February 26, 2009
On the Hunt
I was rather peeved while I was at the new T5 terminal at New York’s JFK last week. I needed to buy some nail polish and couldn't find a single store that sold it. “What was this about?” I wondered. I'd heard such great things about T5 and I'd obviously let my imagination go wild with the possibilities of what I’d find there. The reality was that there were certainly plenty of bars and restaurants (from the count of them they seem to be expecting quite a lot of drinking to be going on or at least for people to plan their socializing and dining time much more around their flying time) and I was totally into the Borders bookstore but overall my reaction was "it’s okay."
When I got on the plane, finally, I continued to sulk over my not being able to buy the nail polish because I really would have liked to have it for this trip. Then I sat up with a jolt (at least mentally I did, I was fairly comfortable in my exit row aisle seat). Since when had I become the type of person who left the chore of purchasing my personal amenities at the airport? What had happened to that good old-fashioned girl who shopped at the CVS or Duane Reade for her cosmetics?
After a moment of reflective thinking, I decided to go easy on myself. The thing is, I decided, I probably wasn't much different from a lot of people. We all want things when we want them and where we want them.
That's why I'm an Amazon.com junkie. The site never questions the inane, or insane nature of my purchases. For example, I regularly purchase cases of sugar-free pudding from Amazon because I can’t stand having to hunt around for it at Pathmark or Stop & Shop on a Saturday afternoon. I've had 10-pound bags of potting soil and a set of five-pound weights shipped to my office because that's where I wanted them and I had no intention of lugging them uptown from the Kmart at Penn Station. Plus, because I’ve signed for the Amazon Prime feature that allows me to get free shipping all year, I enjoy ordering heavy things to ensure I’m getting the better of the deal.
And so I had my conclusion. It's actually Amazon.com's fault that I've become so spoiled about my insistence for immediate gratification, even if I'm at an airport or in some far-flung destination.
And so, even after all this reflection during my flight, I started the search for the nail polish all over again when I landed at Raleigh/Durham airport. And because I’d sent positive vibes along the way, I found it. How satisfying.
February 03, 2009
To Serve or Not to Serve
One recent weekend, a friend and I walked into a run-of-the-mill Mexican restaurant on New York's west side.
"Two for dinner?" we were asked.
"Yes," our reply.
"It'll be about 15 minutes," the host said.
In front of us, a table was vacant with four seats, so we inquired as to why we couldn't sit there.
"It's used only for four people," we were told. At that, we turned around and left.
This got me thinking: In today's economy, can you afford to turn anyone away, regardless of what they are looking for? If a customer is looking to book a Carnival cruise and you are used to selling higher-end cruises, would you not take that customer's business? Is this the dawn of a new era, which demands a new business model and service paradigm?
Readers, what are your thoughts? Do you have similar experiences where the amount of time put forth isn't worth the money in return? If you sell exclusively luxury products, can you really forego the lower-end market?
By: David Eisen
February 02, 2009
Top Tips on Selling America
Travel Agent asked newly appointed National Tour Association Chairman and CEO Michele Michalewicz for her thoughts on how travel agents can add to their bottom line during these tough times. Here, she offers her thoughts on selling domestic travel.
In today’s economy, it makes sense for agents to refocus on selling domestic travel, and tour operators are equipped to supply them with quality products. With fewer dollars in their wallets, Americans are taking more short-haul vacations, but certainly not forgoing their trips all together. Travel agents can profit by being prepared to meet this demand. Here are a few tips from tour operators on how to market America’s exceptional destinations.
Remind Americans of how traveling domestically can help the economy. By traveling domestically, Americans can do their part to stimulate the economy at U.S. hotels, restaurants and attractions. As the second largest employer in the U.S., travel will help spread economic gains to our country's destinations. According to the U.S. Travel Association, in 2007 domestic and international travelers spent $737 billion in the U.S. This generated 7.7 million jobs, $189.3 billion in payroll income, and $115.3 billion in tax revenues for federal, state and local governments. Beyond that, America is home to many national parks, historic sites, unique attractions, and diverse climates and landscapes. Help your customers see how they can rediscover a destination they thought they already knew by visiting any of America’s 50 states.
Connect with your loyal customer base. Reach out to your regular customers and continue to provide them with the quality service you always have. You know that old adage—it is always easier to keep a customer than find a new one. Customers who have traveled with you for many years trust your experience and expertise. They may be more willing to go to a destination based solely on your suggestion. Also, think creatively about how to help your customers extend their purchasing power. Give them more for their money by offering deals or special incentives to good customers. Along those lines, now is also a good time for you to look at the destinations you've always sold through a fresh lens. What ideas do your tour operator partners have for a new approach and creative activities for the same destinations?
Customize. Special interest travel sells, even in tougher economic times. Many tour operators are specializing in unique travel product like faith-based, culinary, gay and lesbian, and sustainable travel. Work with tour operators to create one-of-a-kind packages for your customers. Show them that they don’t have to take a trip across the globe to have once in a lifetime experiences. Another high selling tour type is generational traveling. More and more extended families are living together and traveling together. Some tour operators specialize in this area and this could be a whole new demographic market for your domestic travel business.
Develop new partnerships. You can’t be an expert in everything. Look for those tour operator who specialize in markets you are trying to attract and find a way to partner. Think creatively and look for new partnerships that will be mutually beneficial. With travel agents searching for new revenue sources and tour operators looking for new outlets for their packaged travel products, partnering is a profitable solution for both. Additionally, consider cooperative marketing. Agents, tour operators, and destinations can partner to promote a product, trip or destination. Marketing and promotion often gets cut during tough times and, instead, companies should find creative ways to keep their business, their services and their product at the front of the consumer's mind. Along these lines, host an open house with your partner operator and destination to get your customers excited about a trip. Your customers will appreciate the night out and your investment will hopefully pay for itself in bookings either on that trip or in the future.
Rediscovering America has many benefits, both for agents' bottom lines and for the U.S. economy. Travel and tourism is one of the country's greatest assets and there has never been a better time to refocus on that. Get started by rediscovering the country yourself so you can speak from experience. There are fam trips, trade shows and conventions were you can connect with destination representatives and tour operators, and magazines, such as Travel Agent, giving you the latest on the United States.
January 22, 2009
Opinion: Vacation.com Continues Breaking New Ground for Agents
Vacation.com has marked its 10th anniversary, and is well on its way to its 11th year as one of the largest and most successful travel agency consortia.
Led by Steve Tracas, president and CEO, and based in Alexandria, VA, the consortia has achieved what seemed impossible when it was formed from a group of smaller, disparate organizations widely regarded as commission clubs serving members with varying degrees of effectiveness.
Remarkably, Vacation.com did not fragment despite the tug of regional preferences in preferred suppliers, nor did it succumb to the temptations of expanding too rapidly. The group’s management— including Tracas’s predecessor Dick Knodt— did not seek to become a consumer brand by exploiting the Vacation.com name. Instead, Vacation.com has focused on enhancing the value of the travel agency distribution channel. It invested in technologies such as AgentNet, its web portal, and more recently launched EZguider, a desktop booking system. Vacation.com also broke new ground in marketing support of agents with its Engagement program.
As Tracas views it, Vacation.com remains driven by its ability to serve its agency membership. And it’s succeeded with strong diverse programs, including education and training programs that, like its marketing and technology tools, deliver measurable gains in productivity and profitability. Today’s Vacation.com member agencies are better equipped to cope with the economic downturn, service clients and to prosper— and agents are not "nickeled and dimed" with fees.
To understand Vacation.com’s approach, agents can look at two core programs: the Engagement program, now with 2,100 participating member agencies and 40 participating preferred suppliers, and its newly launched EZguider desktop selling platform.
Engagement is defined as an integrated business-to-business and business-to-consumer solution for agents that combine agency communication, promotion and education with a pull strategy of targeted consumer marketing.
In 2009, Engagement will involve about 62 percent direct mail and 38 percent e-mail. It now has 6 million consumer mail records, and users can drill down to major buying influences such as consumer discretionary spending patterns. Agent support is excellent as is supplier participation. Vacation.com reports that suppliers are investing more in Engagement than at any time in the consortia’s history.
EZguider, introduced last year, is also succeeding with 1,100 agents registered and activated. One sign of interest and the effectiveness of Vacation.com’s training is that 250 members were enrolled for EZguider training in one week. The new tool is viewed as a major productivity gain for agents, including side-by-side comparisons and an easy launch from AgentNet. Agents also get an incentive in the form of a $3 booking bonus beyond supplier booking incentives.
Said Tracas, “Our members recognize that, in an effort to become more efficient and to improve productivity, a product like EZguider is a must for their offices. With side-by-side product comparison, a fully integrated system with Trams Clientbase back office and scheduled air on the horizon for the first quarter, this product clearly provides the right tool at the right time for our membership.” In 2009, Tracas hopes to offer monthly enhancements and to ramp-up as many members as possible onto the platform.
Both EZguider and Engagement underscore Vacation.com’s belief that they are providing the tools and services needed to survive and prosper— especially in a downturn. The addition of air to EZguider taps into the need of agencies that do not have Airlines Reporting Corporation appointments, a GDS contract, monthly GDS fees or productivity goals.
Vacation.com sees technology helping agents cope with new realities: the rise of independent contractors, new agents entering the business unfamiliar with GDS, the drive for greater efficiency and productivity in a downturn, and the need for innovation. Perhaps best of all, EZguider is part of Vaction.com's membership and offers consolidated management, reporting and sales tracking.
As Vacation.com’s 2009 program makes clear, the era of commission clubs who made minimal investments in services, staffs or members is long gone. The "new" Vacation.com offers agency members— and their agents— an array of quality programs as they do suppliers, backed by education and training and encouragement. This is all supported by an outstanding professional staff in touch with agency members and the new competitive dynamics.
The recent history of Vacation.com is the history of innovation. This ranges from newly announced alliances with Tripology (lead generation) and Dunhill (mailing lists) and earlier deals with World Connect (customized FIT’S) and its Hotel Elite program. Vacation Vignettes is a success and has expanded. Vacation.com also has a relationship with Uniglobe Travel for agencies needing business support.
The inevitable bottom-line is results. In a case study, one Vacation.com agent reported 17 new bookings and three groups in one week as a result of using the Engagement program— along with19 new bookings the prior week. Strong supplier offers coupled with agency marketing add up to revenue generation. The Engagement program clearly works for member agents. As does Vacation.com.
Eleven years after its founding, Vaction.com exemplifies the strengths of agency marketing groups. Like Vacation.com, they are investing in their member agencies and agents. They are launching new technology tools, marketing initiatives and professional training. They are helping suppliers and agencies collaborate to deliver quality services to consumers. In sum, high integrity groups like Vacation.com are defining the future of travel retailing. They deserve agent’s support and loyalty - especially in an economic downturn.
By: George Dooley
December 05, 2008
Luxury Travel Expo Overview: We Will Get Through These Times
The thousands of travel agents attending this year’s Luxury Travel Expo at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas this week showed up ready to learn, network and interact with the 500 suppliers exhibiting at the show. The trade show floor was abuzz throughout the duration of the event, and seminar rooms were packed with travel agents taking notes and asking astute questions on how to steer their businesses.
What was the general tone of the event? Well, certainly no one was sugar coating the fact that we are indeed in a most challenging environment. However, many concurred that there are indeed some strong opportunities in the marketplace right now.
At the “Customize and Captivate: The Changing World of Tours” panel, which was artfully moderated by Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg of Valerie Wilson Travel, Ian Swain, president and owner of Swain Tours pointed out that the U.S. dollar is the strongest it’s been for many years overseas. “It’s 35 percent to 40 percent cheaper than it was three months ago and there are great deals out there now because the hotels have fewer people in them now,” he said.
Swain noted that his company is taking these two combined factors to create programs that are priced 40 percent to 50 percent less expensive than they were six months ago. “In so many ways, you can spend that money more wisely now,” he said. “We talk to the hoteliers, find out where their soft spots are and come back with deals.”
Swain offered a piece of sage advice to the agents in the audience: Call your clients to let them know about the great opportunities that are out there. “It’s time to communicate with the world the way we used to, make the call," he said. "But don’t just say, ‘Hi,’ have a meaningful message for them. Ask them if they’ve seen the movie Australia and then tell them you’ve just found an incredible deal. It can be as simple or complex as you like.”
Dennis Pinto, managing director of Micato Safaris also provided a strong piece of wisdom for agents: team up with partners for joint promotions who a year ago wouldn’t have been interested in doing so. “There isn’t a car dealership or a store on Madison Avenue that wouldn’t want to partner with you now,” he said.
One brilliant tip from Pinto was for travel agents to work with the local Habitat for Humanity program in their communities so that they can bond with their clients while giving back. "Above all, put your best face forward," Pinto advised. “This is a great time to project confidence. If someone asks how you are doing, don’t give them 10 minutes of gloom.”
Pinto said that he is confident that the stock market is going to recover in time. And despite the downturn, said Pinto, Micato is not cutting back on its marketing, in particular to the travel agency community. The company is also using this time to put more sales representatives in the field to work with agents.
As far as marketing in this downturn goes, Pinto suggested that travel agents use quick sound bytes in their electronic messaging because “clients don’t have time to read everything.” More importantly, he added, “use this downturn to maintain or reinforce the credibility that you have with your clients so that they will open your emails when you send them.”
Scott Wiseman, president of Abercrombie & Kent, concurred that “if it’s not a customized message, they’re not going to pay attention to it.” He said that A&K has a special offers section on its site that allows agents to create an e-mail to send to clients in just three clicks.
Tauck World Disovery, meanwhile, is banking on the baby boomer market, and in fact, used Luxury Travel Expo as the venue from which to launch a new brand called Tauck Culturious. Dan Mahar, CEO of Tauck, said that the program, which debuts in January, is designed to attract the active baby boomer and that it will be destination intensive, immersing clients into culture-rich experiences.
Sally Rawlings, senior director of American Express Vacations, meanwhile, said that families continue to travel with their children. As a result, American Express Vacations is putting together a program that will be exclusive to American Express. Amenities that are attractive to families, such as guaranteeing the ability to have connecting rooms, will be included in the program, she said.
Rawlings noted that American Express Vacation’s customers, despite the downturn, are showing a strong interest in the Caribbean and Mexico because of the fact that the all-inclusive properties there have successfully upgraded their product.
There are similarly bright spots and opportunities from the cruise industry.
At the “Navigating Choppy Waters: Luxury Cruise Execs Share ‘Inside Intel’” panel, David Morris, executive vice president of worldwide sales for Silversea, said that one luxury travel agent at the show told him that, during this downturn, the cruise itineraries that are most definitely not seeing cancellations are those that she is personally escorting. “People want security," he said. "They want the comfort of knowing someone will be there for them.”
Morris echoed Ian Swain’s advice. “Call your clients... take them to lunch,” he said. Morris added that he recently got a call from a store in Dallas that he had shopped at in the past that told him it really needed his business. He went down there and did virtually all of his Christmas shopping. “If you don’t call them, they aren't going to book with you,” Morris advised.
According to the executives on the cruise panel, agents can watch for some great deals to emerge in the marketplace.
Mark Conroy, president of Regent Seven Seas Cruises took the opportunity to let agents in the audience know that his cruise line will be using the “value add” strategy, rather than discounting, to attract customers. “We will be doing something with shore excursion packages,” he said.
Pamela Conover, president and CEO of the Yachts of Seabourn, said her cruise line is about to launch a promotion that allows three couples who sail together with the cruise line to book all-inclusive private shore arrangements, as long as one of the couples sailing is new to the line.
For his part, Gregg Michel, president and CEO of Crystal Cruises, hinted that values will be getting much stronger in Europe for the coming year.
In the end, the executives urged agents to remain optimistic and to remain true to their business strategies.
“Keep marketing,” said Conover. “And be proud of what you do. This is a great business to be in. You are helping people to create lasting memories and experiences.”
“Don’t cut back on your marketing,” echoed Conroy. “If you do, you will pay for that in 2009. If you aren’t marketing to your clients, someone else will be.”
Next year’s Luxury Travel Expo will be held December 1-3 at The Signature at MGM Grand.
December 03, 2008
American Express VP Presents 5 Excerises for Agents During Weak Economy
Audrey Hendley, of vice president of marketing for American Express Consumer Travel Network, served up an excellent and inspiring presentation at the Luxury Travel Expo in which she cited five exercises travel agents can use to improve business during the economic downturn.
"This is a big, big world; it's a beautiful place and our clients want to experience it," said Hendley.
Her recommended exercises are:
- Understand the customer's psyche— Hendley noted that Tiffany's is now emphasizing price by advertising engagement rings "from $1,400 and up" while Nordstrom is now emphasizing that clients will "never pay more," and that these two luxury retailers were certainly not promoting that value message last year. She also cited a recent American Express survey of travel agents that said there's been a marked increase in their clients looking for bargains and using points to earn travel.
- Stand out from the crowd— "There's a lot of sameness out there," Hendley said. "We need to go deeper." She noted the culinary and adventure tour are programs that stand out, and suggested that small changes can make a big impact— from updating stationary to adding another coat of paint to the office. Hendley pointed to LG, the appliance manufacturer which sells its products in bright colors, as an example. She admitted that she had recently bought a bright red washer and dryer from LG because she thought they were beautiful. "I'm making a statement with them," she said. "I've redecorated my entire basement around them."
- Exude passion— "When you pick up the phone do you sound as if you're really glad the customer called?" Hendley asked. "It's easier to buy a suit from someone who loves clothes and knows their product. Similarly, for travel agents, people want to buy travel from someone with passion."
- Grow with your client— "Aunts and uncles are on Facebook, it's not just kids," Hendley said, pointing out that research shows that 85 percent of Facebook users have four-plus years of college and spend 24 minutes on the site. "Have you logged onto Facebook?" she asked. "Growing with your customer helps you stay in tune with them."
- Keep learning— "Use this time for 'agent stays' at hotels," Hendley said. "There's no substitute for personal experience. Take in the environment. Then go home and share it with your colleagues."
December 03, 2008
CLIA Head Reassures Agents on Economy, Encourages Polished Service
Terry Dale, president and CEO of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), assured agents at the Luxury Travel Expo that the current economic downturn would end and admitted, however, that he couldn't ascertain when. "Baby boomers are still retiring, and anxious to travel," he said.
Dale's advice to the audience was to educate themselves during this time and to elevate themselves from the ordinary. "Hand write that thank you note to your client and then deliver it to their front door," he suggested.
November 17, 2008
Leading Hotels Focuses on Luxury in a Down Economy
Travel Agent was on location in Boston last week for The Leading Hotels of the World’s (LHW) Annual Convention, which brought together top-level representatives of member hotels from all over the world. The conference’s general session on Thursday touched on a number of hot topics, particularly how the failing economy is impacting the luxury side of the business.
Jean-Jacques Gauer, LHW chairman, didn’t mince words after welcoming guests. “The luxury business-traveler segment is going away with great speed,” he noted. “The current troubles are twice as marked for luxury.” Fueling this downturn, he said, is the fact that the number of luxury rooms throughout the world have doubled to 80,000 over the past 10 years.
For that reason, LHW, after years of record growth, ended the month of September 10 percent lower than the same period in 2007. That trend continued into October and November, according to Gauer.
Taking an overview of the entire luxury segment, Gauer noted that the super rich are spending regardless of the economy. Of note, he said, is the fact that the number of Asian billionnaires on the Forbes list jumped by one-third this year.
“As for the more traditional customers who provide the bulk of LHW’s business, they will expect good service and there will be a flight to quality,” said Gauer. As a result, luxury brands will be more important than ever, he said. “There is also a flight to authenticity so hotels should train their staffs to provide authentic service. This is a time to redouble our efforts.”
Paul McManus, who is retiring in his role as president and CEO of LHW, but who will take on the new title of vice chairman of Leading Ventures, provided a personal retrospective of his 10 years of leading the organization (he's been with the company for 16 years overall).
McManus said that one of his proudest accomplishments was founding The Leading Hotel Schools program, which has placed 450 students in 200 hotels around the world. "This industry is facing a human resources crisis,” he said, adding that fostering young talent will continue to be a focus of his.
Ted Teng, Leading's new president and CEO, pledged that he would continue to make it feasible for the hotels in the Leading system to run independently so that they can provide their guests with unique experiences without trying to imitate what the chain hotels are doing.
"We are the 'indies,'” said Teng. "We are not going to try to out-Four Season the Four Seasons. Having an intimate and engaging relationship with our hotels and our customers is our goal."
Teng also said that growing the LHW system is not the most important strategy for the organization right now but that "leading more and better revenue to [its hotels] is."
As for the economic downturn, Teng said the decision to discount room rates is a decision that is up to the individual hotels but that, in his experience, "discounting to existing customers brings negative rewards." Having said that, he admitted that if existing, lucrative group accounts are demanding discounts, “hotels may have a difficult time."
Additionally, he noted that, in a downturn, top accounts tend to narrow down the list of suppliers with whom they do business. As a result, Teng advised, “if you're not already on their list, this is not a good time to try to get on it." Instead he suggested that hotels should focus on existing business. "During tough times, good relationships are founded," he said.
Keynote speaker Oscar de la Renta, who is one of the world's most famous fashion designers as well as the owner of a luxury resort in the Dominican Republic, gave his take on what luxury— an oft-overused word— means to him. "Luxury is very simple," he said. "It's not about riches. It's a place where you feel an inner peace about yourself.”
De la Renta, who is an owner, along with Julio Iglesias, Frank Ranieri and Theodore Kheel of the Punta Cana Resort & Club, said the group will begin building an additional boutique hotel next year and that it is looking to expand to other locals in the Caribbean as well as Central and South America.
De la Renta, who designs for the wealthiest people in the world, also gave his take on the current economy."There is a lot of money out there but people are holding onto it,” he said with confidence. "Once we build a sense of confidence, we will be over this phase. [The recovery] will happen very quickly in the United States.”
Robert Frank, senior writer for The Wall Street Journal and the author of “Richistan: A Journey Through the American Wealth Boom and the Lives of the New Rich,” concurred in his presentation to the audience that “there is a lot of money out there. There are now 9 million households in the United States that are worth more than $1 million.” Having said that, Frank pointed out that “we are seeing the fastest wealth destruction in history, it’s worse than the dot-com decline.” Along those lines, Soethby’s and Christie’s just had their worst auctions ever, with some blockbuster-level of art receiving no bids at all, said Frank. “The wealthy are holding onto their money,” he said, again agreeing with de la Renta.
Frank also pointed out the fact that many of today’s wealthy individuals have less savings than one might imagine. Starting out as members of the middle class, they obtained their affluence by selling off their companies or going public. The lifestyles they subsequently adapted require a tremendous amount of upkeep, with butlers, housekeepers, grounds keepers, etc., not to mention the yachts, Ferraris and wine cellars they must upkeep. Frank predicted those who once owned jets will now charter them instead, he said, to avoid the cost of maintaining their own plane. He did not expect them to return to commercial airlines, however.
This year, the wealthy are changing the way they operate, Frank said, going from conspicuous consumption to conscientious consumption; from “stuff and status” to “memories and moments;” from indulgence to health and wellness and from Hummers to Priuses.
“Philanthropy and self-improvement are saturating everything the wealthy do,” he added. “We are moving from a ‘wants’ to a ‘needs’ society. People want education and experience; they want something that reflects their values.”
Because simply being wealthy tends to isolate an individual, the affluent will be seeking to reconnect more in the future, he said.
In closing, Frank predicted that 2009 “will be a wash,” in terms of the economy “because there are still a lot of bad assets out there,” but that “2010 may be better. Service matters now more than ever,” he advised. “That is what people value now.”
November 13, 2008
Make the Most Of Your Culinary Fam Trips
Nancy Harkrider of ExploreAsia.net recommends how to have fun on culinary fam trips and bring back knowledge that builds your business.
I got a call the other day from a travel agent planning a fam trip to China. She wanted to get some ideas about how she could come back with strategies for selling culinary tours. Afterward, it occurred to me that these ideas might be helpful to Travel Agent readers. Think of it like this: It starts with appetizers and moves to the main courses before finally lingering over dessert and coffee.
Trip preparation is essential. I recommend you go about this systematically and creatively so you are ready to understand what you are experiencing.
o Do some self study— watch videos and review resources like Travel Agent.
o Visit the International Culinary Tourism Association website www.culinarytourism.org.
o Locate friends and associates who have been on a trip similar to the one you are taking and find out what surprised and excited them as well as what they didn’t like so you can go on the trip with ideas to use for your future culinary groups.
o Go to some local restaurants with the same cuisine you will be experiencing on your trip. Chat with your server and find out what people like about this particular type of food. Better yet, invite some of those veteran culinary travelers to join you for a meal.
o Take a book or audios about culinary travel or about the country you will be visiting. It’s amazing how much more exciting and relevant this is when I am actually airborne.
On the trip, the first recommendation is to relax and immerse yourself in the amazing experiences you will be having. I find that the better time I have, the more I can translate that passion to my customers.
o Keep something handy for recording the best bits from your tour leader, conversations with locals and to record your own reflections. I strongly recommend an audio recorder, one small enough to fit in your hand, with the power to record seven-eight hours before you need to upload to a computer. A small notebook works well too
o Take advantage of conversations with others on the fam trip. Exchange ideas for how what you are all experiencing can be translated to selling points for customers.
o Encourage your tour leader to talk about experiences with other travelers in terms of what they love, their questions as well as what they wanted more of about their culinary travel.
o Take pictures, concentrating on close ups of food and people since those types of pictures sell your story with customers. Make sure someone takes some pictures of you enjoying your culinary adventures.
o Make it a point to find at least one fellow traveler on your fam who is enthusiastic about staying in touch and sharing ideas.
When back home, reflect on what you learned.
o Organize your notes, images and audios in a way that you can really use when working with clients who are interested in culinary travel.
o Write about your experiences via your website, a blog or newsletters geared to potential customers.
o Stay in touch with that culinary travel “buddy” as each of you builds your culinary niche.
o When your customers go on a culinary journey, connect with them after the trip. They are your most valuable resource for revisions and modifications that will guarantee five-star recommendations from future culinary groups.
Food for thought!
By: Nancy Harkrider
October 29, 2008
Delta’s Promotion from Hell
I don't fly Delta much, but my husband does. He's actually accumulated a number of SkyMiles points with the airline. The other day, we decided to use the points to book a trip but realized we needed to combine our points to get the level of ticket we wanted. Delta makes it fairly easy to do this online and I was delighted to see that they were actually doubling the number of transferred points as a special promotion. Cool!
So I gleefully moved half the number of points I needed to reach the 65,000 points required and learned that I would still have to pay $140 in the process. Ouch, but okay. We're still talking about a trip to Hawaii.
This morning, I checked online. I hadn't received the double points at all, just the original number requested. I cheerfully e-mailed Delta to explain the oversight and was told that I'd have to wait four to six weeks to get the other 11,000 points. That was a drag, I explained, still cheerfully, because I needed to book the flight by tomorrow. By return e-mail, and there was clearly a human at the end of the line, I was told I'd have to write a letter to corporate. I was even given an address to which I could overnight my letter.
Well, all I really needed, I decided, was to speak to a person live who would probably really want to assist me. She or he would probably even chuckle that I'd had to endure this silly problem of waiting such a long time for these points to be transferred and fix it on the spot.
Not so much. When I called the Delta helpline the woman who answered abruptly told me I'd have to wait four to six weeks "just like everyone else." Her response was so curt and so immediate that I am pretty sure she had been hired just to answer questions on this promotion from hell. She told me that if I'd taken the time to read the small print, I wouldn't be in this position and that I was out of luck.
“Brenda R," the supervisor I spoke with next, did an even better job of handling me. “You asked to speak to me?” was her angry, jarring greeting. I was starting to feel faint.
We’ve all been in this situation; even though you sense that there is no resolution in sight, you still feel compelled to explain to the person on the other end of line the sheer lack of logic in what was transpiring, that I was going to have wait four to six weeks for my bonus points, simply on principle.
I gave it my best shot and then Brenda R. asked me to hold on because she realized she had to make a notation in my account.
My heart leaped with the hope that she’d decided to help me.
When Brenda R. got back on the line she asked me in a sharp tone what else I needed from her.
“What did you write in my account?” I asked.
“I don’t have to tell you that,” she snapped and she hung up on me.
In an ultra-desperate moment I sent another email to Delta from their website about this latest experience and received the following response:
“While we would like to offer special consideration in cases such as yours, we are unable to honor the many requests that we receive from others in similar situations. We follow a consistent policy to ensure that Delta is fair to everyone who travels with us. Accordingly, we must respectfully decline your request. We value your confidence and loyalty.”
That was from Leslie James, from Delta’s Online Customer Support Desk. Why did she have to add that line, “We value your confidence and loyalty”? That’s just nonsensical rhetoric— about as nonsensical as the double-points promotion. And why did she have to point out that there were others in similar situations? That acknowledgment made it all seem even worse.
As I said earlier, I don’t fly Delta much and I won’t go on about how that isn’t about to change anytime soon. I suppose that if there is a message from any of this, it’s that if suppliers, and travel agents for that matter, are going to try please their most loyal customers with special bonus promotions, they shouldn’t make the deal in question so opaque that it truly doesn’t have value to the customer. Additionally, when there is a sincere problem with such an offer, the company serving it up shouldn’t react with an “Aha! Gotcha!” response. It should instead strive to find a solution or at least a compromise.
I truly hated this experience because it mars the image of the travel industry, which is 99 percent filled with marvelous people. It’s that other one percent that just irks the heck out of me.