Italy: Agent to Agent

For Carol Ward of Carol Ward Tours, Indianapolis, success has come through "knowing what you do and what you want to do," and creating a niche that reflects those strengths and desires.

A former art history professor who studied at Italy's University of Bologna, Ward says her language skills (she is bilingual), connections and academic background enable her to offer clients her first-hand knowledge of Italy along with programs customized to their needs. Much of her business is from art, university and historically-oriented groups attracted by her expertise.

"My business is 90% customizing, whether it's for groups or FITs," says Ward, who accompanies the group programs she organizes. "The question I ask on all programs is 'How can I make this trip special?' It's all about augmenting clients' horizons."

Ward has also found success by providing personal attention. "With commissions dropping as they are, the competition is fierce," she notes. "Clients have to have faith in you as they would in their dentist or accountant."

Ward says "taking care of people" involves what may initially look like a non-paying proposition to many travel agents. "You may make $5 on a ticket, for instance, but you don't know what that piece of business can lead to. I don't turn people away unless I absolutely don't have the time."

Terry Montesano of Burnham Park Travel, Chicago also believes a knowledge of Italy is crucial in selling the country. For Montesano, Italian ancestry and upbringing in an Italian-American neighborhood have been a major advantage in dealing with her large Italian-American clientele.

That background, however, can't replace solid research, knowledge of Italy and the support of a good tour operator, says Montesano.

Montesano says she reads a lot about the country and also relies on tour operators. "A good tour operator is essential," she says. If the tour operator is good at his or her job it can be indispensable to the agent.

She recommends TourCrafters (847-816-6510) for packaging an Italy program. "They can pretty much do anything you want: FITs, they will really deviate from a planned itinerary."

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