When it comes to winter vacations, says Ellen Kalish, manager of
the leisure department at Houston-based
Atlas Travel, many clients "know exactly what they want and
where they want to go." But, she says, "we also get a fair number
of clients who just want to go skiing."
Recommendations made by the ski specialists who comprise a large
part of the agency's leisure department, says Kalish, "are always
based on qualifying the client. That includes, very importantly,
what they're looking for besides skiing. It also means
accessibility -- do they want to drive from the airport or
Qualifying can help in sorting through the complexities of
selecting the right resorts for these people, she says. "A client
might want to go to Vail, but keep costs down. We will put them a
few miles away from the mountain. There are ways to send people to
upscale areas and cut costs. It's all part of the qualifying
While Atlas does deal with a few selected tour operators, the
agency does not buy tours off the rack. Whether it uses an operator
or not, holidays tend to be customized.
Kalish seeks to maximize commissions by prebooking as much as
possible, saying that even equipment rental can add quite a bit to
the price of a winter vacation.
Many skiers tend to book early, says Kalish, to insure good
accommodations during popular seasons. "Once school starts, people
start thinking about spring break. And we book holiday skiing all
With herself and her colleagues visiting ski resorts regularly,
says Kalish, "We have become really good at sharing information. If
an agent is trying to help a client and they're not familiar with
an area, somebody else will be."
Kalish says the best way to sell skiing to families is to talk
about its universal appeal.
"Hands down, it is the best vacation for families, even
nonskiers. It transcends generations. You have to tell parents that
their teenagers, who ordinarily don't want to go anywhere with
them, will go on a ski vacation."
Even the beach doesn't have that kind of pull, she says. Every
visitor to a ski resort "does their own thing and then meets for
dinner. It offers great continuity for families, who keep going
back generation after generation."
Mike Russ, who owns Carlson-Wagonlit Travel in Little Rock,
Ark., believes in strong promotion, especially for driving ski
Recently, Russ, who has been in business for only two-and-a-half
years, joined with
a local radio station and its popular disk jockey to put
together a Ski Sale at the local athletic club. Russ, his staff and
the DJ greeted members of the club on a Saturday morning to
distribute flyers and to have them talk with representatives of
Mountain Vacations (800-775-7995), Russ' preferred ski tour
operator; and to ski instructors from Banff and from Steamboat
Following that, the staff, disk jockey and experts returned to
Russ' agency to do a remote two-hour feed of the radio show -- all
the while promoting several ski programs.
To drum up interest in the show, Russ bought air time on the
station for five days before the event, as well as newspaper
That is typical of Russ' emphasis on promotion. "I believe in
strong promotion, especially for ski business. That includes
newspaper ads, radio commercials and special promotions." He
advertises ski packages regularly in the newspaper to establish
himself as an expert (he and his family love skiing).
He and his wife also visited many organizations in the past year
to drum up group business. "We visited many organizations we
thought had the potential for ski groups. Out of that we sold one
group of 50 for this season and I laid the groundwork for the
Shortly after opening his agency, Russ chose Mountain Vacations
as a preferred supplier because, he says, "It
allows us to become knowledgeable about their product,
encourages them to co-op on ads with us and helps when there are
any problems. For instance, we had a group of eight at a resort
where there was little snow last year. The operator refunded the
price of their lift tickets and got them tickets at a resort a few
miles away that had better snow."