indy Flint once managed traffic
patterns around construction sites in Alaska -- among other things.
"You don't only watch out for the vehicles," said Flint, travel
agency services manager for AAA Northway in Schenectady, N.Y.
You also watch out for the animals -- be they grizzly or moose.
"If you see a mama moose and her calf, you get out of the way. You
drop your sign paddle and run for cover," Flint said.
Flint will tell you that her experiences in Alaska have played a
crucial role in making her the travel manager she is today.
"In Alaska, you have to be strong to survive," said Flint, who
has no problem chopping her own wood. "Alaska taught me a great
respect for the finer things in life, and it's helped me a lot when
dealing with people." Flint's adventures in Alaska also included a
stint as a camp manager for a gold mine as well as an array of
retail positions selling everything from fish to tires to
In short, Flint said her 21 years on the Last Frontier taught
her self-confidence, which has translated into strong management
skills that are put to good use in her current position.
Her last career in Alaska was that of travel agent. "In 1985, I
decided I really needed to do something special with my life," said
Flint. "The state of Alaska had a program for school loans under
which if you graduated and went into [a specific] field after
graduation, the state would forgive almost all if not your entire
school loan." She accepted the challenge in the travel industry and
graduated with flying colors.
Flint worked for a variety of agencies that each provided
distinct challenges. One corporate travel agency booked travel for
the University of Alaska sports teams. "Making bookings for a team
of 50 hockey players was a challenge," said Flint. "Especially
traveling on the smaller aircraft with all of those bags of hockey
In 1999, after 10 years of working as an agent, Flint returned
to upstate New York, where she was born and lived until she was 6.
She left Alaska to help her parents take care of an ailing
Two years later, the travel bug bit. Flint worked briefly for
Ayelet Tours, a tour operator in Albany, N.Y., before applying for
a position at AAA Northway in 2001. She started out as a group
travel specialist who worked toward developing AAA Northway's group
In August 2002, Flint was promoted to her current position, and
along the way she obtained her CTC and Alaska destination
specialist designations. She said the two designations have helped
her immensely. "It's heightened my presence in the agency," she
said. "And it's definitely increased my knowledge and salary."
In her current position, Flint's responsibilities are
formidable. As an administrator, it falls on her shoulders to
ensure that all six AAA Northway locations in New York -- Scotia,
Amsterdam, Schenectady, Saratoga, Queensbury and Plattsburgh -- are
In order to achieve this goal, she assists and works directly
with all of AAA Northway's travel center managers in operating
their businesses. She also oversees AAA Northway's group
department, motorcoach department and a remote corporate office for
the Air National Guard.
Working for AAA, she said, is unique in the travel agency
industry. "As an AAA club we are guided by our membership, and we
do what is best for the members," she said. "Being a not-for-profit
organization is a lot different than those agencies that are out
for a major profit."
AAA Northway's commitment to its membership is key to its
success, said Flint. "We always stand behind our members; their
satisfaction is important to us, " she said.
Another reason AAA is able to stand behind its clients is the
rigorous qualification process its preferred suppliers are
subjected to before they are accepted into the AAA fold. "In order
to become a preferred supplier, they have to go through rigorous
background checks, they have to be financially stable and adhere to
our quality standards."
Once the preferred supplier is accepted, it must guarantee that
if travel issues occur in the booking/traveling process it will
assist in every way possible, said Flint. "I have never seen this
type of teamwork at any of the other agencies where I have worked,"
In the end, though, Flint said everything at AAA comes back to
exceeding the clients' expectations.
"We are committed to our vision of ultimate customer service,"
To contact reporter Claudette Covey, send e-mail to [email protected].
The Perfect Itinerary
On the road in Morocco
isa Lindblad, president of New
York-based Lisa Lindblad Travel Design, created this five-day
Morocco itinerary. The agency specializes in high-end, exotic
travel. Lindblad handpicks all drivers, guides, hotels and
restaurants. This itinerary, which is a segment of an 11-day
vacation, includes a private driver and guide throughout.
Clients are picked up at the Casablanca airport for the
three-and-a-half-hour trip to Fez, Morocco's oldest Imperial city.
En route, they visit Volubulis, a Roman settlement dating from the
third century B.C. In Fez, clients check into a Moroccan suite on
the garden side of the Palais Jamais. That evening they dine in the
hotel's restaurant, Cafe Restaurant Mounia.
A full-day tour includes visits to the Merinid Tombs, the Saadian
fortress of Borj Nord, the Andalous Quarter and the souks. The
venue for dinner is La Maison Bleue, where the proprietor, a friend
of Lindblad's, will personally welcome clients.
Travelers take a three-hour flight to Marrakesh. They stay at La
Maison Arabe, where suite accommodations have been reserved. "The
venue for dinner is the Amanjena and its delicious Thai
restaurant," said Lindblad.
Travelers take a full-day tour of the city with their guide, Hatim,
beginning with coffee at the Cosmopolitan Cafe, situated at one of
the city's highest points. "A delicious lunch has been reserved at
Jnane Tamsna in the Palmeraie, a lovely property designed and built
by my friend, Meryanne Loum Martin," Lindblad said, adding that, in
September, travelers can visit the establishment's bookshop,
gallery and shop. After lunch and a swim, they can go back to town
and wander the souks, where Hatim will point out all the best
shops. Dinner is at Jad Mahal, the new hip place in town.
Clients take an excursion to the High Atlas Mountains. Along the
way, they'll visit the Menera gardens and a variety of locations
that exemplify Berber culture in its natural context. In Imlil,
they visit the Kasbah Toubkal, situated at the foot of Jbel
Toubkal, the highest peak in north Africa. "After lunch travelers
can walk or take donkeys to visit local villages and return to the
kasbah for tea," said Lindblad. That evening they dine at Maison
Arabe's courtyard res-taurant.
Hand in Hand
Forming a partnership to fill HAL cruise ships
teve Simao, Holland America's
world cruise marketing manager, is quick to point out the
similarities between AAA and the line. "We've both been in business
more than 100 years," he said, "and we've got the same mindset.
It's a match."
A case in point is the way in which the two entities work
together to promote Holland America's longer itineraries and world
cruises through the line's World Showcase promotion.
This year, for instance, Holland America and Tampa, Fla.-based
AAA Auto Club South cosponsored a World Showcase at the
Ritz-Carlton in Sarasota, Fla., which drew more than 500
The Ritz-Carlton was chosen, said Patti Urias, managing director
of AAA SignaTours, because the property accurately reflects the
upscale nature of the Holland America product.
AAA, which was responsible for the guest list, did not qualify
attendees on the basis of their cruise resume, said Urias. "If the
travel customer has taken a vacation of more than 12 days and spent
a certain amount of money, that's the criteria we want."
A week before the lunch, an AAA "concierge" calls the guests to
reconfirm. "Having a concierge call is a reflection of the service
you get on a Holland America voyage -- the clients love it," said
For AAA branches in such Florida locations as Port Charlotte and
Venice, the agency chartered deluxe motorcoaches to transport
guests to the lunch.
Complimentary valet parking was provided by Holland America for
those guests who drove.
Presentations took place after the three-course lunch. "There
were lots of nice little touches," said Urias, "like Belgian
chocolates and tulips on tables" and prizes for guests.
For his part, Simao attributes the World Showcase's success to
targeting the right people for the lunch -- and the special
attention the guests received. Many district sales managers and AAA
staffers were in attendance. "We had the opportunity to mingle one
on one," he said. "While the guests are eating we're moving from
table to table."
The formula, it would appear, works. Urias said AAA's world
cruise sales were up by 37%, and Simao said that 40% of guests
attending any of the line's World Showcase promotions book a
Hand in Hand highlights successful examples of agents and
suppliers working together. Send suggestions to Agent Life editor
Claudette Covey at [email protected].
My favorite question
was watching "The Apprentice" a while back
and there was an interesting moment. Donald Trump had asked some of
his senior staff to interview the four finalists. All the finalists
were asked to describe how they would define success if they were
able to work with Trump for a year.
Now, I wouldn't want to work for Trump for a New York minute.
But it was a good question.
There is a similar question we need to ask our clients: How will
they evaluate our performance and what exactly do we need to do to
score an "A." An "A" means a client who returns and is likely to
refer additional business.
The client is Donald. The client is the CEO. The client has
alternatives. The client can say, "You're fired."
Of course, clients don't. Instead, they just go elsewhere, often
That's why I like the idea of establishing a performance
benchmark upfront. And the best way to do this is to ask the client
something like this: "Imagine, for a moment, that you've been back
from your vacation for a year or so. What exactly would our firm
have to do to so impress you that, one year later, you think of us
fondly and refer us to your friends?"
If that one isn't your style how about this: "I am not
interested in providing you with anything less than your best
vacation experience ever. Would you mind telling me, as
specifically as you can, what I need to do to achieve my goal?"
Sometimes, interviewing a client for the purpose of establishing
a performance benchmark can be difficult. Let's imagine that you
are meeting with a client who cruises the Caribbean with you every
year. And they're back to do it again. I think honesty works best
so perhaps this approach to defining your performance benchmark
might work: "This will be your 13th Caribbean cruise, and I know
you've enjoyed them all. But I'd really like to make this one
special for you because I appreciate your business. What can I do
to make this one truly memorable?"
In this last example, you may have difficulty eliciting the
answer you need. Offer some suggestions. Try to set a benchmark by
getting the client to agree to sign off on your offer: "So, if I
can do that, this trip will really be special?"
Amid all the cliches about travel selling, there is one truism.
Those of you who deal with leisure travel are usually dealing with
some of the finest moments of your clients' lives. You need to know
exactly what you have to do to produce the best possible
experience. The best way to do that is often the simplest. Ask.
Industry consultant Richard Turen owns the vacation planning
firm Churchill and Turen Ltd., based in Naperville, Ill. A 23-year
industry veteran, he has been named to Conde Nast Traveler's "Best
Agents" list since its inception in 2000. Contact him at [email protected].
Considerations when creating a slogan for your agency
1. Determine your agency's key benefit to
clients. Travel agents have to ask themselves what
separates them from the competition, said Kim Gordon, president of
Sugarloaf Key, Fla.-based National Marketing Federation, a
consulting and information company that caters to small businesses.
Agents, she said, must determine what they want people to remember
most about the agency.
2. Think about ways to imbed your company name in the
slogan. Studies have shown that companies that imbed their
names in their slogan had greater top-of-mind awareness from
consumers than those that did not imbed their company name.
3. Test your slogan carefully before you roll it
out. "You can't simply pick a slogan, throw it out there,
try it for a while and see if it works," said Gordon. She noted
that there are cost-effective ways in which to test its
effectiveness -- such as roundtable discussions. "You might want to
do is bring together a group of your very best customers for a
luncheon," she said, adding that it is likely you'll obtain
excellent feedback from such an event. Gordon also suggested that
agents consider using such Web sites as www.quirks.com, which
provides a rich archive of technique articles and case histories on
how to conduct research.
4. Consider trademarking your slogan. "It's not
a bad idea," said Gordon. Agents should make sure that the
trademark is available and isn't already in use. Retailers can log
on to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office's Web site at www.uspto.gov to get
5. Stick with your slogan. "You can't change
slogans as often as you change ad campaigns," said Gordon. "It's
absolutely essential to keep your slogan in place." Ad campaigns
should build upon a company's slogan. "It's the very best way to
build a brand recognition," said Gordon.