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
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.
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.
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
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.