athy Magee recalled her first trip to
the south of France. Her boyfriend had invited her on a two-week
trip to Provence. Because he had issued the invitation, she assumed
he had planned the whole trip. Wrong.
As they left the Nice Airport in their rented car, he turned to
her and said, "Which way?"
She had no idea, and a major fight ensued. She figured the
relationship was over.
But they returned to the airport, where Kathy bought two
guidebooks and a road map. The trip -- and the relationship -- was
saved. (The couple is now married and owns a second home -- in
When Kathy traveled bookless to France, she worked for Barnes
& Noble; now she is a New York store manager and reads
guidebooks for fun.
She helps teach a course on travel books to B&N staff who
work in the chain's travel departments. I audited one of those
classes this month.
She and B&N colleague Mark Paris started with product
knowledge, describing characteristics of the book brands,
illustrating how they target travelers: budget vs. upscale;
independent vs tour member, etc.
As with agencies, book sellers have been described as doomed by
the Web, but, Mark said, "the Web may have spurred sales; it has
generated more frustration than enlightenment" as people research
on line only to be overwhelmed. Travelers then turn to books as a
simpler, more satisfying solution.
Mark said travel is the most "pleasureable" department to work
in. "These customers are looking for more than just a book. They
He said it is incumbent on sellers to help buyers get the right
book. "The wrong guide will make the customer miserable," he said.
On the other hand, the right advice will produce a repeat customer,
Without using the words, Mark advised on selling up: After
selecting the guidebook, "if you direct customers to the phrase
books and maps, you add to the pleasure of the vacation." There
also are the specialty guidebooks (on B&Bs, family travel,
essays, etc.) to supplement the primary book.
He added that, oddly, it is sometimes necessary to convince
someone who pays thousands for a trip of the value of spending $21
on a book.
The instructors ended with an exercise requiring the students to
qualify Mark as a buyer.
Their questions covered destination, independent vs. group
travel, length of trip, mode of ground transport, traveling
companions, budget and sightseeing or activity goals.
A lot of this sounds very familiar, doesn't it? It's no wonder
some agencies sell books. The informed bookseller clearly provides
services complementary to those of the travel counselor.