Web case study

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Keep it fresh to look professional. This rule of Web management is key to how Pennsylvania Travel in Paoli, Pa., gets good business from its Internet site (www.patravel.com), according to Barbara Hall, the agency's manager. Keeping it fresh means updating the specials on the site every day.

Barbara Hall."Whatever you're highlighting has to be current and up to date," Hall said. "If it's January and somebody sees offers on your site from last November, you're done. Or if they call or e-mail you and the product [you had on your site] isn't available, you've got a 50-50 shot at keeping them. Lack of availability definitely does more harm than good."

The task of daily site maintenance at Pennsylvania Travel now falls on an out-of-office Web master -- a woman who's done a lot of other Web work but whose main job is at the printing company that handles the agency's newsletters and whose fees are more reasonable than those of strict Web specialists.

The other material on the Web site is mainly the company's backlog of newsletters, written by a professional writer -- another case where the agency decided to delegate duties outside the company. The agency also keeps the site professional with timely responses to e-mails from prospects.

One agent is dedicated to answering those e-mails, providing quotes and other information, though the company has found that of the roughly 50 to 80 "hits" the site gets a day, "two-thirds of that group will want to talk to a real live person and will call our 800 number," Hall said.

Escorted tours, one of the agency's specialties, get a big push on its Web site. Hall said the company has identified those tour products that are a "perfect computer match," such as Contiki Tours, whose target market is 18- to 35-year-olds, and Apple Vacations, with lots of three- to four-night getaways. "Our Contiki bookings have gone through the ceiling," she said.

Another way the agency gets electronic leads is by being listed on search engines and on suppliers' (especially tour operators') Web sites. This isn't expensive. The only listing Pennsylvania Travel pays for is its connection to the travel site 1travel.com.

Selling your honeymooners

Got honeymooning clients? If you register them with After I Do, a Denver-based national Internet honeymoon registry service (www.afterido.com), you may be able to sell them a more expensive trip, since their friends and families are helping to pay for the trip.

The company estimates that agents should be able to sell up by at least $500 from the industry average of $2,500 per honeymoon package.

After I Do also has set up a database within its Web site that will link prospects to travel agents selling honeymoons either by location or specialty.

There is no charge for the listing -- but "we do ask that agents provide a link to us on their own Web sites," said After I Do manager Liana Carlson.

"There are a lot of agencies out there that try to offer the service we offer, but that's not really what they do, just like we're not travel agents," she said. "There's no reason why we can't work together for some economies of scale."

For more information, contact Carlson at (800) 956-4436 or (720) 941-9288.
Web: www.afterido.com
E-mail: [email protected].

Planning your giving

We have budgets for salaries and advertising, so why not for charitable contributions? If your finances run on a calendar year and you don't have a charity budget, now is a good time to start.

Lucy Hirleman.If you use a fiscal year, add this item to your annual budget. Check with your accountant or bookkeeper for advice on how much to allocate. There are many benefits to having a specific charity budget. For one, it will force you to review more carefully any organization requesting a donation.

It also is a great way to remove guilt: Tell a solicitor that the budget has been used up with a comment that "if you call earlier in the year next time, we would be delighted to consider a contribution."

More ideas on giving: Some contributions (such as an ad in the local high school yearbook) can be considered advertising, but check with your accountant, since laws may vary by state.

If the Girl Scouts or any other organization is selling cookies, consider making a flat donation vs. buying the treats. You don't need the extra calories, and the local organization gets back only pennies on the dollar on the cost of the cookies.

Also, be very careful of local police and fire organizations. They are usually too busy or short-staffed to make solicitations themselves, so outside companies are hired. Some of these companies keep upward of 50% of the donation.

When we get these calls, our first question is, "Are you a police officer or fireman?"

We make our contributions directly to these organizations so we know they are getting all of the money. And never commit to a contribution by phone. Consider only those offers mailed or faxed to your office.

Lucy Hirleman, CTC, MCC, owns Berkshire Travel in Newfoundland, N.J. Contact her at [email protected]; fax (973) 208-1204.

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