Special Agents: The SECRET to great SERVICE!

Our esteemed leaders at Travel Leaders headquarters had an epiphany a while back that has had a dramatic impact on the way Travel Leaders agencies like ours go to market.  In a dazzling moment of crystalline clarity, they realized that, in a very real sense, we are all not so much in the travel business as the travel agent business.  By that I mean, the essence of our business is to connect eager travelers to the right travel experience by means of an experienced travel expert.

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According to Wikipedia, “In the United States, special agent is usually the title for a detective or investigator for a state, county, municipal, federal or tribal government who conducts criminal investigations and has arrest authority.”   Never one to shy away from random acts of audacity, I am going to brazenly expropriate that term and apply it to our own front line travel agents . . .  minus the criminal investigation and arrest authority, of course! 

Those who regularly visit these pages know that I exercise remarkable restraint when it comes to blatant promotion.  Only after I have hopefully entertained and educated do I occasionally sprinkle in a little enticement to do business with us.  Today, however, I creating a new category to which I will contribute content consistently but sparingly.  The category is called “Special Agent” and under that rubric I will introduce you from time to time to one of our special travel agents.

What I intend to do now, and in upcoming similar posts, is to give you a brief overview of an agent and provide a link to their “agent profile”.  Whereas, B.E. (that would be Before Epiphany), we would spend our time and money advertising destinations and/or travel provider partners, now we largely focus on promoting our agents through their individual, customized agent profiles.

For example, today I want to introduce you to Sandy DuVall.  Sandy is a consummate Sandy DuVallprofessional.  Over the past twenty-five years, she has traveled much of the world broadening her knowledge and adding to her personal experience. When she recommends a beach, she has likely wiggled her toes in that very sand. When she touts a resort, no doubt she has performed a recent white gloves site inspection.  When she endorses an adult beverage to be sipped pool side . . .  never mind.

While Sandy’s experience is broad, her true travel passions are a little more focused.  In particular, her heart rate rises a few ticks when someone inquires about a honeymoon or destination wedding or about Mexico or Hawaii.

This will become very evident when you visit her Agent Profile.   You can read about each of these three specialties, view picture albums related to each and even read short experiential posts that share her personal insights.  Spend a few minutes perusing her profile and you will find that entrusting Sandy with your dream trip is not just reasonable but downright perspicacious.

HawiiIf I were in the market for a destination wedding, planning a visit to the Hawaiian Islands or longing for an unforgettable Mexico vacation, I would have no hesitancy in seeking the advice of Sandy DuVall.  Now that I think about it, even as an agency owner I have sought her advice more than once!

Bottom line, if you are a traveler seeking a memorable travel experience, you need the assistance of a true travel expert.  Let me be the first to introduce you to Special Agent Sandy DuVall.

The Un-Cruise Fab Five (plus a little surprise)

In the travel world there are, generally speaking, two kinds of travel companies:  the ones striving to offer something for everyone and those like Un-Cruise Adventures who are quite content, thank you very much, to provide everything for someone. To put it so simply even I can’t misconstrue, there are generalists and there are specialists.

Honesty compels me to admit that there are a myriad of places in the world where Un-Cruise is simply not an option.  They do serve five incredible destinations, however,  and should you long to experience one of those, congratulations are in order.  You have just won the travel equivalent of the Powerball lottery!  OK, that might be slight hyperbole but it is definitely your lucky day.

Un-Cruise Adventures DestinationsYou see, regarding those destinations Un-Cruise Adventures does offer, they are all over them like “white on rice”.  (If you are not familiar with that expression you need to listen to last Sunday’s segment on PBS radio’s A Way With Words.)  If you are a regular reader, you are probably not shocked to learn that this is my favorite radio program.

So which five destinations are we talking about?  Some of you have already cheated and looked closely at the image above and know the answer.  If you are over fifty, that bit of skullduggery was likely of no help anyway since, like me, you probably can’t read print that small.  If you are looking for your reading glasses, they are on your head.

Here is a quick look at all five with a comment or two about each one.  (The same sneaky little buggers who cheated and looked at the map have undoubtedly already glanced at the bottom of this post to find the little surprise. Tsk tsk . . . very naughty.)

Alaska’s Inside Passage

Un-Cruise Adventures AlaskaOn the Un-Cruise website there is this nice quote from Henry David Thoreau, “We need the tonic of wilderness.  We can never have enough of nature.”  Un-Cruise offers more than a dozen different Alaska cruises ranging from 7 to 21 nights.  If you enjoy wildlife (presuming that term doesn’t conjure up images of table dancing at Senior Frog’s in Cancun), you will be pleased to discover that every one of these adventures teems with God’s creatures.  You will encounter such diverse creatures as humpback whales, orca, bears, wolves, deer, bald eagles and all manner of sea birds.

Washington and British Columbia

I would venture to guess that, unless you are from the Pacific Northwest, most of you are Coastal Washington and British Columbiarilike me and unfamiliar with the seductive sounding San Juan Islands, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the Salish Sea, Princess Louisa Inlet and the vast archipelago of islands that grace the coasts of Washington and British Columbia.  Let’s be honest, you were born to have High Tea in Butchart Gardens and to take in nature’s wonders from a kayak or skiff.  I know I was!

Columbia and Snake Rivers

Columbia and Snake RiversBy any chance are you looking for something extremely cool (in both the literal and metaphorical sense) to do this fall or next spring?  Without giving away too much about my next post, Un-Cruise Adventures offers four very distinctive styles of adventure.  One of these is called Heritage Adventures.  I know this is a shameless tease but come back again and I will reveal everything.  (Hmm. That didn’t come out quite right!)  In any case, if you love history with period costumes, legacy reenactments and dead people walking . . OK, just kidding about the last bit . .  you are going to LUV this experience.

Mexico’s Sea of Cortés

Sea of Cortez with Un-Cruise AdventuresTo cite the Un-Cruise website again, “Just south of California lies an unrushed and uncrowded inland sea known as the Gulf of California, Vermillion Sea, Sea of Cortez or Sea of Cortés.  Apparently you can call the thing whatever strikes your fancy at the moment.  I sort of like the Sea of Moi but maybe that’s a trifle pretentious.   I love the fact that this destination offers an area the writer John Steinbeck referred to as “ferocious with life” but also the culture and beauty of the mission town of Loreto and the rich history of La Paz.

Hawaiian Islands

Last but hardly least is the ever popular Hawaiian Islands.  Captain Cook dubbed them the Sandwich Islands after his visit in 1778 because, according to his diary, he had an incredible pastrami on rye at “The Little Mermaid Dive Shop” on Oahu.  See, it’s fascinating little historical tidbits like this you will learn on an Un-Cruise (if you travel with me, anyway).

Hawaii on an Un-Cruise AdventureGoodness, time flies when the words are flowing from your keyboard like syrup from a Vermont maple tree.  I do seem to recall promising you a little surprise.  If you like the fab five destinations, exercise a little patience and in late 2015 — if the dirt doctor hasn’t paid you a house call by then — you can add Costa Rica, Panama and Belize to the list creating the Exciting Eight!

When you come back for your next visit (I prefer the assumptive approach), I will tell you about the four very different style of adventures offered by Un-Cruise Adventures.  You will discover which one floats your boat, so to speak. Until then, which of the Fab Five destinations appeals to you the most?

Maui On The Move: Travel Trends According To You

Each fall, Travel Leaders Group conducts a survey of travel agents across the United States called, appropriately enough, the Fall Travel Trends Survey.  Travel agency owners, managers and frontline travel agents are asked which destinations are trendingTravel Leaders Fall Travel Trends Survey upward in the months immediately ahead.  What should make this survey of particular interest to you is that the agencies are asked to base their answers not on speculation, personal preference or even yours truly’s highly sought after and quickly discarded opinion but on actual forward bookings.

According to the news release of September 4th, “This survey was conducted by Travel Leaders Group from July 30 – August 23, 2012, and includes responses from 871 U.S.-based travel agency owners, managers and frontline travel agents from the flagship Travel Leaders brand, along with – for the first time ever – those affiliated with Travel Leaders Group’s Luxury Travel Network, Nexion, Results! Travel, Tzell Travel Group and Vacation.com units.”  What this means is that this year’s survey is based on a much broader sampling than in the past and thus is even more authoritative than ever!

You can read the entire survey here but I thought I would share a few highlights for those of you who live in mortal dread of inadvertently booking a vacation insufficiently “hot” (in the popular, not the climatological sense) to render your in-laws and nosy neighbors overwrought with envy.  I mean, what is the point of a great vacation if you can’t tantalize friends and taunt enemies, right?

Maui wavesIf that is your objective, than you’d better be planning to motor over to Maui (figuratively speaking, of course. I don’t recommend you try it literally.)  Here is an interesting little tidbit.  In last year’s survey, Maui was the top recommended domestic destination.  Apparently, a lot of you were paying attention to your trusted travel advisors, always a sound practice, because this year Maui jumped three spots to number two on the hit parade, a close second to Las Vegas.

For the serious jet setters among you, what does the international scene look like?  If the survey were a flower garden (never mind the fact that you would need a trowel to fill it out), Caribbean cruising and Cancun would be classified perennials.   Nonetheless, the survey did offer a couple of surprises.  Mediterranean cruising rose (pun intended) to number three on the list and European River cruising blossomed (that’s it, I promise) into the top ten.

That last result is not the least surprising to those of us who ply the travel trade.  River cruising, whether in Europe, China or Vietnam, is experiencing a boom.  I took a Rhine River cruise a while back and it was one of the best vacations I ever experienced.  Not to worry, I plan to post about it very soon.  As a quick aside, it is strange once you start blogging how you no longer have personal experiences, you only have potential blog posts!

I encourage you take a moment and read the entire Fall Travel Trends Survey news release.  You can peruse the entire domestic and international top ten list,  discover the average cost of airfares to various popular vacation destinations and even take a behind-the-scenes peek at the level of optimism we in the travel industry harbor going forward.

This is the most authoritative survey of its kind in the industry, exactly what you would expect from the Travel Leaders, the industry leading travel company.  That didn’t sound self-serving, did it?