War on faxes

nderson Travel & Cruises in San Diego took a radical step recently: It disconnected all of its fax machines.

The agency, like many others, was inundated by faxes from suppliers it never used. The useful faxes were buried and got lost in the shuffle.

"The fax machine is a good thing gone bad," said Brad Anderson, president and co-owner of Anderson Travel, a $60 million agency that is San Diego's largest leisure agency and the largest American Express representative in California.

Brad Anderson."We averaged more than 100 faxes a day, and half were from nonpreferred vendors.

"People wasted their time being distracted by too many confusing offers," he said.

Van Anderson, Brad's brother and the firm's co-owner, worked with the agency's IT department to create an electronic system that receives faxes from all branch offers and headquarters and routes them to a single server.

"Now all those faxes come into a central fax server electronically, and we have assigned people to act as fax dispatchers, seven days a week," Brad Anderson said.

Dispatchers screen the faxes, eliminate those from nonpreferred vendors and direct those aimed to one particular agent or groups of agents to the appropriate party.

Special offers from preferred vendors are routed to the agency's revenue management department, where the staff decides which ones the company will offer to its clients.

Those offers that are accepted are posted on the agency intranet and Web site.

That intranet is a recently introduced feature that Anderson is especially proud of.

"It is so simple to have accurate, timely, useful information in the hands of our agents," he said.

"In comparison, the way we used to do business was like practicing dentistry without novocaine."

The agency intranet gives front-line agents a selling tool -- a method of researching cruises and other specials from preferred vendors, he said.

The next step might be cutting back on the use of brochures, said Anderson.

Consumers will still be able to see a brochure if they like, but there's no reason for an agent to use one, he said. "We don't sell out of brochures, we sell out of the intranet."

Within six months, Anderson said he expects to feature tours and vacation packages on the agency intranet, which started out as a cruise sales tool.

-- Laura Del Rosso

Bridging the gap

nderson Travel & Cruises, San Diego, recently revamped its Web site, at www.andersontravel.com, adding several features, including live chat options that enable customers to communicate on line with agents, Mondays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Brad Anderson, company president, said consumers are looking for comprehensive travel information from their local travel agency -- and they are shopping on line and then calling off line for the booking.

"Interestingly enough, even though consumers are increasingly shopping for deals on the Internet, the majority of travel is still booked off line through travel agencies," Anderson said.

The home page of Anderson Travel & Cruises' newly revamped Web site. With the Web site, Anderson Travel "bridges the gap between traditional brick-and-mortar and Web-based agencies," he said.

Some of the other new features are:

  • A search engine enabling consumers to find cruises by destination, price, length and line. Deck plans and other information are also available.
  • Direct booking with Carnival Cruise Lines and Pleasant Holidays, two preferred vendors of the agency.
  • Wireless access to itineraries, enabling clients to access schedules, flight and gate information and weather forecasts.
  • The feature is offered in conjunction with Sabre's Virtually There product which offers downloaded flight information to handheld wireless devices.

  • Special offerings from Anderson's preferred suppliers.
  • To access the "hot specials," consumers first must register. Then, with the consumer's consent, the agency will send the special offers to their e-mail address every two weeks.

    Anderson said the Web site received nearly 9,500 visitors in October and is growing in use each month.

    Anderson would not reveal how much the agency has invested in its Web strategy and agency intranet, but he said it is a "very expensive" undertaking.

    He advised other agencies to "go for it" because of the boost in agent productivity and the ability to serve new and existing clients more efficiently.

    All in the presentation

    oes everyone in the travel industry need to know how to make presentations? Absolutely. On the most basic level, whenever we deal with a client, we're doing two things: presenting information and trying to be convincing.

    Marc Mancini.As far back as ancient Rome, informing and persuading were considered to be the two key elements to a speaker's presentation skills. Their theory is still thoroughly relevant today.

    But ancient Rome and our modern world do differ in one key way: We have technology.

    Television and computers have deeply conditioned us to accept facts and opinions in an entirely different manner.

    So whether you're talking to 400 people at a banquet, eight people around a boardroom table or two people across from your desk, these six tactics -- taken from video production techniques -- will maximize your impact:

  • Tell them what you'll tell them.
  • Ever notice that many television shows prepare you, in the first few moments, for what's to come? You should do the same.

  • Give your information in small, brief chunks.
  • Television has conditioned us to pay attention for, at the most, 10 minutes -- the time between commercials.

    If you've been on the same topic for 10 minutes, it's time for you to send your presentation in a fresh direction.

  • Divide each chunk into smaller bits.
  • Why do directors shoot the same scene from two or three angles, then have their editors cut the various shot angles together?

    Once again, it's to overcome our feeble attention spans. Those little angle shifts keep us awake.

    You can do the same: Divide your blocks of content into smaller bits of information; shift the place you're talking from, and redirect their attention to a prop (e.g., brochure) or an image (e.g., video clip).

  • Connect your thoughts with transitional sentences.
  • Screenwriters call these connectors segues. They help your listener's mind change gears. Here's an example: "... so that's why I think Hawaii would be the perfect destination for you. Let me tell you about the two hotels I'd recommend to you ..."

  • Back up what you say with visuals.
  • Why does Dan Rather need a graphics box over his shoulder to illustrate everything he says? Can't we just listen to him?

    No. Television and computers have made us increasingly visual creatures. We need those pictures. So, too, do those listening to you.

  • Get your "audience" to interact with you.
  • Computers have taken us away from a passive media environment (television) to an active one. You must, therefore, ask and encourage questions to keep your presentation interactive and involving.

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

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