Worldly-wise

How many times have you heard this admonition: The travel industry is serious business and has no place for neophytes who enter the field simply because they "love to travel."

Nick Kontis, seen here in Kenya with a Masai warrior, turned his love of travel into a business. "Well, why not?" asked Nick Kontis, founder and chairman of San Francisco-based Ticket Planet, whose love of travel is the driving force behind his firm.

The 4-year-old company, which acts as both a consolidator for more than 40 airlines and a retail travel agency, specializes in around-the-world air tickets, offered at startlingly low prices (a Circle Pacific multistop ticket goes for $975).

Kontis' story began when he took a break from his job running a beer concession at San Francisco's Candlestick Park to vacation in his native Greece.

While there, he met a Swedish couple on their way to Bangladesh with tickets they had bought in Greece for $280 on Bangladesh Airlines.

"I didn't think you could buy an air ticket to anywhere for $280," Kontis said, so he bought one, too.

Destinations such as Burma, Nepal and India followed until somewhere along the way, "something clicked," Kontis said. "I asked myself, 'Where were Americans taking long journeys?' and I conceptualized bridging together a group of consolidator air fares all over the globe to create inexpensive around-the-world prices," he said.

The firm combines a brick-and-mortar office with a Web site (www.ticketplanet.com) that enables users to book on line.

"We are drawing traffic to our site with content such as a flight tracker; travel stories, and information on shots, visas and travel gear," Kontis said.

Visitors to the site can either do their own booking on line or call for additional information, he said.

"What are you going to do when you can't find flight availability? You get on the horn and call us, the travel professionals," he said.

Customer service representatives can e-mail clients as they are booking, and a live Internet chat room where clients can discuss trips is in the works.

Although Kontis is proud of his Web site, he emphasized that virtual travel won't replace the real thing: "There isn't a booking engine that will tell you about the joys of climbing Annapurna [in Nepal]."

The long and short of things

Why focus on long trips when trend-seekers continually point out a rise in consumers taking shorter vacations?

"The economy is very strong, and there is a crop of people who are willing to try a trek in Nepal, scuba in Micronesia or safari in South Africa," said Nick Kontis, founder and chairman of Ticket Planet in San Francisco.

According to Nick Kontis, there is a segment of travelers willing to explore exotic locales, such as Nepal, above. While even those with a mere two weeks are going farther afield than ever, he said, others are taking time off for longer journeys in the form of sabbaticals.

In addition to professionals, longer, multistop trips are attracting retirees, who have the time, interest and often more money than other traveling groups, he said.

"I was in Thailand, and I saw people in their 80s riding an elephant in the jungles," he said. "I'm also seeing a lot of parents taking their children on jungle treks or safaris and to places like China and Bali," Kontis said.

Kontis is so gung ho about travel that he pushes it for the trade as well as for clients.

"There's no greater education than going to see the world for six to 12 months; that will take you further in life than a four-year bachelor of arts degree," Kontis said.

And while agents can't realistically take off for months at a time, he does think they should travel more. "Some agents sell nothing but Disney, the Caribbean and domestic destinations, but the experience of traveling to other destinations will help you sell them," he said.

From Dan's Desk

Spoon-feeding
Q: Is there an easy way for me to communicate all the new information my employees need?

A: Yes. In a busy agency, few employees have time to read while working. Yet your service will be enhanced if employees receive a steady stream of knowledge.

The solution? Spoon-feed information to your employees on a regular basis to keep them motivated.

Dan McManus.There are easy ways to spread information. When you find an article you want everyone to read, include it in their paychecks. It creates a connection between pay and service, and there's a high probability that employees will read it.

You could also set up a customer service library. Include books, tapes, newsletters and magazines on the topic and allow agents to take them home. Offer a reward when information is studied.

Another effective way includes employee participation. Have one person provide a 20-minute seminar on some aspect of travel or customer service once a month during a staff meeting.

Both the person preparing the seminar and those receiving the training will learn. Set it up so each employee gives two to three sessions per year.

Whatever you choose, you should continually feed the need for new strategies and reinforce the data staff already has.

Fiscally speaking
Q: What is the best month for my fiscal year to end?

A: For most travel agencies, there is no choice in what month will be the fiscal year-end. According to IRS regulations (except in very special cases), Dec. 31 is the date if you are one of the following:

  • Sole proprietor
  • S corporation
  • Partnership
  • However, if your agency is a C corporation, you can choose any month as your year-end. Pick one when your sales are at the lowest level, especially if you typically experience a loss during that month.

    Former agency owner Dan McManus is the publisher of the newsletter The Successful Worldspan Agent. Contact him at[email protected].

    Comments

    From Our Partners

    2020 NTG Webinar Series
    Travel, Our Future and Yours A Series of Conversations with Industry Leaders
    Register Now
    American Queen South
    American Queen Steamboat Company
    Read More
    2020 Club Med Webinar
    Let’s Escape Again with Club Med
    Register Now

    JDS Travel News JDS Viewpoints JDS Africa/MI