recently spoke to the second person
in as many months who sells travel for a living but who disavows
that he is a travel agent. The first said he simply wants to
redefine his clients' expectations -- he is knowledgeable about
travel products and destinations, but isn't an agent for specific
suppliers, trying to sell this product or that.
The second said he is a "travel marketer, not a travel agent."
Eric Maryanov of All Travel in West Los Angeles has sold travel for
more than 20 years, but after redefining himself, his business
accelerated significantly -- just as most agencies began to feel
particularly challenged. He has opened three offices since 9/11,
for a total of four. He said he couldn't care less about Expedia,
Travelocity or Orbitz except to learn from them. In fact, most of
his growth has come because he embraces the Web rather than fears
In addition to his legacy business -- which, despite his
disavowal, most would call a traditional travel agency -- Maryanov
has created several Web sites targeting different niches.
The key to his success -- and the reason he doesn't fear the Big
Three online agencies -- is because he combines the advantages of
the Web and personal-relationship marketing.
"We easily will do $5 million in Web-generated business this
year, but $4 million of that will close over the phone," he said.
"We build traditional relationships with prospects found in an
untraditional manner. Everything on our Web sites drives them to
contact us by phone. And the calls are received by what would be
thought of as traditional agents who really 'get it': who get the
technology, who understand the marketing, who know how to establish
To build his Web business, Maryanov said he studied what makes a
Web site successful. "A consumer is as quick and sharp in
qualifying your Web site as you are in qualifying them. You have
about 30 seconds. But once you get a Web customer, if you do it
right, they will book, they're loyal and they come back again."
Web buyers, Maryanov believes, want someone to validate their
research. "They want to hear someone say, 'You've done a great job.
Now let's get specific.' Many people who brag that they buy online
actually start the process online but buy from a salesperson on the
Once you're convinced your Web sites are well organized and
user-friendly, he said, you need to "get creative with
"Let's say you're paying a search engine to give you high
placement with certain keywords. The last thing you want is to pay
40 cents a hit for 5,000 hits on the words 'adventure travel.' It's
too broad. Try 'kayaking.' And not 'hiking' -- 'hiking in New
New Zealand, it turns out, has become a niche for Maryanov since
he hired a consultant who's a native New Zealander. "Once they hear
that accent -- instant credibility."
Maryanov is focused on preferred vendors, and sees that as a
plus for him and his clients. "I know which vendors deliver and
which don't. And I know they care about which agents deliver and
which don't. I use CRM technology to show a supplier what I deliver
to them ... and what I can move to them if they give me marketing
In the travel industry, it's convenient to use the
one-size-fits-all term "travel agent," but as with any label, it
tends to impose limits. It's probably less important to drop the
descriptor "travel agent" than to take a serious look at what that
term can mean in 2003. Those who haven't re-evaluated their job
description during the past decade are dying or dead.
The most successful agents build on their past experiences, as
does Maryanov. "I like what I do. I'm too young to retire, too
stupid to learn a new profession, so I just keep on challenging
myself. And I'm happy. I've found that this is the most exciting
time I've been in business."