Destination Bahamas offers agents 13% pay


MIAMI -- Year-old Bahamian vacation-planning service Destination Bahamas here is taking a travel agent angle to boost its market presence, including paying 13% commission.

The organization, which is owned by the Nassau/Paradise Island Promotion Board, named one-time retailer Richard Ellis its new executive vice president and enhanced agent incentives through April.

Launched in January 2002, Destination Bahamas is a self-described "one-stop shopping" outlet for booking trips to Nassau and Paradise Island.

Both consumers and agents can place one call to res agents at the company's call center for instant access to availability and rates at 22 properties in Nassau and Paradise Island, as well as transport information.

Participating properties include Atlantis, Breezes Bahamas, Holiday Inn Sunspree and Ocean Club.

Destination driven

Consultants craft itineraries including air fare, accommodations and transfers for agents and consumers alike.

"We're unique in that this is direct distribution by a destination itself," said Ellis, who began his tourism career as a travel agent with Liberty Travel in 1983, eventually becoming senior vice president of marketing at sister company Gogo Worldwide Vacations.

"Although Destination Bahamas has been on the market a year, we have not been aggressively marketed until just about two months ago," he said.

Ellis left the Liberty Travel/Gogo group in 1996 to form his own consultancy, Ellis Tourism Advisors; clients included American Airlines, Sabre, Marriott, Best Western, American Express, Continental, Alamo Rent A Car and MTI Vacations.

Ellis said he believes that his 20 years of specific agency and general industry know-how lends him an edge in working with retailers.

Agent experience

"I think my progression from travel agent to the post-Lib/Go period, when I consulted for a number of significant tour operators, is one of the greatest assets I bring to the table," Ellis said, adding that he expects up to 75% of Destination Bahamas' business to be generated through agents.

"In today's world more than ever, I think operators who recognize both the sensitivities of travel agents and their value in the distribution chain are going to be the ones that ultimately succeed," he said. "Agents aren't going anywhere, and we see them as vital partners in [our] success."

To that end, Destination Bahamas through April 5 is paying agents 13% and awarding them one free two-night stay at three categories of participating Nassau/Paradise Island hotels and resorts for every fourth booking; alternatively, agents may opt for a higher level of hotel in lieu of additional free nights.

"We understand all the challenges travel agents face in this era of commission cuts, so we're trying on both the commissions and incentives sides to make Destination Bahamas a valuable product for them to sell -- without, of course, going out there and sending the market into a tailspin as far as commission payment levels are concerned," Ellis said.

"We believe we've put a competitive commission structure in place that enables agents to earn 13% for booking with us, while at the same time easily earning travel for themselves," he added, noting that at the same time, Destination Bahamas doesn't "believe we should be buying agents' business by paying additional commissions over [13%]."

The company also is looking to spur consumer interest with lower product prices that reflect the reduced or charter rates to the Bahamas that have become available recently.

Lead price shrinks

According to Ellis, the lead price for three-night, air-inclusive packages out of New York or Philadelphia is $369; similar deals start at $409 from Baltimore/Washington, while two nights from south Florida begin at $199.

"The lead has come down $10 from all markets," said Ellis. "However, a lot of the savings are in the bigger hotels such as the Radisson [Cable Beach and Golf Resort]."

Although Destination Bahamas markets only the 22 participating properties in Nassau and Paradise Island -- comprising international hotel chains, deluxe resorts and locally run guesthouses -- Ellis plans soon to expand the company's geographic reach to the Out Islands and Grand Bahama Island.

Other expansion is planned on the technology and distribution fronts, with a Web site with a booking engine in the works for later this year.

"We have a slick call center that has been set up, and inhouse operations are being handled by Paradise Island Vacations, which has a new, multimillion-dollar call center in Plantation, Fla.," said Ellis.

"Part of this technology upgrade calls for there being online distribution at Destination Bahamas starting in the third quarter of this year."

Until then, for more details, travel agents can call (800) 4-BAHAMAS; the company also operates a consumer line at (800) BAHAMAS.

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