Wishing and working on a Star

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For much of her working life, Pam Coskey has wished upon a star. She has been heavily reliant on the entertainment giant Disney to earn a living. She worked in a restaurant and as a travel agent at Walt Disney World. Also, she sold many, many Disney travel packages as a travel agent in New York and in Orlando.

Pluto.She does not often book Disney trips these days, however, because it is right in her backyard. She is manager of Go Travel, the only agency in Celebration, Fla., a small but affluent "new town" of about 2,000 people started by Disney. The concept here, where homes typically cost a half-million dollars, is to create a family-oriented place where people can live and work in close proximity (in addition to homes and a small downtown, offices and a downtown hotel are being built).

The majority of Go clients work at Disney, and many of them are the "Imagineers" -- those who design rides and perform other creative functions at the theme park. The advantage of having so many upscale clients is that average trips tend to be more expensive, offering higher commissions. "I would say our average trip is probably $3,000 a person," Coskey said. One of her clients recently booked a Concorde flight and a weeklong hotel stay in London and Paris that cost $14,000; another booked a family cruise to Panama that added up to $28,000.

In addition to escorted tours, her clients like cruises to the Caribbean, Coskey said. "We also book Disney's own cruise ship. We had a lot of people booking the second ship who aren't going now" because of the delay in delivering the vessel, she said.

Coskey's husband works at Disney, so the couple regularly visit the complex. When she goes, she has a favorite place: the MGM Studios. She once saw actor Michael J. Fox there. Getting his autograph was another reason she is grateful to Disney.

Small town pluses and minuses

Being located in a small but upscale town such as Celebration, Fla., has marketing advantages and disadvantages, according to Pam Coskey, manager of Go Travel here. "It's a small-town atmosphere but with residents who have a higher-than-normal income," said Coskey.

On a private island for Disney Cruise Line.In that atmosphere, Go Travel agents have regular client contact at the tiny post office, the bank and at businesses along Front Street such as the grocery store and Max's Grille. Relying on repeat customers, Go's agents try hard to maintain friendly relationships. "Ticking somebody off can really hurt you, so you try to avoid that," Coskey said.

The town has its own closed-circuit television station, which enables Go to reach residents with various on-air promotions, such as $10-off coupons for cruises. Coskey said the agency also is adding an Internet site. Most residents have personal computers, so Go Travel can also use e-mail to keep residents informed about travel options.

Many of her clients are sophisticated and "know pretty much what they want," she said. Despite that knowledge or, in part, because of it, Coskey said, her agents also tend to spend a lot of time with clients making sure they are prepared for their trips. Also because the clientele is so knowledgeable about travel, Coskey said, her agents tend to take as many fam trips as possible so they can answer most questions that inevitably come up.

Got a question?

Dan McManus.Here are the answers to some queries about personnel and agency operations issues:

Q:I've decided to sell my agency. Should I call other agencies in my area to find a buyer?

A:No, not if you want to get top dollar. Another agency owner may seem like an ideal prospect for buying your travel business, but most of the time you can command a higher price by putting your agency on the open market.

Your best bet is to list the agency with a business broker specializing in selling travel agencies. A good broker will have prospects looking to get into the business who, as a rule, will be willing to pay more than someone who already owns an agency.

The broker can also keep the fact that your agency is for sale confidential. It is almost impossible to advertise on your own without letting the employees know that the business is up for sale. Your agency may take a year or more to sell, and some employees may choose to leave in that time, making the agency less attractive to buyers.

Q:How concerned should I be about the security of my financial records on the office computer?

A:Take precautions. The old saying, "locks keep honest people honest," is true. A recent study indicated that 48% of employees admitted to committing one or more illegal or unethical act on the job. The most common breach of security, experts say, involves a trusted employee whose money handling is left unchecked. The second-most common area involves employees whose knowledge of computer accounting systems surpasses that of their manager, enabling them to use the system to divert money. Chances are all of your employees are honest, but make sure you haven't created an environment that tempts them to be otherwise.

Dan McManus is a former agency owner who publishes the Successful Worldspan Agency newsletter.

Universal Benefits

Universal Studios Escape in Orlando, Fla., is again offering year-round benefits to qualified visiting travel agents -- and is now extending these benefits to the company's newest theme park, Universal Studios Islands of Adventure, opening this summer. Travel agents must show their IATAN card along with a preprinted business card for free admission. They can get a $2.50 discount on the regular one-day rate for up to six of their guests. Universal Studios Escape also is offering agents a 50% discount on rack rates for its new resort, Portofino Bay, a Loews Hotel, when reservations are made within 45 days of arrival. The resort is set to open this summer.

Another special industry benefit is the travel agent package program. For a nominal fee, qualified agencies can send up to five of their agents on a three-day Universal Studios Escape vacation that includes three nights' accommodations, a VIP tour and an Orlando FlexTicket, which provides admission to Universal Studios Escape, SeaWorld Orlando and Wet 'n Wild.

For more information, call (800) 224-3838.

Internet Directory

Looking for a way to cut down on your Web search time? You might check out Internet Travel Resources, a 120-page directory of travel Web sites with more than 700 listings for suppliers and information sources. The guide is published by Notebook Publications in Fort Collins, Colo.

The directory, which will be published twice annually to accommodate updates, was searched and compiled by Judith Albright, a former travel agent and tour operator. The listings are organized in alphabetical order in 10 main sections -- transportation, accommodations, cruises, etc. -- and each listing contains the name of the supplier, the Web address and a brief description of the product or service.

The directory can be ordered on line at www.notebookpublications.com or directly from Notebook Publications at 2601 S. Lemay St., Suite 7150, Fort Collins, Colo. 80525. The introductory price, valid until June 1, is $29.95 plus $4.95 shipping and handling.

Ireland.com

This Irish Times site has a lively Dublin guide that's not only helpful but fun to read. You'll find new restaurant reviews, current information on the arts and entertainment scene and basic tourist pointers about the weather and driving.

A Social Customs section on "the things the Irish do" explains such niceties as the system of rounds in a pub, where one buys or at least offers to buy a round for everyone in the group. www.ireland.com

Seychelles

Go here for an overview of the Seychelles islands and a quick course on the geography, climate and people. There is plenty of practical information on air service, departure taxes and the like, as well as what visitors can do when they get there. The activities section includes information on coral reef diving, the islands' main sporting attraction. www.sey.net

Compiled by Jennifer Dorsey. E-mail suggestions to [email protected]

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