Executive editor Donna Tunney is away for a few weeks. In
place of her usual "Wandering" column, TWcrossroads brings you
"From the Editor's Desk," written by editor in chief Arnie
f life deals you lemons, drink
lemon-infused Stolichnaya vodka with your caviar.
So might be the advice of Rudi Steele, owner of Rudi Steele
Travel in Dallas.
Rudi read that as a security precaution, only plastic cutlery
would be given to passengers on airplanes, even in first class. So
he walked into Neiman Marcus and bought a supply of mother-of-pearl
spoons -- invisible to metal detectors -- to give as departure
gifts to his carriage-trade clientele.
"God forbid one should have to eat caviar with a plastic spoon,"
While this may sound a bit over the top, I think Rudi has
demonstrated how travel agents can take actions that reward
themselves, their clients and their suppliers for years to
First, Rudi has shown he knows that all business environments,
good and bad, present opportunities for deepening relationships
Second, he has shown he understands the unique value travel
agents add when selling travel. The agent-client relationship works
at an emotional level that cannot be duplicated by alternative
"Bon voyage and welcome home gifts are always appreciated,"
Steele said, noting he usually sends champagne or flowers. But in
giving the spoons, he forged a more personal bond because he
addressed an emotional concern -- security -- head-on.
He also recognized that his clients might have ambivalent
feelings about traveling in luxury at this time. When he presented
them with a spoon, he told them, in effect, that it's OK to go
about their lives as usual.
"Much has changed since Sept. 11, but it does not mean we should
give up the better things in life -- in fact, they are now even
more appreciated," he said.
Steele further addresses client concerns by telling them about
international trips he has taken since the terrorist attacks. "I
want to show our clientele that flying is safe and this globe is
still worth exploring."
In fact, clients listening to Steele might conclude that it's
their patriotic duty to travel.
"My own observation and reports from returning travelers
indicate how much Americans are welcome guests, not only in Europe,
but especially in Arab countries. If we want them to help us fight
terrorism, we should not stop visiting them, and especially not at
"This is the home of the brave. Let us demonstrate to the enemy
and the world that we cannot be held hostage and that freedom to
travel is still the very best bridge-builder."
I'm impressed with the efforts Rudi has made to connect with his
clients, and I suspect that his suppliers have taken note, as
And when agents have this kind of intimacy with their clients,
disintermediation is the last thing on the minds of suppliers.