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Looking Ahead: Wish List 2007December 11, 2006 By: Mark Rogers, Joe Pike, David Eisen Travel Agent
What industry experts hope for in the coming year
As the New Year quickly approaches, Travel Agent has its eye on the industry's future. We asked insiders for their New Year's wish list: What would you like to see from your travel industry peers in 2007?
Club Med North America
Paula Hayes, senior vice president of sales, Club Med North
America, has two "wishes," one for agents and one for agencies.
"We're aware of how often agents have needed to reinvent themselves in the
past," she says. "I would like to see agents either continue or renew
their interest in education. It's important for agents to remain current with
Hayes ticks off the various opportunities Club Med offers
agents to remain up-to-speed: the Club Med Sales Specialist training program,
road shows, fams, agency visits from the company's inside sales team and DSMs.
"As far as agencies are concerned," says Hayes,
"I'd like to see them really value their partnerships with suppliers.
There's a choice of preferred suppliers out there, and we all know the
competition is fierce." Hayes counsels agencies to ask themselves: Is it
going to be a profitable relationship? Has the supplier allied their business
strategies with you?
"Look at it honestly and carefully," says Hayes.
"No matter the size of the agency, you can still be a big fish with a
Martin's Travels and Tours
Sometimes the slightest improvement can make all the
difference when it comes to upgrading the relationship between an agent and a
For Marj Abbott, an agent for Martin's Travel & Tours in
suppliers need to get rid of the middle man on the phone (or the middle
prompts, for that matter). Abbott, who has been an agent for nearly 25 years,
says before she gets a good contact for a tour operator, she usually has to
jump through hoops to get someone on the phone.
"Once you get to know a particular supplier, then you
know exactly who to call and what extension they're at," she says.
"Before you get to that level, I usually find myself waiting to get
someone on the phone for at least 10 minutes. It doesn't sound like much, but
anytime I lose during the day is big."
Abbott also says she wishes suppliers would a bit more
technology savvy. Without mentioning names, Abbott says she recently tried to
book with a supplier who told her it couldn't book airlines or hotels through
that particular airline or hotel's web site, only to do it herself shortly
"I really don't think a lot of suppliers know enough
about booking online," she says.
All Seasons Travel
If left up to Chuck Maida, purchasing a cruise over the
Internet wouldn't even be an option. That is because the president of All
Seasons Travel in
Internet site undercuts his business by selling cruises at discounted prices.
"There needs to be a level playing field as far as
pricing," he says. "We do business the old-fashioned way; we speak to
clients before booking."
This is just one of the things Maida would like suppliers to
know in the New Year. He believes there are many things suppliers can do to
help agents sell more travel, and, by doing so, suppliers can boost their own
One of these is to offer more onboard value-adds. Maida says
something as small as a bottle of wine waiting in each guest's stateroom can go
a long way to attaining repeat business. Other products, such as a Disney
Cruise Line's memory box, can go a long way in creating a memorable cruising
While value-adds are important, pricing integrity probably
trumps it. Travel agents such as Maida have done a tremendous service for
cruise lines by extending booking windows. However, as a cruise gets closer to
embarkation, many suppliers will promote new discounted rates, which are less
than what customers may have paid when they booked far in advance. Maida says
that it's imperative that lines then extend those rates to existing bookings.
"If the rate goes down, then I should get that,"
Maida says. He does say that DCL is one line that will reprice for him. And
although this may reduce Maida's commission, in the long run it will keep
customers coming back to him. "I am much better off with them coming back,
telling their friends and getting referrals, than getting a higher
commission," he says. "Yes, I want the best sale, but more important,
I want future business."
Maida would also like to see more marketing support from
suppliers, such as performing mailings on agents' behalf. Tweaking web site
booking engines to make them more user-friendly would also benefit Maida, who
says that there is more flexibility booking through a suppliers' web site,
rather than a GDS.
Carnival Cruise Lines
Besides being one of the largest private wine collectors in
Bob Dickinson, president and CEO of Carnival Cruise Lines, also knows a thing
or two about the cruise industry. And, just like a fine wine, Dickinson has
cultivated many opinions over his years in the industry—he's been with Carnival
since its inception in 1972—on how travel agents can best sell cruises.
While wine collecting is steeped in esoteric terminology and
recommendations to travel agents are less confusing. "The first thing to
do is learn how to sell," says
"Agents need formal training, and there is always a need for more."
Proper training, says
will allow an agent to be less of an order taker and more of a vacation shaper.
"When someone comes in about a resort vacation, they
tend to come right out and say, 'How about Vegas or Orlando?'"
successful agent will qualify that client instead, asking he or she questions
such as: What are you looking for? How many are in your party? How have you
vacationed in the past?"
says asking these questions allows an agent to conjure a vacation recipe,
which, more often than not, a cruise can fulfill better than a resort or
destination. A strong agent, he remarks, will be able to say, "'I can give
you what you are looking for, how do you feel about that?'"
trust between a client and agent as a major deciding factor in a
transaction."A consumer has to be confident that the agent knows what he
or she is doing. Asking questions of the client, coupled with product
knowledge, is a sign of that."
–David Eisen, Joe Pike, Mark Rogers