Travel agents get the first night free at Aston Aloha Beach Hotel on Kauai. // © 2011 Aston Hotels & Resorts
Teri Hubert of Golden Odyssey Travel in Ventura, Calif., had some discriminating clients on her hands. They wouldn't commit to Aston Islander on the Beach unless Hubert assured them of a specific room at the hotel. Enter Aston Hotels and Resorts' regional sales manager, Diane Fraser.
"Diane stepped right in, checked with the property and spoke to my clients," said Hubert. "They were completely reassured and booked with us, getting just what they asked for. It was a win-win all around."
That's the sort of story that keeps the Hawaii-based management company at the top of its game when it comes to agent support, said Shari Chang, Aston's senior vice president of sales, marketing and revenue management.
"A travel agent's success depends on being able to trust us to come through for them, and we will," said Chang. "That's our commitment."
Aston's sales managers call on agents on a regular basis, conducting sales training and product presentations while providing updates on Aston properties and promotions, she added.
Fraser's prompt, personal response exemplifies Aston's overall agent outreach, which is tweaked based on agent needs and travel trends. Its services include STARs (Super Travel Agent Rewards), a Web-based loyalty and incentive program that gives agents round-the-clock ability to submit bookings, make extra cash, track earned points and redeem them for gift cards and free stays. Through the end of 2011, the program is additionally lucrative for agents, who can earn bonuses of up to $100 per booking.
Within the year, agents will see a new STARs website with enhanced features and functionality. The site will expand upon the information and resources currently available, including sales support and materials, along with rewarding agents with bonus points and cash.
Since there's no better way to learn about a property than by staying there, Aston provides agents with low "eduvacation" rates. In addition, its Fam-tastic Free Night promotion gives them the first night on the house at Aston Aloha Beach Hotel on Kauai. The company works with tour operators to host 600 familiarization trips each year. Agents can also arrange fams through their regional sales managers or Aston's sales office.
To help agents, Aston has an arsenal of sales tools, many of which are fine-tuned based on agent feedback, said Chang.
"One tool that was designed with significant input from agents is our property reference guide," she said. "We created the guide so that it offers all the information they need to book a property, from rates to maps to the organization of information."
The guide is available online, as are all of Aston's sales tools, such as property brochures, fact sheets, virtual tours and an image library.
As agents face added challenges due to the economy and other obstacles to travel, Aston is helping them with aggressive pricing and added value, said Chang.
"We are beginning to see upward trends for 2011 compared to 2010," she said. "Innovative programs and pricing initiatives have kept our properties in the forefront during these challenging economic times. We are targeting niche markets that have the highest propensity to travel."
For the remainder of 2011, travel agents can count on Aston to continue offering clients the best value possible, said Chang.
Clearly, Aston is making a big point of teaming up with travel agents for mutual benefit. Hubert summed up the Aston-agent relationship this way: "Many hotels have good travel agent programs, but Aston goes one step further by encouraging us to sell their hotels with pride. We feel like true partners."