Summer in New York: Agent to Agent

Having a strong on-line presence and working with a top wholesaler have both been major factors in travelnavigator.com 's success in selling New York, according to Heather Lawley, travel consultant for the Garland, Texas-based firm.

"As one of the largest on-line travel agencies, travelnavigator.com has an extensive database with lots of packages. We are one of only five agencies that has a contract with Yahoo's travel page, and of the five, we account for 40% of the business," according to Lawley. The agency also works with Amazon.com, among others.

In keeping with the agency's philosophy that specialization works best for business, each agent is an expert in a different destination, says Lawley, who handles the company's New York business.

"Most of my New York bookings are leisure packages," she says. "We use Sutherland Travel [800-221-2442] exclusively for New York, because we've found that they have very good rates, good packages, good relationships with the hotels, and they give us a range of hotels and other services that we can work with, so even if a client has a special request, chances are we can tailor something for them within the framework of the package. But if they still can't find what they want, of course, we'll arrange a custom-designed trip."

Lawley says that the agency has two of Sutherland Travel's New York packages on-line, with descriptions of the tours and the low- and high-end prices. "Clients can call us directly or send us an e-request, and in return they'll receive an auto-responder from us."

Travelnavigator.com is not a walk-in agency, says Lawley, but if a client who's contacted the agency on line wants a face-to-face meeting to clarify some issues, "of course, we'll arrange to have them come in and talk with us."

"When I speak with clients," Lawley says, "I go over the different packages with them, and try to determine what they want and what category of hotel they're looking for, but if they're not sure, I'll go through the whole range with them, from budget to deluxe."

Lawley says she stays abreast of developments by going to seminars and travel shows, such as the recent Travel Exchange Expo staged in Dallas. "I also do a lot of research on my own on New York, especially the hotels," she says.

"The advantage of being an on-line agency is that you can cut down on a lot of expenses, like the costs of brochures, and at the same time, you're able to attract clients from everywhere in the world."

Dorothy White, manager of CI Travel of Norfolk, Va., credits her agency's membership in Woodside Travel Trust (301-718-9500) with helping to obtain hotel reservations in New York during difficult periods.

"I will often make our New York bookings through a tour operator, but if they can't get the hotel the client wants, I go direct, and more often than not I'll get the reservation, thanks to our membership in Woodside," says White. She adds that CI Travel was one of Woodside's founding agencies.

"It's a big help when you're booking a destination like New York because you can tap into Woodside's blocked hotel space, and you also get preferred rates," she says.

Most of her Big Apple-bound clients don't need any convincing to go to New York, says White, "but occasionally a client will come in who has three or four days to spare and can't decide what to do."

New York is often the perfect recommendation for such clients from her area, says White, especially if, after speaking with them, she determines that they are the kind of people who would enjoy theater and all the other things that are typically a part of a visit to New York.

New York theater is a popular draw with many of her clients, says White, who occasionally puts together a theater package for small groups from her area. "I normally will book a hotel directly and use Continental Guest Services [800-299-8587] for the theater tickets. Although they charge a fee, they usually will get me what I want," says White.

White is on many suppliers' mailing and fax distribution lists, which helps her stay up to date on developments on the New York travel and hospitality scene. "I always make sure to check my mailings because it's important to be aware if a hotel is going to be renovated or has added new services," she says.

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