Winning Ways 8-13-2003

New strategies and approaches for boosting business

Throughout the West, travel agencies of every size, shape and description are finding ways to get ahead in a challenging travel industry.

Their strategies, solutions, policies and programs highlight growing trends and point a direction to a proactive future in which agencies and agents not only survive, but thrive.

More than just an office: Just when it seems everyone has declared the end of brick-and-mortar agencies, some retailers have turned theirs into retail centers. They create comfortable, family-friendly places that are fun for clients to visit and can be highly profitable. Cherry Creek Travel in Denver chalks up $300,000 in annual sales in its retail center, which even includes a currency exchange operation.

New ways to cut costs: Agencies today are using creative approaches in this crucial area.

Dot Fitzgerald at Peninsula Travel in Sequim, Wash., has cut her agency’s overhead by 60 percent with such moves as eliminating almost all office paper.

Customer service: “Sales as service” is what AAA Oregon/Idaho calls its approach, which includes a quarterly survey to gauge client satisfaction. Morris Murdock in Salt Lake City added a real-time chat feature to its Web site so customers could consult agents. Fitzgerald, of Peninsula Travel, boards her clients’ dogs at her own home. “With so much instability and new competition, the winners of the future will be customer-centric companies that are able to consistently provide personal service, whether online or offline, at every single customer touchpoint along the entire selling process,” says Joe McClure of Montrose Travel in Montrose, Calif.

A new kind of agency: With the industry changing so quickly, and technology even faster, there are new ways to approach the entire business of travel. At Ask About Travel in Temecula, Calif., managing partner Michael Hennes said the company uses its marketing expertise on the Web to refer business to “fulfillment centers” at two “traditional” travel agencies. Ask About Travel does not book travel itself or work with clients but it does send substantial business to the partner agencies and shares revenues with them. After two years in business, the company is anticipating $4 million in annual revenue.