THE TRAVEL BUSINESS got into Mickey Weill's blood in 1987, by way of a casual happenstance with his own travel agent that led him to realize he loved the business and yearned to have his own shop. Two decades later, with a blue-chip Rolodex some 5,000 contacts strong, he is known not just for his outstanding achievements but also for his grace and integrity.
"I was ready to open my own agency when a friend introduced me to three women who were working together as partners at a travel agency," recalls Weill. "We hit it off immediately, so rather than go solo, I joined forces with them. Working as equal partners known as Group 4, we went on to build a successful business as independent contractors with three separate agencies for nearly 10 years."
Fast forward: Today, Weill works from Protravel's Brentwood, CA office, serving as a director of sales and marketing for the company's ProWest division. Throughout his career, he says, he has abided by two precepts: great relationships and superb service. "Whatever I do, I want to make a difference—make a contribution," he tells Travel Agent. "Not just to my clients, but to my peers as well." Virtually Pro Highlights
Weill has served on advisory boards and committees for a number of suppliers, including Ritz-Carlton, Isram, Four Seasons, Rosewood, Preferred Hotels & Resorts, St. Regis, Abercrombie & Kent, Canadian Tourism Commission and Travcoa. Today, this experience helps Weill support any Protravel agent in the country in his own special style, which could include making a phone call to a supplier to clear space for a client.
"A major role for me at ProWest is to support each and every agent, onsite and home-based," Weill says. "If I can give them the right tools and guidance, even direction, I'm happy to do it. Look, Protravel agents deliver. That's what we're known for. So by the time an agent comes to me, every road has been taken, every effort has been made on behalf of their client, and that's where I step in and help. The way I see it, I have external and internal clients."
How does Weill remain at the top of his game? He says experience is clearly of great significance, but so is staying current with the latest industry developments, be it a hotel or technology or travel trends. Matching clients to the right product is also key. "We have to prove ourselves every day and demonstrate that we indeed have an inside tract," he explains.
Focus on Home-Based
Last summer, Protravel began working on what is now called Virtually Pro, a new division of Protravel that Weill was selected to lead. Rolled out at the Home-Based Travel Agent Expo in December, Virtually Pro aims to expand the home-based business that ProTravel has been passively growing for many years and to recognize this increasing segment of the retail travel industry.
"We have 75 agents currently working in a virtual environment and we want them to have the same support and tools we give our onsite agents," Weill says. "And, obviously, we hope to attract new ones with this division."
On the subject of top-notch service, Travel Agent posed a question to Weill regarding Protravel's concierge services versus competitors such as Mansour Travel and Fischer Travel, who charge hefty annual fees. "We've been offering concierge service for some time now, but really didn't attach fees to those services," Weill responds. "Now we do, and we'll probably introduce a more formal 'à la carte menu' of sorts this year, minus the annual fees.
"That being said," he continues, "I think there is a tendency among agents to undervalue their services, and I've always encouraged ours to charge accordingly. Let me give you an example: We booked a client's recent trip to New York. She wanted to see Andrea Bocelli at Madison Square Garden and began shopping online at the last minute for good seats. Once we became aware of her needs, we simply contacted the concierge at Trump International on her behalf and they were able to secure two front-row seats. I think services like that deserve a fee. Obviously, delivering excellent service keeps clients from going to the competition, but sometimes a client knows their request requires a last-minute 'miracle worker,' and I believe that client expects to pay a fee."
Sharing his life with his wife and 15-year-old son, Weill says it's all about balance. "I love what I do, but my family is first and foremost."
Favorite place to visit for this seasoned traveler? "Haven't found it yet," he admits. "But I do love Africa and Egypt."