Part of David Levenes job is to have dinner with travel agents. As Regents eastern vice president of field sales, Levene recently acquired responsibility for the brands hotels in addition to Regent Seven Seas Cruises. He meets with agents, when theyre available, to go over the products. Theyre often not available until evening.

In the space of four days earlier this month, he had dinner with three agents. Each is successful. Each sells a lot of Regent cruises. And each is over 80 years old.

Alice is as aggressive as when I met her 30 years ago, he said of Alice Cohen, who founded Alice Travel in Fairfield, N.J. but now runs it from her home in Florida. I wish all travel agents had her drive. She just got back from a cruise -- with a competitive line, by the way -- and is planning another trip. With another competitor. But shes talking with us at the same time. She has fire in her belly.

Bob (Block, of Riverside/Protravel in Manhattan) is actually a second-generation agent. He picked up the business from his mother, who started the agency in the 1920s. Another dynamic, aggressive salesperson. He sells a lot of luxury, and he practices what he preaches: He lives well, he dines well, he travels well, and its all reflected in the business he generates.

Julian and Joan (Menken, of The Cruise Market in New York) do a lot of mailings and sell a lot of cruises in the upscale market. Theyre well respected by the cruise lines.

Levene, who was himself a second-generation travel agent before moving to the supply side (his father ran an agency in Palestine prior to World War II, then one in London), recently participated in a 100-seminar campaign that Regent produced to familiarize agents nationwide with recent changes in the brand.

During that promotion, he spoke with young agents, old agents and ones in between. Much has been written about how to market to the various generations, and I was curious about whether there were generational traits among senior, baby boomer and Gen-X travel agents as well.

Levene thought there were. We all know that seniors, as consumers, carry the scars of the Depression with them, he began. But among travel agents, those who are now seniors came into the industry when it was a kinder, gentler business. They tend to believe that, irrespective of changes in technology, relationships will prevail, and that people like personalized service.

Levene thinks older agents had the least trouble instituting service fees because theyve had experience with people paying for service. In the 1950s, we used to mark up an FIT 30% or 40%, he said.

Boomer agents tend to come to travel from other businesses and bring new approaches. Theyre faster to embrace technology, they tend to be focused and very businesslike, Levene said. They dont necessarily get into the travel agent lifestyle like some of the seniors, at least not at first, but they eventually realize that experience as a traveler is important and valued by clients.

The newer entrants bring a different strength. They seem to understand groups really well, he said, and can identify different types of communities easily. Theyre into rifle-marketing rather than shotgun-marketing and believe that technology can level the playing field.

The youngest among them are focused on getting the best value for clients, he added, and they even see cruises as a commodity.

Most are going through host agencies or Web sites, Levene said. The industry as a whole has not been generous with pay to agents, especially at the entry level, and most young agents seem to understand you need to get with the right organization or have your own business.

Levene doesnt see different generational styles as being in conflict. If youre an interesting and success-oriented 32-year-old and you happen to sit next to an interesting and success-oriented 82-year-old, youll have a lot to talk about, he said. And there are a lot of 82-year-old agents out there: I dont recall too many agents retiring from this business: They tend to die with their boots on.

Levene, who didnt mention his own age, has been in the industry for more than 50 years. His father worked at his agency until he was 83. I got the feeling that Levene wouldnt mind following in his fathers foot ... I mean, boot steps.

I hope so, Levene said. I told my wife that if I go while Im at work, that means I went out as a happy man.


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