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Connecting With ClientsFebruary 5, 2009 By: Mark Rogers Travel Agent
“To be successful, you can be one of three things,” says Billy B. Martin, co-owner of Houston-based Let’s Travel Together. “You can be a seller of travel, you can become a specialist, or you can be a professional. Being professional requires a lot of work beyond getting a specialist certificate. That’s just the starting point. If you’re a professional—whether it’s NFL, M.D. or Ph.D.—you have to put in the work.”
Billy B. Martin and Melodye Martinelli, co-owners of Let's Travel Together
Martin has been singled out as North American Kiwi Specialist of the Year-2008, two-time Opal Award Winner 2007-08 and Houston’s only Premier Aussie Specialist. Martin; his partner and co-owner in the agency, Melodye Martinelli; an office assistant; and six outside agents run the company. “We work as independents, with no [corporate] affiliations,” says Martin.
After 9/11, Martin retired from his previous career as a trainer of special ops for the military. As a trainer, Martin visited more than 150 countries. With the encouragement of Martinelli, Martin decided to devote himself to selling travel full-time.
“I concentrate on those destinations where I feel a real connection with the people,” says Martin. In addition to his in-depth knowledge of New Zealand and Australia, Martin is also a South African FUNDI Specialist and Kenya Specialist.
“Melodye and I participate in about six fams a year,” says Martin. “Although we concentrate on luxury, since that’s our main client base, we also look at products across the board so we can make recommendations to a cross-section of travelers. For us to recommend a destination, we have to have been there ourselves.”
Martin is a believer in fostering relationships on the ground with the people in the destination. The agency regularly works with Goway and Down Under Answers. Martin gives an example of the kind of service he can provide his clients because of the contacts he’s fostered. This Christmas he had 16 clients on board a Princess cruise in the waters off New Zealand on Christmas Day.
“Everything shuts down during Christmas,” says Martin. “We really wanted to create something special for them.” Martin fashioned a unique on-shore experience for his clients. “They went to Tauranga to attend a Christmas Day church service. Afterwards, they received an overview of Maori traditions and local history, then proceeded to Gideon’s Fields, where they enjoyed a traditional Maori feast next to a river and waterfall. There was no precedent so we designed the product.”
Listening to Your Client
“One of the things Melodye and I do is take the time to listen to our clients,” says Martin. “If you put your client first, the dollars will come.”
Let’s Travel Together builds a psychological travel profile of its clients’ previous travel experiences and plans for future travel. “We don’t foist an itinerary on our clients. We look at it as a partnership where everyone wins—us, the client and the outbound and inbound operators.
“We had a meeting with a couple who we knew were meeting with four other agencies,” he recounts. “At the end of the meeting we said, ‘It was a pleasure meeting with you, and we look forward to your decision.’ They replied, ‘We already made up our mind—we’re going with you.’ We asked them what differentiated us from the other agencies and they said, ‘You didn’t try to tell us what you wanted for us. You listened to what we wanted to do.’”