Bermuda: Agent to agent

Linda Mitchell works as a corporate sales counselor at an on-site American Express office in Cambridge, Mass. But such is her devotion to Bermuda that she has developed a substantial clientele for travel to that island.

"Corporate clients ask for recommendations both for business meetings and leisure," she says. "I have so much enthusiasm about the island from personal experience and the people who know of that enthusiasm come to me for Bermuda bookings. And many of them become repeat travelers to Bermuda."

Not only do those corporate clients come to Mitchell for Bermuda bookings, they have also sent their children to her for honeymoon planning.

Mitchell tends to focus on smaller island properties, saying, "The larger resorts are great for a certain kind of trip, but my clients tend to want something different and I think the smaller hotels and cottage colonies represent the true warmth of Bermuda hospitality."

Mitchell is a big believer in seeing a destination firsthand and has visited Bermuda frequently. On recent visits, she has tried to visit as many properties as possible. As a result, she says, "although I have a favorite, I have gotten a good feeling for how other properties might be right for specific clients. It helps in the qualifying process."

While acknowledging that Bermuda can be an expensive place for dining, Mitchell says some meal plans make it much more affordable. For instance, The Bermuda Collection of a half dozen small hotels has a popular dine-around program which, she says, "enables clients to sample all these places, which are among the best on the island. And if a client wants to opt out of a plan for an evening, they can do that."

While Mitchell says her clients are not usually watching every penny, she does tell them to use buses and ferries "for the experience." She is also very high on the island's taxis, saying, "The drivers are the true diplomats of the island. They're great for guided tours or for just telling you about the island as you ride to and from your destination."

Aside from visiting the island itself, Mitchell attends as many Bermuda seminars as she can and reads trade and travel magazines extensively "to keep up to date."

Julie Caldo started her Allendale, N.J., agency, Concierge Travel & Cruise Consultants in the summer of 1998 -- not an auspicious time to start an agency. But Caldo says she and her partner Dennise Tracey are doing well because they provide the kind of services and attention to detail their affluent clientele expects.

That clientele parallels the most significant market for Bermuda and Caldo promotes to them aggressively. Bermuda was the Page One story in the winter edition of "The Concierge," her agency's newsletter, and packages are promoted on her Web site, which was designed by a professional.

Like Mitchell, Caldo works with many of Bermuda's smaller properties and, she notes, "each property is booked in a different way. For instance, The Reefs does not work with wholesalers while Ariel Sands does. Of course we like to work with wholesalers because of the airline commission cap situation."

The agent says Bermuda has become appealing to a broader cross-section of clients because the island has fine-tuned its product to emphasize active vacations like scuba diving and hiking.

While the agency's newsletter is the main promotional vehicle for now, says Caldo, "we will be branching out into television." n

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