Adventure Travel: Agent to Agent

In the 12 years that agency owner Muriel Mozzi has been in business, she has taken many proactive steps to promote adventure travel. Consumer seminars, an agency newsletter, client outings and luncheons, local advertising and client surveys are among the measures that have helped drive adventure travel sales for The Travel Station, located in the upscale community of Lincoln, Mass.

Those ventures have proven hugely successful. Today, adventure travel accounts for about 60% of the leisure agency's tour business. Yet for all those marketing measures, Mozzi attributes her agency's success in the specialty niche to one factor above all others -- agent travel. "Making sure our agents have gone on trips probably has been the most successful thing we've done," she says.

Mozzi's one-word advice to agents eager to sell adventure vacations? Travel.

Bea Goldstein, a partner at Northside Travel in Brewster, Mass., echoes Mozzi's counsel. When an agent can say to a client they've taken a specific trip or visited the destination it builds client confidence in the agent, she says.

Traveling is one way agents can get a feel for the products of different adventure travel suppliers, Goldstein notes, but it's impossible to sample every operator's product. To find suppliers she can trust, Goldstein and her business partner have attended Helen Nodland's Adventure & Exotic Travel Educational Seminar. Nodland "gives a lot of credibility" to her supplier partners, Goldstein says. Goldstein also makes it a point to check supplier references when she's had no previous experience with them.

At The Travel Station, Muriel Mozzi has so much confidence in the products of one supplier -- Lindblad Special Expeditions -- that she displays its brochures and no others. Mozzi began putting up displays of Lindblad Special Expeditions products and destinations at about the time she joined the Lindblad Expedition Club, a cooperative marketing program for agents. (See story, Page 12.) The results were dramatic. In one year her agency's sales of Lindblad tours shot up from $34,000 to $168,000.

Selecting the right suppliers is essential, she says. Her advice in this regard? "Talk to other agencies. Look at Conde Nast Traveler and Travel & Leisure's lists. Look at how long a company's been in business, what kind of a contribution they're making to the environment." Mozzi also studies suppliers' tour programs carefully. "We're very analytical about the way people's itineraries have been developed -- if they make sense."

In addition to knowing the product well, agents need to know their clients and talk with them extensively, Mozzi advises. "We spend a lot of time with clients. When they come back from a trip we ask them to give us feedback. In adventure travel that's really important. If you send somebody on something that is too strenuous for them they'll never come back."

When The Travel Station plans to promote a new adventure trip or destination Mozzi begins by educating clients and creating opportunities for client networking. For example, this month [OCT] the agency is hosting a client luncheon with presentations on Egypt, Tanzania and walking tours. "If you pick the right operators and you give clients the opportunity to meet each other and talk about it, [the clients] really sell it for you," she says.

At Northside Travel, Bea Goldstein and her business partner Mary Jo Gregory have cultivated business by offering an adventure travel show in cooperation with a handful of suppliers, including Butterfield & Robinson, International Expeditions and Holbrook Travel. The show helped provide visibility for the Cape Cod agency and generated names for a travel group for which it organizes supplier presentations.

"Letting people know what we're doing is the biggest challenge," Goldstein says. "Once they know, they're interested."

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