SAN FRANCISCO Fresh on the heels of acquiring two smaller
consortia, Austin Associates has announced a new e-mail marketing
program for its 700 member agencies.
The new Chalkboard Specials program will list up to 10
exclusively negotiated deals in a weekly e-mail blast sent to the
client lists of participating agencies, according to Rich Abrahams,
Austin’s marketing director. The program, announced during Austin’s
annual meeting here, is scheduled to begin in the first quarter of
E-mail stands out as a far more cost-effective means of
communicating with clients than direct mail or a consumer-oriented
Web site, said Abrahams. He said Austin expects 50 to 100 agencies
to sign up for the service, with each likely to provide 1,000 or
more addresses for the Chalkboard Specials database.
Also at the conference, Austin President Norman Cotton affirmed
that Denver-based 5Star Travel Association, the organization’s
newest acquisition, will maintain its regional identity, much as
Coast Travel Group of Napa, Calif., did when Austin acquired it two
“We expect to maintain that autonomy forever,” Cotton said of
5Star, which counts approximately 75 retailers from the Rocky
Mountain region in its ranks. Austin also recently purchased Travel
Design Associates, a 200-member consortium based in Santa Clara,
Calif. (TravelAge West, Oct. 28).
Added Abrahams: “Regionalization is very important to us. We
have a backbone of national vendors, but Jim [Watts, 5Star’s
president] created a special culture at 5Star. We really want to
carry that through on a regular basis whenever possible.”
Cotton said Austin hasn’t ruled out acquiring other regional
consortia in the near future, saying only that he has talked with
other agency groups but “nothing is imminent.”
Cotton said Austin considered purchasing iTASN, a network of
home-based agents, but decided to keep it as a preferred vendor.
Austin partnered with iTASN last year for its “super agency”
project, which pools agents’ volume to get higher commissions from
He said that Austin views the network as invaluable for many of
its members. “We think we helped some agencies stay in business,’’
Cotton said, adding that iTASN’s preferred-vendor agreements with
airlines complement Austin’s own vendor deals.
Also at the conference, Marybeth Bond, a travel writer and
spokeswoman for Maupintour’s Gutsy Women Travel division, offered
insights into the women’s travel market.
In the past seven years, Bond said, there has been a 230%
increase in women-only tours, and women already constitute 75% of
all adventure-travel clients. Bond also noted that the average
participant in women-only tours “is not some 28-year-old anorexic
model type,” but a woman who’s 47 and wears a size 12 dress.
To attract clients to this niche, Bond said, agents need look no
further than their existing client list.
“You have very little time to market,” she said, “so who are the
best clients to reach out to? The ones you already have.”