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.

Special Agent Badge

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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.

OK, I’m Here . . . So Now What? Cancun and the Mayan Riviera

Some travelers get so caught up in their destination (where do I want to go?) and their domicile (where do I want to stay?), they forget to ask themselves “What do I want to do when I get there?”.  In fact, that question should probably precede the previous two.  If your definition of a perfect vacation contains certain “must do” items, you might want to travel somewhere that offers those specific activities.

Wow, are you blown away by my mastery of Aristotelian logic?  Don’t try this kind of insightful thinking at home without an open copy of The Organon next to you or you might bruise your little gray cells!

This post starts a new category on this blog called “OK, I’m Here . . . So Now What?” in which I will inform you about things to see and do in various destinations.  Let’s take Cancun and the Mayan Riviera as our first example . . . especially since that is the only thing I am prepared to write about at the moment.  On September 7th I published a

Picture of a Mayan Calendar

This is either a Mayan calendar or an Oreo cookie, not sure which.

post called Cancun:  A Bundle (or Unbundle) Of Fun in which I promised  to provide you more information about this precise subject very soon.  OK, very soon is a relative term. Compared with say the Mayan calendar’s “baktun” which divides history into periods of 394.26 years, the past few months have been a mere heartbeat.  Speaking of the Mayans, the world didn’t end last Friday while I was out Christmas shopping, did it?  I would be extremely upset to find out that while I was being jostled in line at Bath And Body Works by a tattooed teenager with a nose ring , I missed the entire apocalypse!

There are way too many tour options and activities (over a hundred) to list them all here so I will just mention a few and then point you to this awesome site where you can research, dream and even book to your little heart’s content.

Camel Safari   (No, this is not a misprint from a tour of North Africa.)

Be honest, haven’t you always wanted to ride a camel?  I’m not saying you dream about it at night because frankly, that would be a little weird.  But wouldn’t it be nice, when there is a lull in the conversation at your next cocktail party, to be able to throw out a totally random comment Camel Safari in Riviera Mayaabout camel riding in Cancun?  This is a unique experience specially designed for travelers with a taste for the exotic.  If vacations are all about experiences outside your normal routine,  unless you recently traded in your Dodge Ram pickup for a dromedary, this should certainly fit the bill.

XPLOR Tour

This is described as “A totally wild adventure where you will drive an amphibious vehicle, go over the exotic vegetation on a zip line, and swim in an ancestral cenote.”  Personally, I think it would be even wilder if you swam in the exotic vegetation and zipped over a cenote in an amphibious vehicle but that’s just me.  Actually, I have done this activity.   One small Extreme Canopy Adventurecautionary note.  When the guide tells you that should you come in a little “hot” on your zip line run, don’t worry, he will be on the platform on the other end to catch you before you wrench your knee careening into an unforgiving tree . . . well . . . let me translate for you.  What he really means is if you are young, cute, petite and female, he is there for you.  If you old, male, scruffy and a little above your fighting weight, you should count on a loud “¡Olé!” coupled with a dexterous sideways jump that would make a Spanish bullfighter proud.  If you have to ask what the heck is going on in the picture to the left, you don’t have any business signing up for this adventure.

Delphinus Trek

Interacting safely with dolphins, under water as if you were a diver, is simply unmatched.
You will appreciate them from a unique and different point of view thanks to secure underwater breathing equipment that can be used by anyone.  By anyone, I am excluding people like me who are claustrophobic in small, confined places such as Cowboy Stadium, Notre Dame and Yellowstone National Park.

Delphinus Trek, Riviera Maya

Are you are ready to peruse a list of over one hundred tour and activity choices as well as nifty transfer options to and from the airport?   Just follow this link and explore to your heart’s content: Travel Leaders Cancun ActivitiesWhen you are ready for some help selecting the perfect resort for you, just visit Travel Leaders / Main Street Travel.  And finally, when you are desperately bored and find yourself craving even more mindless drivel, just come back here.  As you have probably discovered by now, we can deliver drivel by the dump truck load around here.

Michael Batt Talks Travel

If there is anyone I’ve met across the years who seemed destined to fulfill a successful career in “bidness”, as we like to mangle the term here in Texas, it is truly Michael Batt.  Mike is founder and chairman of Travel Leaders Group and is the latest travel industry expert to visit us here on Backroom Banter.

Mike is the business equivalent of Roy Hobbs, i.e. The Natural, without all the sub-plots.  If you want a quick overview of his immensely successful corporate career click here.  But honestly, that is just part of the story.  At heart, he is a bold entrepreneur with investments in restaurants, publishing, internet marketing, and only he, God and his tax attorney know what else.

Mike possesses that rare package of gifts the rest of us only pine for.  He has a keen analytical mind that enables him to quickly diagnose the financial health of a potential acquisition.  As you will see when you watch the video below, he is an effective communicator whether chatting one-on-one or captivating a large audience on stage.

Without a doubt, however, the single trait I most admire in Mike is his commitment to integrity.  One of the major reasons he has been able to broker the amazing deals he has with other industry giants is the transparent honesty he exudes in business dealings.  People quickly realize when negotiating with Mike that he has zero tolerance for sharp corners or shady deals.   There is a lesson here for all of us.  The word integrity is related to the word integer, meaning whole, as in whole numbers.  When you are just one thing, both without and within, it spares you loads of game playing.  This is the essence of being real.

You would think a guy with Mike’s immense gifts would at least have the decency to be an arrogant jerk so the rest of us could rationalize our jealousy.  But no, on top of everything, Mike has to go and be a genuinely warm, gracious and kindhearted person as well.  It has been my genuine privilege to count Mike a valued friend over more than a dozen years.

I will share one quick anecdote and on to the video interview.

Mike once told me that he was the son of a Welsh coal miner and was the first in his family to have the privilege of attending university.  Fresh out of school, his first job was with M & M Mars candy company.  As Mike tells it, he drove home flush with his new position and immediately dragged his father from his easy chair and out to his car.  He popped open the boot (trunk for you non-Anglophiles) to reveal hundreds of assorted candy bars.  His dad took one look, glanced over at Mike, coughed out a little mine dust and said, “Let me get this straight, I worked thirty years in a coal mine so you could sell candy bars out of the boot of your car?”  From candy merchant to capitalist mogul,  it couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy.

Now enjoy a few minutes with one of our industry’s leading lights as he shares his insights on the remarkable growth of Travel Leaders, the overall state of the travel industry and the merger between two New York powerhouse agencies, Tzell Travel Group and Protravel International. You will even get a glimpse into  how Mike likes to spend his own leisure time.  Just click on the image below to view the interview.

Thanks, Mike, for stopping by.  By the way, do you still have any connections over at Mars?  I really like those Twix bars.

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?