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Bermans Blaze Their Own Trail

February 26, 2007 By: Mark Rogers Travel Agent

Entrepreneurial couple's agency saw a 200 percent increase in sales last year

Susan and Marc Berman aren't afraid to blaze their own way
when it comes to business. The married couple opened their own travel agency, Atlantic
City, NJ-based Berman Travel, in the months after 9/11, when the travel world
was reeling and travel agencies were dropping like flies. Susan
and Marc Berman

"Pre-9/11, I was in the entertainment business as a
deejay, and my travel agent asked me to become an outside sales agent and bring
him my wedding business as potential honeymoon travel," explains
fast-talking Marc Berman, showing an enthusiasm that is catching. "When
9/11 hit, I saw a lot of travel agencies going out of business," he
observes. "At the same time, I saw resort companies opening new hotels,
and cruise lines creating new itineraries and sailing from new ports. These
companies go after the foreign market, but they also make a big play for the U.S.

Berman noticed that the agencies that were folding were the
order takers. "They depended on local business, when in fact, local
business is now nationwide," he says.

Berman broached the idea of opening a travel agency to his
wife, Susan. He'd concentrate on marketing the agency, while Susan's
organizational skills would keep the ship on a straight course. "The
travel business was new for both of us," says Susan. "I have a background
as a therapist in the mental health field; I also worked with a
hospice—obviously very different fields from travel."

"We created our own category," says Marc.
"There are brick-and-mortar agencies, and home-based agencies—well, we're
a condo-based agency." The ground floor of the building housing Berman
Travel contains the company's call center and offices, while three floors
above, the Bermans have a condo that they live in.

Getting Started

The Bermans started out by putting a premium on research.
They paid for their own fams to Jamaica
and visited 40 resorts, and they took a Seabourn cruise and toured resorts at
every Caribbean island on the itinerary. Prior
to reaching port, they contacted tourist boards from each island to arrange
resort visits. "We see every island we sell," says Susan.
"Customers are reassured when they realize the agent has actually visited
the destination or stayed at the resort they're selling."

"When we entered the business, gone were the days of
airline commissions and huge fams," says Marc. "We went on the web,
went to many events—this business is all about partnerships." One of their
most important partnerships is the one they have with Travel Impressions. The
Bermans' agency has been a Travel Impressions "Best of the Best"
winner the last four years running; in 2005 and 2006 they also received the
Global Award from Travel Impressions for achieving top 35 national sales

"Our contact at Travel Impressions, Sue Sheehan, senior
business development manager, was part mentor, part cheerleader," says
Marc. "Four years ago, she was the one who told us there were agencies
starting to market on Google and Yahoo." The Bermans researched how
agencies were using the web, and in turn created a web site with lots of bells
and whistles.

"Part of my job is to wake up every day and figure out
the Google algorithm," says Marc. "We're using today's technology to
get customers."

The Bermans have a favorite catch phrase: "We give
mom-and-pop service, but they find us on the Internet." When a customer
finds Berman Travel on the web, that customer is then assigned to an outside
sales agent who will be with that customer all the way through the transaction.
Repeat business is important to the agency; the clients Susan personally
handles come back as repeaters at an astounding rate of 92 percent. "For
us, it's not so important what we can get from a tour operator or hotel, it's
how do we manage to get that customer to come back," says Susan.

Susan, who was raised on Florida's
west coast, counts Mexico's
Riviera Maya as her number-one destination due to its history, shopping,
beaches, attractions and the friendliness of the Mayan people. Susan's next
dream trip is to Greece,
while Marc, even though he's not a cruise enthusiast, would like to take
another Seabourn cruise, having enjoyed the previous one so much.

Susan and Marc were two of the first travel agents to visit
Karisma's Azul Blue Hotel + Spa in the Riviera Maya when it opened last
December. "We sell a lot of Seabourn and Silversea, and Azul Blue would be
the perfect match for that level of client," says Berman. "It's
definitely a luxury product for clients used to fine dining and good service.
There are activities, but more along the lines of yoga and tequila tasting
classes. The macarena crowd is not going to enjoy it."

Berman notes that although Azul Blue is a family resort, it
lacks a kid's club. "The type of client who would come to Azul Blue with
their kids would probably bring their nanny along with them," she says.
The Bermans have thoroughly researched the all-inclusive market in Mexico and the Caribbean,
and observe that Azul Blue has taken the all-inclusive concept to a new level.

The Bermans' agency caters to three kinds of customers:
those who are thinking of going on vacation, those who are on vacation, and
those who are thinking of going back—"In essence, everybody," says

"Our agents are all outside agents—they're very
motivated," says Susan. "They have to be—if they don't close the deal
they don't make any money." Berman Travel's web site features promotions
and packages from such companies as Apple Vacations, Club Med, Funjet
Vacations, GoGo Worldwide Vacations, Iberostar Resorts, Pleasant Holidays and
USAirways Vacations. In 2006 Berman Travel saw a 200 percent increase in sales.

We asked the Bermans if they had any advice for someone
considering opening a travel agency: "Have patience. Enjoy what you do.
And be willing to spend money to market and advertise your agency and to invest
in technology."

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