathered at La Posada Resort & Spa for the March training session on selling and marketing walking adventures, the first topic in a series of upcoming specialist retreats.

Helen Nodland.The program featured guided morning walks by Backroads, a comprehensive city tour by A Boot About Santa Fe and a self-guided walk designed by Randonnee Tours. Included were presentations on top walking destinations, industry trends and marketing.

Workshops featured sessions by owners of such niche operators as Camino Tours, Canadian Mountain Holidays, Explora S.A., International Nature & Cultural Adventures, Newmans South Pacific Vacations, Piccolo Tailor-Made Walking Tours and the Walking Connection.

Afternoon sessions included a massage station courtesy of Butterfield & Robinson, with complimentary foot, neck and shoulder massages; a presentation on FastTracking Your Business by Alison Miller, a motivational coach, and a fashion show by Ex Officio and Eagle Creek Travel Gear.

Lucky agents won prizes ranging from apparel to a Camino Tours trip to Spain and walking trips along New Zealand's Milford and Routeburn Tracks by Newmans South Pacific Vacations. The retreat also allowed free time for exploring Santa Fe, networking with tour operators and getting treatments at La Posada's Avanyu Spa.

One of the sites visited during the walking retreat was this cave dwelling in the Bandelier National Park near Santa Fe, N.M. The retreat series was created as a next step for retailers who have already attended Nodland's popular Adventure & Exotic Travel educational seminars.

"Now was the time to take education a step further, since the adventure travel niche has begun to constitute a large percentage of the public's travel purchases," Nodland said. "The future of the industry depends on travel consultants developing very focused areas of expertise."

So she designed the retreats to concentrate on specialized activities, giving agents the opportunity to get a sense of the different products their clients can experience.

Her lineup of future events includes a spa retreat in late summer or early fall; a fall Napa Valley biking trip; a retreat on ecolodge getaways and responsible tourism in Belize early in December, and another walking retreat in Santa Fe in spring 2002. New topics will include multisport, water-based, culinary, family and women-only tours.

Since the retreats are part of the Institute of Certified Travel Agents' continuing education program, participants receive 10 continuing education units.

For more details, call (800) 554-3514.

-- Michele San Filippo

Where Helen leads, agents follow

Agents who participated in the March Travel Specialist Retreat on walking, offered by Helen Nodland of Nodland Travel Enterprises in Chicago, gave it glowing reports.

"It provided learning via all the senses and awakened the intellect," said Liz Stroh-Coughlin, an agent from Off the Beaten Path Travel in Los Gatos, Calif.

"We shared our experiences, we laughed, we exchanged ideas and discussed trends and, most profoundly, we looked at our business and ourselves in a holistic manner learning how to achieve our goals both professionally and personally."

A group shot of agents who participated in Helen Nodland's Travel Specilist Retreat. Stroh-Coughlin added that the event introduced her to tour operators that provide personalized soft-adventure experiences in "diverse and interesting" geographical areas.

According to agent Susan Askin of Journeys Unlimited in Seattle, Nodland's Travel Specialist Retreat on walking was comprehensive and enlightening.

"Each day was filled with refreshing and creative ideas to offer the traveling client interested in an experience beyond the ordinary," Askin said.

Karen Killebrew, director of marketing and group travel manager at Bridge Travel Alliance in Emeryville, Calif., attributed the increased level of awareness about adventure travel among the agency community to Nodland, whose seminars have introduced thousands of agents to the market during the past six years.

Killebrew said, "Where Helen leads, her agent devotees follow and emerge enriched and enthused for doing business in new ways."

Mary Emrich of Elmes Travel in Santa Barbara, Calif., described Nodland's recent retreat as "the best shot in the arm" she's experienced in her 23 years in the business.

Said Emrich, "She is the perfect facilitator for bringing agents and vendors together to build relationships."

The insurance agent

I've never understood why travel agents don't sell more travel insurance.

The benefits to both agents and their customers are so clear.

Here are the big ones:

  • The commissions are great and certainly better than what you get from selling an airline ticket and perhaps the highest supplier commission you'll receive.
  • Marc Mancini.

  • In an age when cross-selling is essential to profitability, travel insurance is a natural cross-sell and has become increasingly acceptable to the public.
  • It deflects much of the potential setbacks and problem-solving that can occur away from you and toward the insurance provider.
  • To a large degree, it protects your client from on-trip hassles and unanticipated costs -- something increasingly common in a time of canceled flights and late port arrivals.
  • It helps defuse the anxiety that clients feel, especially in an age when every travel problem is highlighted and magnified by the media.
  • It protects your liability, especially if you offer a "decline insurance" form to those clients who opt not to take travel insurance.
  • In an age when customers sue for anything, this benefit is extremely valuable.

  • It positions you as a full-service travel provider offering overall travel experiences.
  • Probably the most important benefit is the fact that you become a hero if something goes wrong. Unexpected problems may erase a client's forthcoming trip, but at least the deposit investment is protected. The same applies to occurrences during that vacation, too.
  • Most importantly, travel insurance should, these days, be an easier sell.

    As client vacations have become more adventurous, media attention has focused on travel nightmares, and advance-purchase deals have led to longer deposit times.

    Moreover, some third-party insurance companies provide a 24/7 problem-solving line that your clients can use while on their trip.

    All of these factors make insurance a must.

    Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles College.

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