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."
"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
"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,"
The firm combines a brick-and-mortar office with a Web site (www.ticketplanet.com) that enables users to book on
"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
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.
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
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.
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.
Q: What is the best month for my fiscal year to
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
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
Former agency owner Dan McManus is the publisher of the
newsletter The Successful Worldspan Agent. Contact him at[email protected].