"How many of you have Web sites?" Eric Hosek, the Whitefish,
Mont.-based director of market analysis for Orbit Network, asked
the audience at the panel discussion. A fair number of agents -- at
least half of the perhaps 100 in the room -- raised their hands.
"How many of you feel your Web site is successful?" Hosek asked.
This time, about three agents raised their hands.
It was immediately clear why this seminar, Secrets of a
Successful Web Site, held at the recent ASTA World Travel Congress
in Los Angeles, was playing to a packed house.
Among the hints a panel of techno-savvy agents and experts
provided:When you're hiring someone to design your site, "beware of HTML
jockeys who know HTML and nothing else," said Amy Goodrum, creative
director, Web services division, of New Orleans-based Cruise &
Vacation Shoppes America. "Look at their portfolio and make sure
they're familiar with travel as well as marketing."Qualify leads you get through your Web site. You can do this by
having them fill out a quick e-mail form asking whether they're a.)
shopping, b.) seriously interested or c.)ready to book, Hosek
suggested.Include at least one phone call in the booking process --
ideally, right after the initial exchange of e-mails. Prospects
"are not going to plunk down $3,000 on a vacation if they haven't
talked to a human," said Nancy Zebrick, president of Cherry Hill,
N.J.-based All Destinations Travel. Conversely, your quick phone
call to prospects who've e-mailed you for information can also help
weed out the surfers vs. the bookers. "I know of one agency that
telemarkets all e-mails, so within 30 seconds of talking to a
prospect, the agency knows if [the prospective client is] just a
kid," said Hosek."If your Web site can't be found, you're dead, no matter how
gorgeous it is," said Zebrick. It's important to be
cross-referenced on other sites and on search engines. After you go
through the registration process for a particular search engine, it
should take about four to six weeks before you're listed. Yahoo! is
one of the best to get on, said Goodrum, but it is selective; if
Yahoo! doesn't like your site, it won't put you on.
Aid from the techno-savvy
At ASTA's recent
panel on Web sites, techno-savvy travel agents Nancy Zebrick and
Karen Killebrew presented their case histories.You gotta get a gimmick, said Zebrick, who is president of
Cherry Hill, N.J.-based All Destinations. Zebrick, who does
virtually all of her business on the Net, found that it was only
when she developed a niche that things took off.
A registered dietician who has visited 51 spas, Zebrick started
promoting this expertise on her Web site. "But commission on spas
is not as much as everybody thinks," she noted. "I had to find
other specialties." Now she focuses on inclusives such as Sandals
as well as on cruises. Besides being listed on search engines,
Zebrick believes in using banner ads on linked sites handling her
specialties. "They're very expensive but worth it." Two additional
tips:"The Web has made travel a commodity, so you have to discount
or otherwise offer something value-added such as a bottle of
champagne with a booking."Tell suppliers, 'Stop faxing me; send me Web promotions that I
can put up on my site instead.' "Killebrew, owner of Escape Artists Travel, Oakland, Calif., had
been very active on America Online's travel forums, so it "was
embarrassing when I realized my agency wasn't ready for a Web
site," she noted. "The wave of technology washed over me and left
me stranded on the beach." She advised agents to "look inward and
see what everybody else is doing" before taking the Web site
plunge. "It's not important to be a pioneer."
Eventually, Killebrew developed a Web site that worked with her
agency's goals, integrating it into the database that provided
"customer relationship management." She arranged to have clients'
e-mail request forms directly into her database. As a specialist in
ecotourism and adventure travel, Killebrew "discovered small
international companies that don't have marketing reach in the U.S.
I am now brokering their business on my Web site."
More Web site hints
marriage, commitment is important to marketing a Web site, said
Stephanie Kenyon, ASTA's vice president, travel technology, at the
recent ASTA panel Secrets of a Successful Web Site.
"Have you looked at our Web site?" should slip off the tongue of
all staffers in their contacts with clients, noted Kenyon. And,
"how many of you formally announced your Web site address to your
existing client base ?" she asked.
Other tips from Kenyon:"Make it easy to navigate [on the site]," she said. "A
purchasing decision should never be more than three clicks
away."Include targeted testimonials from satisfied customers. For
example, the Web site of spa specialist All Destinations Travel
includes clients' letters describing their successful spa
trips.Make sure the colors of your Web site are attractive --
something ASTA officials neglected to check out before finalizing
the details of the Society's Web site. "On one computer ASTAnet
looked lovely; on another, it looked [awful]," she said.Develop links to Web sites selling other kinds of products
besides travel. Kenyon suggested that you check with companies
marketing almost anything else on the Web and ask, do you want a
link to a travel site? Since travel is the second- or third-most
requested service on the Internet, most companies should jump at
Individual ICTA course books available
If you've ever
been interested in any of the courses the Institute of Certified
Travel Agents offers -- but didn't have the time or money to commit
to joining its certification program -- you're in luck.
ICTA is selling individual course books from its certified
travel associate/certified travel counselor certification program.
"Purchasing a single course book allows someone to fill an
immediate knowledge gap and experience the content of ICTA's
educational materials in a nonintimidating manner," said Robert
Lepisto, ICTA's president.
With almost 50 titles in print, the publications cover a wide
range of topics, including service fees; marketing strategies;
sales and customer service, and computer technology. ICTA's
Destinations Specialist courses also are included in the new
catalog. Prices start at $35 ($30 for active CTCs and CTAs)
including shipping for certification course books. Prices of the
other publications vary. To purchase, call (800) 542-4282.
Yes, I'm a real travel agent
Unexpectedly, my working vacation in Europe turned into a chance
to promote the idea of home-based travel agencies. As I have done
for many years, I made a point of introducing myself to the manager
of the hotels where we stayed, to make that personal contact so
critical in our business. I also met with several small ground
operators. This time, I wasn't shy about mentioning that I operate
The trend toward home-based businesses has not reached Europe,
but the response was universally positive.
"How do you do it?" they asked. "How do you get your clients?" I
thoroughly enjoyed answering these questions and in doing so felt
my friends gained a new respect for our way of doing business. In
fact, I found that small hoteliers and tour operators wanted my
business and actually offered me more beneficial rates and
A hotel I use frequently in Paris has guaranteed me a rate of
20% off rack rates. I book directly with it via fax and promise
that we will use its hotel for all suitable clients in Paris.
I have met the owner and we have a good relationship. In
addition to these favorable rates, he often upgrades my clients,
"finds" a room during heavily booked periods and obtains
hard-to-get dinner reservations. My clients love the special
attention, and I love the fact I can always count on receiving my
And what was the comment most often spoken by my European
partners about working from home? "I wish I could do that!"
Robin Fetsch operates Specialty Tours from her home in Falls
ARC helps CTA candidates
If you're a candidate in the Institute of Certified Travel
Agents' certified travel associate program, you're also eligible
for more than 50 scholarships offered by the Airline Reporting
Corporation for special "immersion weekends." These weekends
feature a day and a half of discussions and activities based
directly on the CTA course materials and culminate in a proctored
The 1999 spring schedule of ICTA immersion weekends is: Feb. 4
to 6 at the Doubletree Hotel, Nashville, Tenn.; March 18 to 20 at
the Doubletree Hotel Anaheim in Orange County, Calif., and April 29
to May 1 at the Regal Minneapolis Hotel. The ARC scholarships, for
$195, cover the registration fee for the weekend. For more
information, visit ICTA's Web site at www.icta.com or call the fax
request line at (888) FAX-ICTA and request documents 23 and 18.