The Secrets of Top-Producing Agents

How can you become a top-producing agent for a travel supplier? In this in-depth cover story for Travel Agent magazine, we reveal the secrets of the most successful, profitable agents in the business. Read how these travel sellers learned how to work collaboratively and creatively to earn the most cash (and the most prestige) from some of the largest suppliers in the travel industry. 

Lynn Olivari

Discount All-Inclusive


Top Producer for SuperClubs

If knowing your product is the key to becoming a top producer, no one should be surprised that Discount All-Inclusive was named Top-Producing Travel Agency for SuperClubs' Grand Lido Resorts and Spas for the third year in a row.

The agency, home to eight-full time agents and located in Georgia, was recently handed the SuperClubs' Superstar Award for the category of sending between 500 and 700 clients a year to Grand Lido properties.

"You have to love the product you are selling, and you have to know all about it," says Lynn Olivari, the agency's owner.

Olivari fell in love with Grand Lido Resorts and Spas when she stayed at Grand Lido Negril during her first fam trip 10 years ago. Ironically, falling in love is also the same reason she was unable to attend the recent awards ceremony held during SuperClubs' 30th anniversary in Jamaica—Olivari was too busy celebrating her honeymoon. Loyal to the brand that has helped her agency rake in the business for the last decade, Olivari celebrated the romantic occasion at Grand Lido Braco.

Olivari says the product, as is the case with all SuperClubs facilities, is ideal for both couples (usually in the 30-to-50-year-old demographic) and families. The key to selling a specific product is repeat customers who then spread the word, she says.

And to have that, the hotel must be able to back up the agent's advice.

"You don't convince a client they are going to love a place unless you really feel that way," Olivari says. "In all my years selling Grand Lido, I haven't had one complaint from a customer. When that happens, the product usually sells itself."

Leatta Purdue

Europe-Your-Way


Top Producer for Travel Bound

One of Travel Bound's highest-producing agents is Leatta Purdue, founder of Europe-Your-Way (www.europe-your-way.com), an online company that focuses solely on FIT excursions to Europe for customers on any budget.

Purdue says that her success with Europe-Your-way comes from limiting services to just Europe—something that may be harder for other agents to do. "We will turn down potential business," she says.

If a satisfied client she had previously sent to Europe calls and asks if she can help him plan a trip to Hawaii, Purdue will always refer him elsewhere.

"It's not easy for some agents to turn down a potential sale," says Purdue, but she notes that by limiting her company's sales to Europe, she is able to stick strictly with a list of preferred vendors and suppliers, with whom she works very closely. The result is that her clients are happier and have better experiences in Europe, and she and her staff aren't wasting time trying to plan trips to destinations where they don't have strong connections—and where clients may perhaps find better prices from a different company.

"Also, she notes, "people tend to go to Europe two or three times. It's usually not a one-shot deal."

By keeping her Europe-only customers happy, Purdue is able to turn them into repeat customers and also earn their referrals.

A blend of an online travel company and a traditional travel agency, Europe-Your-Way allows customers to fill out a form online and then assigns an agent to each customer. Purdue, who leads a yearly tour to Europe, has a 10-year background in Internet travel.

"My first job was in a storefront shop, where I realized that most of my coworkers were only interested in the fam trips and free food at lectures. I quickly realized that online travel was the move to make," she says. Though her company is based in San Francisco, about 95 percent of her business comes from elsewhere. "We are one hundred percent an online presence," she says, "and our advertising budget is much higher than other agencies, for sure."

Nico Zenner of Travel Bound attributes Purdue's success to her "successful business model."

"She has a highly personalized customer approach in an otherwise impersonal and often crowded marketplace," says Zenner.

Purdue runs several other successful travel web sites, and is also in the process of launching a new venture, Asia-Your-Way.

Mary Jean Tully

The Cruise Professionals


Top Producer for Crystal Cruises

Twenty years ago, Mary Jean Tully made a conscious decision to turn all her attention to selling luxury cruises. The choice was a smart one, and today her Canada-based agency, The Cruise Professionals, is the number-one worldwide seller of Crystal Cruises and Tully, chairman and CEO, is the one who made it all happen.

 Mary Jean Tully

Her aim to become a schoolteacher was quickly dashed after reading a classified ad for a job with a travel agency. She never looked back. Tully has been voted a top luxury cruise specialist by Condé Nast Traveler for seven consecutive years, but accolades aside, she credits Crystal Cruises with allowing her to become a top producer for the line.

"They are one of the top products out there, a fine-tuned machine, which makes it easy to sell," she says. "They have a level of professionalism which they have never deviated from. I align with lines that will keep people coming back."

Tully credits her close relationship with Crystal and the deft manner in which the line is run for allowing her to succeed in her position.

"I can count on one hand how many problems I've had with Crystal and any problem was then fixed right away," she recounts. "If I screw up, they are right there helping me to resolve it."

Resolution like this is why Tully has many repeat clients booking Crystal. The splendor of the lines' two ships—Symphony and Serenity—doesn't hurt, either, she says.

Tully has been able to succeed where others have failed because she knows how to sell luxury cruises. She says that many agents aren't adept or equipped to do it. "Many people think it's about 'what can the line do for me,' as opposed to what can I do," she notes. "They already have an excellent product and shore side excursions; my job is to market it."

Steve Pomranz

AAA


Top Producer for Pleasant Holidays

Steve Pomranz is the vice president of travel services for the AAA branch that serves Washington state and northern Idaho, and is a top producer for Pleasant Holidays (www.pleasantholidays.com), which is a AAA Preferred Supplier. Pomranz has 30 years of experience working in the travel industry, and he has been with AAA Travel for the past six.

Steve Pomranz

"Pleasant Holidays has always had a fantastic reputation," he says. "I knew of them over the years, but I had been on the corporate side of things. When I moved to the leisure side 11 years ago, I began to work with them, and they've provided high quality service, competitive marketing support, various categories of rooms in high-quality properties and competitive pricing."

Pleasant Holidays is best known for Hawaii; in fact, it's one of the largest wholesalers to the AlohaState. While that remains their largest and strongest market to this day, they have expanded to offer products in China, Tahiti, Fiji, Australia and Mexico, all of which Pomranz has sold. He attributes his success in selling the tour operator to the talents of his fellow AAA agents; he describes them as a "very strong, well-trained and highly qualified group of agents that knows how to ask clients the right questions."

Also contributing to his sales success is the fact that Pleasant Holidays offers "lots of flexibility with their products. They'll take a package and modify it to fit clients' needs, goals and interests," he says. He also praises the company's web site, customer service support and marketing efforts. "They've been excellent in supporting our marketing efforts through co-op advertising, promotional events and the annual Mahalo Days Hawaii promotion. Also, they've been willing to hold agent incentive programs where agents get money or prizes for achieving sales goals."

The combination of his own attention to his clients' needs and the skills of Pleasant Holidays' management personnel has allowed Pomranz and his team to achieve repeat business and become top producers for the tour operator.

"If you haven't tried them, it's definitely a company you should consider," he says.

Jeff Anderson

America's VacationCenter


Top Producer for Carnival Cruise Lines

Listening to Jeff Anderson speak is like getting a free tutorial in web-based applications. Turns out, the technology he speaks of is what has propelled America's VacationCenter, where he is vice president of marketing, toward the top of the travel agency heap— and helped the company become one of Carnival Cruise Lines' top producers.

Jeff Anderson

Similar to the rhetoric of businesses needing to embrace sustainable technology platforms to compete, all indications point to technology playing a major role in the future growth and existence of travel agencies. "There has to be some tie to the Internet. Without it, you're toast," Anderson says.

Unlike a consortium, AVC is a host agency with roots dating back to 1964, when Anderson's grandparents started the company in Hawaii. The company develops a close one-on-one relationship with all of its agents, who are rigorously screened to become members.

"Agents seek us out, and we look for the cream of the crop," Anderson divulges. Suppliers approve of this selection process. "Vendors don't want people in the industry who don't deserve the 16 percent commissions we negotiate for," he says.

So how do both Anderson and his outfit become a top producer? Anderson first chalks it up to the company's proprietary software called Agent Power, which is seven years in the making and is constantly being updated. The technology allows agents to interface not only with the company, but also with other agents. Further, it is an all-inclusive booking engine and back-of-the-house tool. "It's technology that actually works," he says.

Of course, not all of AVC's success is Internet related. When it comes down to it, a strong business model and solid relationships with suppliers and customers can make or break a sale.

"We treat all customers the same, regardless of how much they are paying," explains Anderson. "Our technology helps facilitate that, and we have service people who are passionate to back it up." Anderson also says becoming a top producer is eased when suppliers make overtures to agents. He cites Royal Caribbean's no rebate policy, which ensures pricing parity across the board and helps out retail agencies. Since then, Carnival has followed suit.

"Competition is good," he laughs.

Sandra Smith

Directional Strategies Travel


Top Producer for Sandals and Beaches Resorts



Sandra Smith is co-owner, with her husband, David Smith, of Directional Strategies Travel, an agency specializing in honeymoon travel and destination weddings.

Sandra Smith

In 2006, the Royal Oak, MI-based agency was the top-selling company for Sandals and Beaches Resorts. Smith had a proactive approach to setting off on the trail to becoming the top-producer for Sandals. Five years ago, when she was thinking of switching suppliers, she flew down to Jamaica on her own dime and researched a variety of Sandals resorts.

"We invested our time and money and determined that Sandals resorts were wonderful," says Smith. "The other resorts didn't have the branding and marketing of Sandals."

Another factor for Smith was customer recognition of Sandals. "This had a lot to do with Sandals' print advertising in bridal magazines," she says. "A couple will see such an ad and yearn for the same experience. We tell them we can get it for them. We fulfill their dream."

After her initial research trip, Smith approached Sandals with a request. "We told them we needed their help in bringing our people in for training, and to be included in upcoming fams, that we needed brochures and a contact person to help us with questions," says Smith. "They were skeptical at first, but when they saw how we performed, and the success of our Sandals nights, they were convinced."

On the day of the interview with Travel Agent, Smith was packing for the next day's flight to St. Lucia to take photographs of the new rooms at the Sandals Regency.

"We know the product intimately," she says. "We believe in directing business. Our success was never about putting heads in beds—it was based on 'suite success.' We believe our clients deserve to be in suites."

Smith has some advice for agents who want to become top producers. "When you spread yourself too thin, you become a generalist instead of a specialist," she says. "Specialize in a destination and the products in that destination. Educate yourself. And then make a decision about who you want to partner with."

Smith also believes agents gain a real advantage when they know the people they're doing business with on a day-to-day basis, from the golf pro to the general manager at the resort.

—By Daniel Butcher, David Eisen, Joe Pike, Mark Rogers and Debbie Strong