New Orleans: Agent to Agent

Sally Salo of Dreamscape Travel in Delmont, Pa., says even though most people, including her clients, know New Orleans for its famed Mardi Gras, she sells the city more on attractions and activities beyond Mardi Gras, including tours to neighboring plantations, excursions to the surrounding swamps and Cajun cooking experiences.

Mardi Gras and its racy reputation just doesn't have that much appeal to clients of Dreamscape, an agency located about 40 miles east of Pittsburgh. "My clients are country folks, not city folks," says Salo.

Yet Mardi Gras is such a potent image for New Orleans that Salo uses it, combined with the city's signature music, in another selling strategy that has proved very successful. "My son installed a speaker outside the agency, and on Friday nights, when the agency is open until 7 p.m., we play music that suggests a particular destination," says Salo. "We've played Cajun music for New Orleans and we've also decorated the agency's picture window with a Mardi Gras motif for the entire month of February. The music puts the thought into their [clients'] heads."

Motorcoach tours comprise a large part of her New Orleans business, according

to Salo. "I use the fact that it's coach transportation down to the city in selling the tour," she says. "A lot of people are afraid of having to rent a car and finding hotels, restaurants and attractions on their own. With a motorcoach tour and with a hotel in New Orleans that is within walking distance of everything, they don't have to worry.

"The men are the hardest to get on the bus," Salo says, pointing to many male clients' fear of being viewed as less than independent and self-reliant. "Once they do one of these tours, though, they are our best advertisers."

At Springdale Travel in Mobile, Ala., Gail White specializes in corporate group travel, either for meetings or incentives. White says New Orleans is extremely popular with this market: "If you have a meeting in New Orleans, people will go. It's just that powerful of a destination."

There can, however, be some tricky elements to selling the city to White's niche market. "There is so much to do in the city that our clients, the companies, can just let attendees loose at night," she says.

"But for companies that like to keep their group together, that can be a problem. They may not want attendees going off on their own. They may be worrying about them showing up the next day for the program.

"If that's the hesitation, then we plan a private dinner or a tour for the group," says White. "New Orleans certainly has enough venues for receptions and special events. The hospitality and ground operations are also great and the CVB is wonderful to work with."

Price is paramount in selling the corporate market, according to White. "It all comes down to price -- getting clients a good deal in hotel rooms and air fare," she says. White adds that hotel space in New Orleans "will either be there or it won't; there's not too much in between in terms of securing space."

White says that if the space is available, it's a question of negotiating. "We have found that city hotels are willing to work with us," she says. "If the space is there, the hotels are very competitive."

New Orleans: For More Information The New Orleans Metropolitan Convention & Visitors Bureau can be reached at 1520 Sugar Bowl Drive, New Orleans 70112-1259; (800) 748-8695; www.neworleanscvb.com.
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