Gauging Business, Setting Goals

I wanted to get the pulse of how the travel business is faring by checking in with three travel agents on their year so far and their goals.

I touched base first with Eleanor Bronner of Paradise Travel Service in San Francisco. Funny story, after corresponding with Eleanor a few times over the years via e-mail, I met up with her serendipitously while I was waiting in line to check in to the Las Vegas Hilton at ASTA last year. I loved meeting Eleanor, she is full of life and zest for this business. If you ever need some inspiration on selling travel, check in with her!

So, how’s the year beginning at Paradise Travel? “It’s been okay—not great, thanks to the bad last year,” she says. Eleanor, who has been in the business for 30 years, told me she doesn’t actually set goals year to year. Instead, she reflects back often on the advice from Ed Hogan, founder of Pleasant Holidays. “He said, ‘always sell yourself.’ For example, if you’re standing on a long, slow-moving grocery line, pull out your business card and say, ‘Doesn’t a Hawaiian vacation sound good right now?’”

Eleanor takes it a step further, schmoozing with those she sits next to on airplanes or those she meets at parties. “I try to slip in how ‘without a travel agent you’re on your own,’” she tells me. And, she’s gotten more aggressive whenever she hears people discussing how they book their travel online. “I jump in, offering my services, explaining that the web does not answer questions or give service,” she says.

Next I touched base with Robin Fox of Pisa Brothers in New York. I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with Robin and her husband, Marty, in Anguilla last year when the tourist board hosted a fam weekend to launch the new Executive Air service from San Juan. We stayed in touch and she contributed several articles to our sister publication, Luxury Travel Advisor; she also sat on Travel Agent’s Europe roundtable last summer. Even more rewarding was that Robin’s son, Harrison Fox, was an intern at Travel Agent last summer, where he helped us out in every department. We hated to see him go back to school!

So, how is Robin faring in 2010? “Business has picked up dramatically since New Year’s,” she tells me. “The phones are quite busy with requests, from the very exotic to quick getaways to warm-weather destinations. Essentially, the pent-up demand from the past year is now exploding.”

Robin’s goals for 2010 are rooted in 2009, which for her was “an eye-opener in many ways. Every booking was hard-fought. My main goal this year is to network more, ask for more referrals and spread out my risk.”

That vow has already paid off. “In the first month of the year, I have closed sales on four new clients to exciting destinations,” Robin tells me.

Lastly, I turned to Dilworth Daley of Daley’s Destinations. I also met Dilworth via e-mail years ago and he stayed in touch as he developed his business. I got to meet him at Luxury Travel Expo last December; when he told me he was a huge fan of Travel Agent, I was especially glad to meet him. Seriously, though, I’ve always been impressed by how intensely Dilworth tackles the business of travel and how much joy he derives from it.

Thus far, business for him in 2010 “is picking up in the number of calls and bookings.” He’s also seeing that consumers seem to appreciate the value of working with travel consultants, in particular for their competitive pricing.

Goals for Dilworth are quite specific: “I have set a new goal to grow my business by at least 20 percent this year alone, and to focus more on groups and working with my supplier partners.”

Keeping in mind that the travel business is also all about a love for actual travel, I asked each agent what was on their wish list for 2010. Both Eleanor and Dilworth said South Africa; Robin has her sights set on New Zealand and sailing on the new Seabourn Odyssey.  How is your business faring in 2010? What are your goals? E-mail me at [email protected] and I’ll share your thoughts with our readers.

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