SEATTLE -- Cruise West's hourlong Internet training class started at 9 a.m., but Ann Bruno of AAA Autoclub South had a client coming in at 9:45 a.m.

No problem, she said. "I was able to walk out of my office, give him a brochure and come back [to the class] without anyone knowing I was gone."

The days of the drop-in DSM or the regional breakfast are gone, at least for Cruise West. Bruno conducted her classroom session alone in her office -- but through the Internet, she linked up to five other agents and the Cruise West trainer.

The small-ship line earlier this year eliminated its field reps and now focuses its sales outreach program through a newly upgraded and redesigned agent Web site.

Agents can sign up for the free training sessions, which are done through an Internet product called WebEx -- and an old-fashioned device called the phone.

Bruno, for example, took an online session called "Cruise West 2004 Product Launch," and she followed along via WebEx, which enables a session leader to control the images and information the attendees see on their computer screens.

Cruise West's new Web site, at www.cruisewestagents.com, also enables agents to download marketing collateral and create their own marketing program, check out fam opportunities and get information on the line's agent partner program, called B.E.A.R. (Bookings Earn Additional Rewards).

"If you had district sales managers come in, they'd have all of this in their briefcase," said Jerre Fuqua, Cruise West's vice president of sales. "It's all here."

The Web site is customized for Cruise West's preferred partners such as Leisure Travel Group. But any agent can come in, browse and find out, for example, what type of client is right for Cruise West.

"This allows agents, if they're part of a consortia or not, to have the same tools a big agent would have," Fuqua said.

Next year the site will take agents' online bookings.

The line scheduled about 20 training sessions in November, with subjects like "Selling Small Ship Cruising" and "Virtual Cruise Nights."

Once agents install the WebEx software on a compatible computer system and dial into a conference call, they're ready to go. The photos, text and information are fed directly into the individual computers, almost like a Web-based slide show.

To contact reporter Rebecca Tobin, send e-mail to [email protected].

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