Energized By Incentives

This past Christmas, Aggie Lewis was worried her husband, who had to fly through Denver during the city's holiday-travel halting snowstorm, wouldn't be home for Christmas. "His travel agent said there was no other option, but I checked and got him a flight into Las Vegas instead," says Lewis, an agent with Gaffney Travel in Oak Lawn, IL. "He flew back to Chicago that night." This kind of care isn't just reserved for Lewis' family—it's how she handles all of her clients. "It's about treating every client's vacation like it's yours," she says.

And as the winner of Hyatt Resorts' "Paradise for Life" incentive, Lewis has plenty of her own vacations to look forward to. At Hyatt's third annual travel agent awards event in November 2006, Lewis was awarded a lifetime timeshare at Hyatt's Coconut Plantation Vacation Club Resort in Naples, FL, for selling the most variety of Hyatt resorts last year. The award is part of Hyatt's "Slice of Paradise" agent incentive, which gives agents one free night for every three-night stay room sold.

"I thought, 'Not only does the customer get rewarded with the property but so does the agent,'" Lewis says of her decision to participate in the sweepstakes. "You show your support for them, they're going to support you. It's a good domino effect."

Like any award winner, Lewis, who will view the timeshare for the first time with her family this April, wasn't expecting to win. "It was so ironic," she recounts. "They were going to name the agent who sold the most variety of the resorts and I said, 'I can't wait to meet this person,' and when I turned my chair to face the stage they announced my name!"

Lewis modestly says she didn't have to work that hard to sell Hyatt, as she believes the properties often sell themselves. "I've never had a complaint putting people in their properties," she says. "If it's an excellent product why wouldn't you support it?"

Though such a comment might incline one to think Lewis is on Hyatt's payroll, that's not the case. It is in Lewis' nature to be genuine. "You can't just sell it, you've really got to believe in it," she says. "It's a main principle for me."

Lewis has 24 years of experience in travel in positions as various as flight attendant and manager of revenue accounting. She loves to work with honeymooners and her favorite products to sell—Hawaii and Caribbean cruises—are experiences she's had 13 times each. That's quite a long way to come in a profession that originally was meant to serve as a financial stepping stone on the road to becoming a nurse.

"I'm very energetic about traveling and it gets people so excited that sometimes I get invited on their vacations," she says. "If you don't get across to your client that this is a vacation you yourself would really want, they're not going to want it either."

It's fitting for Lewis to win such a coveted incentive, as she believes reward programs show that some suppliers still value the work agents do, especially after airlines took away agent commissions in 1995. She also believes such programs lead people to another plane of professionalism and drive.

"Incentives are phenomenal," she says. "They really do work. When there is an incentive, it takes people to another level. Otherwise, you'll just get people who put in their eight hours and leave."

Part of that professionalism and drive, Lewis believes, is also knowing when to step back. "A lot of people say, 'You need to close the sale, don't let them walk out the door,' but I believe if they're comfortable, they'll come back," she says.

To create that rapport, "I ask clients questions about where they've been, where they've stayed, what their interests are, just to get them to open up," she says. "When it comes to their budget I tell them not to be afraid to say the true amount, because I'm going to try to get you the best for your dollar."