Steph wanted to chat with a travel advisor who would share about how going to a travel school helped prime their career for success. But what she discussed with Lu Maggiora of Travel with Lu, covered sooo much more ground.
Embarking on a new chapter in her life, Lu Maggiora came into the travel industry during what turned out to be one of its most trying times, a few years before post 9/11 and during the rise of online travel agencies (OTAs). But rooted in a strong travel agent education a Los Medano and bolstered by her student peers, Maggiora's agency continues to thrive over 20 year later. Lean from Lu about how a travel school helped her create community, how she developed her business into booking groups, and how her A+ instagram and unique marketing techniques translated to a loyal customer base (spoiler alert: she made photos of her forehead a branding icon).
- Travel Agent Training & Education: HAR's resource on travel agent education.
- Los Medanos Travel Marketing Program: Check out Lu's alma mater here.
- Find a Travel Agency Niche: Don't have a solid niche? Start building the foundation for one here.
- Service Fee Report, 2017 & a Free Service Fee Agreement Template: Lu has a unique, flexible fee structure. Thinking of creating one for your own agency? This is a good start.
- ASTA NorCal Hawaii Product Seminar : Do you know Kainoa, "mayor of O'ahu"? You're about to :)
- A 101 on Preferred Suppliers: Unsure of the ins and outs of preferred suppliers? This article will clear things up in a jiffy.
- Client Base: A very common customer relationship management (CRM) system in the travel industry.
- Cam Card App: This business card scanner app will help you channel your inner zen (and save on rubberbands).
- 7 Day Setup and Travel Agent Think Tank Facebook Groups: HAR's social media group staples to keep travel advisors feeling connected and supported even if they're working alone.
Steph: You're listening to "Travel Agent Chatter" volume seven. Today we're talking with Lu Maggiora, owner of Travel by Lu. A big warm welcome to all of our listeners, both new and diehard listeners alike.
"Travel Agent Chatter" is an audio series produced by the team here at Host Agency Reviews. A quick reminder that the show notes can be found at hostagencyreviews.com/tac. And of course, if you like what you're hearing, we've got loads more resources for you in our moon newsletter. It's delivered once a month on, you guessed it, the full moon. Sign up at hostagencyreviews.com/newsletter. And if you have a few minutes, we'd love it if you take the time to leave a quick review for us on iTunes or Stitcher. Now, let's get on to the show.
Hello, hello little berries, this is Steph Lee, the founder of Host Agency Reviews, and your host for today's show. What have we got in store for you today? Well, today is the story of Lu and her journey from travel school to a successful business. We'll hear about how she went from travel school to her own agency, specializing in Hawaii and cruises, and how she really has found her groove as she's matured in the travel industry with big cruises.
So as you'll find out soon, there's multiple things that are unique about Lu and her business, but one of the things I found so remarkable during our conversation was that this idea of travel school and the community that she built there is still prevalent in her agency today, 18 years later.
And for those of you that are looking for some snazzy marketing tips, we'll touch on that too. I'll be asking Lu to tell us a little bit more about some of her marketing techniques, because whether she meant to or not, she's branded herself brilliantly with her trademark, the foreheads picture. And that is forehead, as in just above the eyes. And, yes, she purposely is missing components that other people normally try to capture in photos like the eyes or the mouth.
So sit back, and relax, and enjoy the show. We'll have the resources we mentioned today, as well as a link to the full transcript in our show notes, so you can view the show notes at hostagencyreviews.com/tac, and click on episode 7.
Now, let's move into our itinerary for the day. We've got five exciting segments for you. First is beginnings, then we'll move into business tips, booking groups, marketing, and we'll bring it to a close with my audio version of a big warm hug, and that's our warm, fuzzy segment. So let's hop onto another episode of TAC. Lu, welcome to "Travel Agent Chatter."
Lu: Good morning, Stephanie. Or I guess for you it would be good afternoon. Hi.
Steph: It is good afternoon here. But, you know, we could say good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, because we don't know when people are listening.
Lu: Absolutely, absolutely.
Steph: Well, let's see, I alluded to this in the intro. But you have such a tight knit group of friends from travel school, and it's a really neat and I think unique story, would you mind sharing how you've all kind of grown and your business have matured and traveled together?
Lu: Yes, well, absolutely. Travel school for us at the time, this was an actual campus, and the program actually offered classes on four different campuses. And this was a campus that was near my home, and it was interesting, it attracted maybe about 20 people. And we were kind of all in the same point in our lives, a lot of us had . . . in my case, I had just sent my youngest off to college, and others had kids that were going to school full time, and also like me, sending kids off into the world, and just looking for the next chapters in their lives. And so, we were all eager beavers who loved to travel, and wondered how we could kind of, you know, incorporate that in our lives.
So we all got together in travel school, in this class, and from the very first orientation class we were hooked. We had a very, very magical instructor who ran the program at the time. And she just instilled in us, you know, the ability to look forward to a career in travel. And you know, we all signed on the bottom line, you know, after that first class, and all bonded. And what was great was that, because we all have the same interests, you know, we kind of always spent time together even after class, like whenever there was a break, or you know, after class, maybe on weekends, or for lunches, or whatever, we all kind of gravitated together.
And then fast forward a couple years later, when we were all kind of nearing the end of completing our program, we used to joke and say, "Wouldn't it be fantastic if we could all work together in the same agency?" Because we all have the same interests, you know, being on the West Coast, we all loved Hawaii, and so many of us loved cruising. And, you know, we were saying, "Wouldn't this be fantastic?" And one of the gals in our group happened upon an agency that was local. It was like within 10 minutes of where everybody lived. And it was an online agency which was kind of new at the time, you know, not a storefront but an online. And the owner...
Steph: Yeah. Do you mind giving us like the date on about, like, when you first entered the industry?
Lu: Yeah. Well, I started travel classes in 1999 and took the classes for a couple of years because I was, you know, I was kind of insecure about, you know, jumping into the business. I wanted to make sure I had a really good foundation of skills. You know, it was such a brand new, you know. . . I was moving from totally different careers into travel, and it was so new. And I wanted to just make sure I had the foundation skills, and certification, and so forth.
So this agency that we all found ourselves in, it was a very forward-thinking agency and not a storefront. They had set up...oh, gosh, I guess over a dozen websites focusing on different things like Hawaii, discount Hawaii cruising, you know, things like that, different websites that would kind of all funnel in to the agency. And one by one, we all started saying, "Hey, come and work with us, come and work with us."
And so I think that ended up at the height of it, we might have had almost everybody in the whole class working at the agency. It was fantastic fun. And we would go in and help answer the phones because at that time, because it was, you know, it was websites, and it was online, it was a brand new concept for so many consumers. So the phones were ringing off the hook, and we'd go in, and we'd answer phones, and take leads, and you know, and just whenever we'd go in the agency, we'd be together, and having fun. And it was just a great, great experience at the time. Then this was a little bit before 2001, so you can imagine . . . Yeah, 2011, I'm sorry. No. Yeah, September 11th.
Lu: Yeah. It was before then so, you know, the phones were ringing off the hook. So, yeah, you know, a great foundation, and a great agency to be a part of it. It was an exciting time back then.
Steph: Yes. So you have just under 20 years under your belt. And when you started by joining, just so everyone knows, Los Medanos College was where she went for the travel program.
Lu: Los Medanos, yep.
Steph: Yep. And they still have a travel program but it's not in person anymore, it's all online. And we'll link to that in our show notes so people can check it out. I'll also put a link into our article on travel agent education, which has a list of travel schools and other educational opportunities for agents or people looking to become agents.
So as we discussed earlier, the funding for travel schools was really cut after September 11th, and as a result travel schools just aren't as commonplace as they once were.
Steph: But you're like 100% on team travel school? What was...?
Lu: Oh, yeah, absolutely.
Steph: You're their number one cheerleader. So what were some of the things you liked?
Lu: Oh, what I really liked was, for somebody, you know, with a personality like me, you know, I like to get out there, and I like to know that I have a good foundation of skills behind me. So in travel school we had . . . the number one thing that they instilled in us was the importance of professionalism. You know, our instructors were very well dressed, and presented themselves very professionally. And so we know even if we were gonna be home-based, you know, even though we know that we sit at home in our robes, or in our slippers, and so forth, you still have to have professional attitude.
So they taught us about good business practices, and how to qualify a client, which is so, so, so important, how to work with a supplier, salesmanship, another huge thing you need to know, destination classes. They would bring in industry speakers at the time, people from cruise lines, and tour companies. We even had the opportunity back then to go on field trips. We did ship inspections. We went to a call center for United Airlines back then when they had call centers out here. So we could actually see, you know, hands-on how the industry works, you know, in the background.
And then we also had internship opportunities with brick and mortars, because, you know, back then there were so many brick and mortars that we could take advantage of. And at the time they were looking for interns to come in. So that was really valuable to me because I was able to job shadow during my internship. So, you know, the foundation skills were there. You know, all the important pillars that you need to know to make sure that you have a successful travel business.
Steph: Well, so your internship is really interesting to me because I think for people that are coming into the industry, ideally they would love to have some sort of an internship, but they are very difficult to get nowadays. But yours was...
Lu: [inaudible 00:11:54], yeah.
Steph: Yeah. Yours was...did you say it was two to three months long?
Lu: Yeah, yeah. It was six to nine weeks, I believe. And it was up to you whether, you know, you made the agreement with the particular agency, how many days a week you wanted to come in. At the time, two days a week worked well for me, so I would go in two days the week, couple of hours each time, and I would job shadow because that was a storefront, so they had corporate, they had leisure. They had a good amount of staff. And so I would job shadow, and I would watch the corporate person, and I would watch the leisure person, and you know, I would watch the receptionist, how they handled clients coming in. And, you know, and the whole thing. And you know, the traditional filing of brochures, things like that. So, I mean, it gave me a really good peek at the daily runnings of a brick and mortar agency.
Steph: Yes. And you didn't book any tickets or anything during that time, you were just shadowing.
Lu: No. Just shadowing which was so important because you learn how each agent works, like whoever they're talking to on the phone, whether it's a client, or a vendor, or even just procedures, how they went about booking tickets for, you know, the corporate clients. So it was just fascinating to me because I had hardly ever stepped foot in a real travel agency previously, so this was really eye-opening for me.
Steph: Yeah. So for those of you that are listening that are interested in some kind of an internship, again, they're very hard to come by. And if there is a brick and mortar in your agency, you can go ahead and ask, and say you're willing to come in just a couple of times a week for, you know, an afternoon and do some job shadowing, you won't bother them at all.
Lu: Right, right.
Steph: Yeah. And for those listening that actually are agency owners, whether it's storefront or home-based, if you do get approached by someone, you know, this could be a great opportunity, instead of thinking of it as your competition. This is either someone that you could potentially hire if you feel like they're smart enough, or it could be someone that you could take on as an IC and like start your own mini host agency.
Lu: Yeah, absolutely.
Steph: I mean, Lu, you and I talked about how you don't see them as often anymore in the travel industry.
Lu: Yeah. And I think a lot of times it's because, you know, everyone is so busy, especially, you know, they're so fewer in numbers, the brick and mortars. Everyone's so busy and they really don't have the time to train people. So you know, it behooves you out as a potential travel consultant if you can job shadow, you know, how important that is. You know, because it also demonstrates to the agency owners your willingness to be professional about how, you know, how you approach the job that you're willing to, you know, listen and learn, and find out what, you know, what is the nuts and bolts of how an agency is run.
Steph: Yeah, exactly. Let's see, Lu, during our call, you had some great advice. And that was to focus on what you love when you're first entering the travel industry.
Steph: And this is exactly the same advice we give agents on our site when we walk them through an exercise to help them find a niche. And I'll post a link to that article in the show notes. But now, having said that, it can take some time to really hone in on things, and I'd love for you to share your agency's evolution, as I think it can help remind our listeners that niches evolve over time. So for you, you started specializing in Hawaii, and now you still focus a lot of Hawaii.
Lu: [inaudible 00:16:03]. Yeah.
Steph: Yeah. But now you do a lot of group cruises and you do international travel. So how did that happen?
Lu: Well, it was funny because I have set some goals for myself when I first started these classes. I said, "Okay, you know if I want to be a professional about this, I wanna set some goals." So my first goal was to get as many certifications as I could, to get to the top of the certification ladder in as many, you know, components of the industry as I could, you know, like with the cruise lines, and with the travel institutes, and certifications with visitors bureaus, and so forth, and tourism boards.
Yeah. So when I started out, my goals were simple. I just wanted to specialize in Hawaii and also in cruises because I knew zip about cruises. But I was just fascinated by cruising and I just wanted to learn everything I could learn about cruising. So those were my two focuses, Hawaii and cruises. So I set out to learn everything that I could about those two niches.
And so I joined the Oahu Visitors Bureau program that at the time they had certification, and then it evolved into a master specialist program. So I participated in all of that on island and so forth. And for cruising I went to the cruise line training, and you know, got all my certification, then tried to cruise. My goal was to try to cruise, every year at least two cruises, and at least a destination I’ve never been to and/or a cruise line I've never sailed on.
So then that evolved because I started going to more events, and going to ship tours, and supplier training, and so forth. And so it grew into group cruising because I love cruises. My favorite aspect of travel is cruising. And people, you know, my friends, my family would see how enthusiastic I was about cruising. And then, you know, I started thinking, "Well, you know, I'm a social person. I like a good party, I like to gather people," so I started gathering groups for cruising. And it kind of started out with chick cruises. I used to just bring, you know, some of my girlfriends and I said, "Let's go, let's chick cruise." You know, a little three-day, four-day chick cruise.
So we started out doing chick cruises, you know, just the girlfriends. And then that evolved, the husbands started getting jealous and so that evolved into doing, you know, group cruises for everybody. And so that has really become, you know, a niche for me because now I do cruise groups every year. I have my group I call The Crazy Cruisers, because they always said you have to have a name when you're on the ship with your group, so we called ourselves The Crazy Cruisers
So we have our closed Facebook page and stay in touch that way. And I poll everybody periodically over the year, "Where should we go next?" Because they're always asking me when they come back from the previous group cruise. "Where are we going next? What's on the agenda?" So I love to poll them periodically, "Where should we go?" You know, what's on your wish list? What your bucket list?"
Steph: Yes. That's a great marketing tip, you know, like everybody sees it, everyone gets to participate in the Facebook group.
Steph: During our interviews, I often like to ask agents about if they charge consultation or service fees because it's something that the majority of travel agents do not charge. And I'll post a link to our annual service fee survey, as well as our travel agent income survey in the show notes for those of you listening, and you can get a better idea of what percentage of agents charge service fees. It's about a third, and the most common amount by experience, so you'll see that, you know, as people become more experienced, they become more comfortable charging fees. So like anyhow, Lu, you do charge service fees but your structure isn't really set in stone, how do you decide how much to charge your clients?
Lu: Yeah. Well, you know, I always say, it only takes being burned twice just to realize how valuable your time and your expertise is. So you really do need to value yourself, and you need to kind of also educate your clients how valuable you are by, you know, having some sort of fee structure. And yeah, you know, it's not set in stone because I kind of look at it as a case-by-case basis. I look at the clients, I look at where they came from because I deal 99% of the time with people I know, past clients referrals. A bulk of my business is from referrals, so I'm dealing with people who are not, you know, 100% strangers.
So, you know, I don't have a particular fee structure. I do charge a . . . in the beginning I called it a plan-to-go fee, where I would use it towards . . . I would do it per person, and then I would apply it towards the deposit, or if they didn't travel at all, you know, I kept it as a service fee. Now I do it separately as a service fee because I realized that, you know, again, you have to realize how important your expertise is, and your time is.
So, you know, I know some people do it by percentage, some people do it by dollar amount, I kind of look at the individual that I'm working with, and I kind of, you know, judge from them, do they seem like they're gonna be high maintenance in the future? You know, do they have kind of a reputation? You know, like sometimes my clients will say, "Well, I'm gonna send you so-and-so, but, you know, be advised," that kind of thing. So I kind of judge it by that, you know, because we're individuals, you know, you can't set things like that in stone. You know, some people can, but not me.
Steph: Well, I think it's really interesting because there's so many different ways to approach it. And on our last volume of "Travel Agent Chatter" we interviewed Becky Lukovic who does luxury travel. And hers, you know, is very different, it's very structured on her site, hers is like, "This is the cost per person, I tell you upfront." And that's it, you know, she feels very comfortable with it. But yours is . . . you know, works just as well.
Lu: Yeah. And what I do is, after I’ve had the initial phone call or e-mail, you know, where I try to get as much information as I can. Then I will forward to them a questionnaire that asks details about their travel plans. And I'll forward the questionnaire, and then I will also forward the fee agreement to them, so that they know upfront that they're getting this questionnaire, and they're getting this fee agreement. And if they send them back, then that means they agree. So then you don't have to worry over whether you did the right or wrong thing, you know.
Steph: Well, let's see. Well, we're on the travel industry so it's, you know, an obvious fact that we love to travel as much as we can. And now that your husband's retired, you've been going on lots of trips. So two questions, how often do you travel? And then two, what's your kind of next group trip you have coming up?
Lu: I travel as often as I can. Like I said, I try to do... You know, because we are in the travel business, and you know, I always say, "Well, you know, I'm taking it for the team, I have to do this cruise for the benefit of my clients."
Steph: Yes, exactly.
Lu: Absolutely, absolutely. And you know, it kind of, I don't know, this is kind of like a little sidebar. I don't know how many of you have seen that movie, "Waiting for Guffman," but two of the characters were travel agents, Ron and Sheila. And I thought they were hilarious because they had this travel agency but they had never been out of the state. And I thought, "Oh, my gosh, you know, that is so classic." But anyway, that always struck me as funny.
But, yeah, I try to travel as often as I can. I like to go on...especially, if there's seminars at sea for a cruise line or a ship I've never been on, I like to take advantage of that, which my husband likes because generally you can . . . you can bring a guest with you. But there are, you know, like the tourism events where, you know, it's agent-only, which is fine, which is fine. And I like to do that because, you know, I like to do . . . I am a hotel junkie. I love to visit hotels. That's, you know, a huge interest of mine. So I love to do that.
And, you know, on island seminars such as the Hawaii Product Seminar with NorCal ASTA, where we go island to island every year. I love that because there's a lot of networking to be done, and relationships to maintain, and you know, friendships to form. And just traveling in general, you just got to keep the wheels greased, and keep your knowledge up on destinations, and ships, and so forth.
Steph: It's true. I mean, it's fun work but it's still work. I mean, I think any agent or anyone that's like attended any sort of FAM or seminar can attest to the fact that you are up at 6:00 in the morning, and you are like going all day.
Lu: Absolutely. And it's surprising how many agents don't like to do this just because of that. They don't want to be up at 6:00 in the morning. They don't like to, you know, spend 12 hours looking at hotels, and talking to suppliers, and so forth. A lot of agents don't do these events because they don't like it. But, personally, I like it for the socialization, and for the education, and just learning. You can't stop learning in this business. You know, you have to learn all the time, 365, you have to learn.
Steph: Well, I always thought, when I went on FAM trips, that the contacts you made like on the ground, you know, you're getting the business card of the hotel manager, or the person that's in charge of the destination weddings, like you're actually meeting face-to-face with those people, even if it's very brief sometimes. But like actually getting an e-mail for someone is incredibly valuable.
Lu: It is. It is. And that's what I like about . . . you know, because one of my niches is Hawaii, and every year I do this Hawaii Product Seminar with NorCal ASTA. And we are on island for five days, and we are covering that island, and talking to hoteliers, seeing hotels every day, and meeting activity vendors, and having a trade show where everybody comes together, and you know, getting educated. And the value of that, oh, it's, you know, invaluable because the connections, and the networking, and you know, creating these relationships that you can renew year after year, you know, it's priceless.
Steph: Yeah. I mean, when we were chatting about this Hawaii Product Seminar earlier because . . . did you say this coming year it's set to be in Oahu?
Lu: Yeah. Last year it was on the island of Hawaii and this year it's on Oahu, next year it'll be Hawaii. So they rotate.
Lu: Yeah, they rotate every year, rotate islands.
Steph: Yeah. And you know, we were talking, and I was like, "Oh, do you know Kainoa?" Who I'm just gonna give him a shout out because if you know Kainoa, you know he's just a ham, and awesome, and fantastic.
Lu: Oh, no. He is the mayor of Waikiki. And we always joke he's gonna be the future governor of Hawaii.
Steph: I know, I know.
Lu: Everybody knows him. He is a riot.
Steph: Yeah. So I'll put a link to the Hawaii Product Seminar. It's through NorCal ASTA. But people from outside of it can attend but it fills up really quickly, is that right?
Lu: Yeah, it does very, very quickly. When the word comes out, you gotta reply right away since they only take between 40 and 50 travel consultants. And it's been around for a long time, I think 47 or 48 years, so it has a solid reputation for education.
Steph: Yes. It sounds incredibly helpful. And I know I've seen . . . Kanoa has sent me over the itineraries and you know, they're jam-packed but they're also enjoyable, you're in Hawaii, so.
Lu: They are. Exactly, exactly. I know everyone says, "How can you come and work in Hawaii?" And I say, "Believe me it is work, it is work, but it's work in paradise."
Steph: Yes, exactly. I like that. It's work in paradise. I have to look up also just jumping back to your "Waiting for Guffman" clip, because I have this . . . I'm notorious for watching movies or reading books and then not being able to remember anything about them. But I'm gonna look for the "Waiting for Guffman" video clip and put a link to that as well, because that sounds really awesome.
Lu: I know. It is hilarious, Ron and Sheila never been out of the state.
Steph: Well, speaking of leaving the state or the country, so you are going on a group trip to South Africa this coming year?
Lu: Yes. Our cruise group which normally does cruises, we've been all over Europe, and Hawaii, and Australia, and so forth. This time we're...in 2019, we're gonna take a leap into land tours for a change. And, yeah, I'm taking a group to South Africa. We're going to do Cape Town, and Victoria Falls, and Shamwari Game Reserve in South Africa.
Lu: So it's gonna be fantastic. Everyone is so excited. And you know, when you do these...just a little side note, when you do these groups, especially for something as important and as exotic as this Africa group is, if you can kind of rope in your BDM—-your Business Development Manager for whichever tour operator, or whichever cruise line that you're working with—-if you can kind of rope them in and help you, you know, let them know you've got a group, they can help you with tips. Like our safari guy came, he came in and spoke with our group, we met at my house, and you know, we have 18 in the group, and kind of us an overview about what to expect. And it was just a priceless get-together, you know.
Steph: So you also limited it? You have a waiting list, you limited it to 18 on purpose?
Steph: And why was that?
Lu: Yeah, on purpose. Well, I like to limit my group cruises only because if you get too many, it's kind of like herding cats. You don't wanna . . . And I consider them my vacation as well, you know, hard to believe even though you're escorting the group. But, you know, you wanna limit them because you don't want to have too many people to keep track of because then you start thinking about the logistics, if you have too many people, then that's too many minivans, too many buses, you know, that kind of thing, too many people to look after. So we like to have a smaller cohesive group.
And for Africa, because our safari lodge only holds 9 suites which is 18 people, I limited it to 18. And anybody beyond 18 who is interested in, I have a waiting list just in case somebody drops out. So, yeah, I think it's important to not get your group numbers . . . not let them get out of hand.
Steph: And I mean, I think this again shows the value of working with a trusted vendor. And that, I'm not sure if you came up with this, or is it African Travel who you're booking with?
Lu: Yes, it is African Travel. It is one of our consortium's preferred suppliers. And I like to work with the preferred because I know that they've been vetted by our consortium and also are used regularly by others in our consortium. So you know that you have a solid company to work with, that's reputable, and you know, and you have the backing of your consortium, and your agency. And if anything goes wrong, there's gonna be a lot of people coming down from these companies. So, yeah, I like to work with the preferred.
And as a secondary note, you also do get a more preferential commission when you do work with your preferred in a lot of cases, in a lot of cases, but, you know, which is not the main reason that I work with them, it's just a nice benefit. But the main reason I work with them is because they've been vetted, and they're trusted suppliers, so that's really something important to look for.
Steph: Well, for you, especially with your. . . you know, you're not familiar with land tours with your groups, and certainly not in South Africa.
Lu: Right, right.
Steph: So it seems, I feel like in the industry we throw around so often that, "Oh, you use preferreds because, you know, you have more weight, and they've been vetted." But there is so much truth to that in...you know, people will come into the industry, and it's one thing if you met the vendors, and you've experienced their products on the ground, but you know, to just Google online and find a safari operator and to be... It's one thing if you're going just by yourself, but when you're sending clients, that's a very different thing.
Lu: Exactly, exactly.
Steph: You wanna make sure that they're reputable. And again, that if something goes wrong on that trip, that you have some sort of a recourse.
Lu: Yeah. And you know, with our group travel, because it's not just...well, for example, like with my cruise group, it's not just the cruise, you know I do the pre and post as well, so everybody in the group is spending, you know, a good amount of money. So you wanna make sure that they're getting the best value, you're working with the best suppliers, you're working with trusted suppliers. You know, because they're trusting a lot of money in you, and you know, your reputation is on the line.
Steph: Yeah, exactly. So you travel quite a bit and it's just you in your office, so how do you ensure that your clients are still taken care of? Because this is a problem so many agents run across, and I've heard multiple ways of how people solve this.
Lu: Yeah. Well, we've always had a buddy system, you know, with my group and with the agency that I was with previously. We always had to have a buddy system, we always had to let the agency owners know who was going to be looking after our files while we were gone. So with the agency I was with previously, like I mentioned, there were like at least 15 to 20 of us that have started together in travel school. So we all knew each other, and we all know how each other works, and you know, a lot of times we've heard of, you know, each other's clients. So we're familiar with how we work, and we trust one another. So a lot of us, we use each other from travel school, you know, funnily enough.
Steph: Yeah, it all ties back to travel school.
Lu: Yeah, I know. So we use each other as our buddies. And last resort we use the agency as a backup, but we try not to let it get to the point where they have to, you know, get in touch with the agency. We have buddies. We have one or two buddies.
Steph: And this is the host agency, right? When you're at . . .
Lu: Yeah, correct. So we have one or two buddies each that we have through the years that we trust. And in the old days we used to hand them our paper files. But these days everything is online because we're all on ClientBase. So we all put as much information about our clients as we can in ClientBase, so there's no, you know, trading of physical files anymore. So we have each other's back.
And, you know, sometimes there can be the time where maybe you're away so long, say, maybe if you're away two or three weeks and a client calls up and they want to make a booking and you're not there. We trust each other to make the booking. And, for example, if my buddy makes the booking, you know, if my client has called up, I'm not there, my buddy makes the booking, she can have the commission, you know, there's no quibble about that, and vice versa. And if she feels uncomfortable, if she says, "No, no, no, no, this is not a small booking, I'll split the commission," that's fine. You know, we trust each other. So it works great. It works great having these relationships through the years. It's wonderful.
Steph: Yeah. That's a beautiful setup, and I especially . . . Because not everyone is going to have these deep relationships that you have, and to be able . . . not that they won't trust the person that's watching theirs, but you know how you talked about how you trust each other, and it's unspoken between you and your vacation buddy that you know how it's gonna work. But for any agent that's thinking about, you know, making sure they have a backup, that they address the issue of, "All right, now what happens if we make a booking, or if something horrible happens and you have to spend five hours on this client? How are we going to approach that and at least discuss it?"
Lu: Yeah, and it'll happen, it will happen. And especially the longer that you're in the business, and the more clients, and the more high-maintenance clients, and the variety of clients that you'll have. Yeah, it works both ways, you know. You help each other. It's really important to have those relationships.
Steph: Yeah. I'll also link to...for those that are listening that aren't aware of what ClientBase is, it's a customer relationship management tool or a CRM tool. It's like a legacy CRM tool within the industry. And there's some other ones out there, but ClientBase has a really large market share, and it's where you put all of your clients' information. So I'll link to that if anyone is interested.
Well, let's see, so we talked kind of about your continuing education events. One of the ones you really liked is the annual Hawaii Product Seminar, which, again, we'll link to. But then you also said you liked the annual sales meeting of Signature. What do you like about that?
Lu: Yeah. I'm with the Signature Travel Network Consortium. And they have a big annual sales meeting in Vegas, and they invite all of the vendors from around the globe to come in so that you can network with them. And they have fantastic training on all segments of the industry whether it's tech training. And Signature is well-known for their tech training, and they're very, very tech savvy, in destinations, in hotels, you know, in-depth destination and hotel training, and tourism boards, they always invite tourism boards to come. And so, you can get sort of like a quick certification with some of the tourism boards.
But the networking is just so priceless. You know, meeting face-to-face with hoteliers from around the globe, suppliers from around the globe, transportation, even the airline, to tour operators. It's fantastic. And you make these connections, and you know, you have a face to the companies that you're working with, and you have contacts, and you come back with, you know, a stack of business cards.
Steph: I know.
Lu: [inaudible 00:42:04]. And it's just great. And then Signature also has regional events other times of the year, where it's kind of a little quickie training. So updates with the hotels, and destinations, and so forth, you know, that's always... And it's regional, and different people who live in different parts of the country can attend those. So that's really valuable too.
Steph: Yeah. And speaking of the business cards, I don't know how you do it, but I always used to come back with these huge stacks of business cards, and then I'd put like a rubber band on around them with like a little Post-it that's like, "This was the Signature Sales Meeting 2018." You know, it's hard to find that stuff. And then, multiple years ago I discovered an app called CamCard that I'll link to in the show notes. It's really nice because everything...like you take a picture of it, and it uploads a lot of the information from the card automatically, and you can take it back to like Signature Annual Sales Meeting 2018.
Lu: Yeah. I need to do that. I really need to do that. I'm the rubber band queen over here. So I really need to do that.
Steph: Well, I mean, I have stacks. I was just like my desk was getting so full of these bundles of cards, and I was like, "I can't find anything in here."
Lu: I know. I know the feeling.
Steph: Well, I'd like to kind of jump into booking groups since that's your forte. And I always look at booking groups as a . . . it seems to me that it's an exercise and extreme detail juggling. But you don't seem to be stressed out in the least, so how do you make things easy for yourself, besides, you know, you're nearly 20 years of experience? What do you do to make groups easier?
Lu: Well, you know it's funny because as I told you, you know, in our conversations is, these groups always kind of grow organically, you know, that's how my business group grew. It was just organic because it was word of mouth, and you know, people would come back from the groups, and then they would share with their friends, and so forth. And so, yeah, you know, I keep binders for each group, and I have segments in each binder for the client's information, another section where I keep a paper trail of my communications with the tour operator, with the group coordinator on the ship, and you know, financials, I have another financials. And then if I'm doing pre and post, I have another segment in the binder for, you know, like the pre-cruise tour which usually consists of transfers, hotels, activities, and the same for post-cruise.
So I have different segments in my binders to cover all of these. And I try to spreadsheet the information for the clients, for the group participants, you know, keeping track of final payments, and so forth, and even things like non-traveler numbers, or birthdays, because, you know, a lot of times people will be celebrating birthdays, you know, during their cruises. So we like to keep track of things like that.
So, you know, having everything in a big binder, and I'm one of those . . . I like to duplicate my information, so I'll keep information on my computer but I will also keep a paper trail in a binder because you never know when your computer will blow up or something like that. I just like the security of having things that I've written myself, you know, in a binder and just duplicate it.
Steph: Yeah. It comes down to personal, like, you know, what you personally feel most comfortable with.
Lu: Exactly, exactly, yeah. And I'm old school that way, I like to have my little binder with my little spreadsheets all printed out. And I like to be able to look at them, flip the pages, and look at the information.
Steph: Yeah, as a visual learner.
Steph: You also mentioned that having a really solid itinerary for your groups is key to, like, cutting down on questions.
Steph: So what do you exactly mean by that?
Lu: Well, you know, one key, important thing is to always keep in constant contact with your groups. I tell them from the outset that they're gonna hear . . . I try not to bombard my groups with a lot of emails, but when I do send them email, it will have lots of chunks of information that they should kind of, you know, keep on hand, maybe print out, but know that they are important chunks of information. So I always like to periodically refresh everyone's memory about when payments are due, what they've paid, their travel insurance policies, itineraries while we're on the cruise or while we're on the land tour. If there's any updates, I reprint this itinerary and toss the old one.
So they know day-by-day or hour-by-hour what exactly is going on, because the last thing you want to happen is to have someone come back to you and say, "Well, you know, I didn't hear about that," or, "So-and-so told me we were going to do this and I didn't know that."
So, you know, keep in good constant communication with them, and let them know what's happening day-by-day, hour-by-hour, you know, whatever is necessary. Let them know what they've already paid for, what needs to be paid for, deadlines, and so forth. Yeah, that's really important.
Steph: Wonderful advice. So when you're booking groups with your guest amenity points, you know, a lot of agents like to put something in the room or use the guest amenity points for something along those lines. But how do you use your guest amenity points?
Lu: For a cruise, I usually use them for onboard credit because I figured anything food wise, whether it's wine, or chocolate-covered strawberries, or something, they can usually get for free on the ship somehow, or they will use their onboard credit, you know, if they are wine drinkers. So I like them to have the freedom to choose what to do on the ship. So, you know, probably 99% of the time, I let them have onboard credit.
But then I also like to do something extra for them on board so that they feel like they're getting, you know, not just the onboard credit but, you know, something extra with the group. So, you know, I'll do something like maybe a scavenger hunt, give everybody prizes. And it kind of makes it a little bit different from a normal cruise, and you know, just a little bit extra activity icebreaker, get to know the ship, you know, that kind of thing.
Steph: Well, tell us more . . . yeah, expand on the scavenger hunt because I think that's a super creative idea. And, over the years, I'm assuming that you've picked up, you know, so that people aren't coming sweating on their way back to you. Like how have you refined it through the years?
Lu: Like I mentioned to you before, you learn the hard way. I think the first couple of cruises when I had the scavenger hunt, I had them look for things that were like all over the ship, and if it was a big ship, we were talking maybe 12 decks, they would come back sweating or they're sore, or they would come back an hour later or when everybody else has already come back. So I learned the hard way. No, let's limit what they have to look for to the public decks, and usually two or three public decks that are one after another, not all over the ship.
And my aim for the scavenger hunt is twofold, on one hand it's an icebreaker because a lot of times there are a couple of new people in the group, and it's a good icebreaker, gets everybody talking, and you know, bonding. And then also, importantly, is that it gets them to learn the layout of the ship, gets them, you know, familiar with the ship quickly at the beginning of the cruise. So they don't have to spend the rest of the time wandering around where is this or where is that.
So, you know, and I have them look for things like, "Oh, in the such and such bar, how many stools are there at the bar?" Or, "In such and such dining room," you know, I'll ask them questions about the menu or something like that. Or in the kids club, you know, I'll ask them about kids' activities.
So it's a great way to, you know, get acquainted with the ship, and it's a lot of fun. And then we usually meet at the end of the scavenger hunt in the coffee bar, someplace where I can treat everybody to a refreshing drink, or a coffee, or champagne, or you know, whatever they want, and then I give prizes. And they are always travel-related prizes, you know. And they're fun prizes. They're little prizes so they don't have to worry about packing them. You know, like useful ones, useful travel gifts. And then for the person who comes in last I always give them something funny like disposable underwear, something like that, you know, or a miniature rolls of toilet paper to take it into the port, you know, something like that. So I like to make it fun and useful as well.
Steph: Well, let's move into every entrepreneur's favorite topic for inspiration and that's marketing. Every agent, I feel like styles their marketing around their personality as well as their budget. So some people love social media, and some are just gregarious, going and love to hand out business cards at local events, some agents swear direct mail works the best. But you happen to be a person that doesn't really like handing out business cards, and gets the vast majority of your clients from mouth and referrals.
Lu: Yeah, word of mouth and referrals, that's where 99.99% of my business comes from.
Steph: Yeah. Well, I was just gonna say that you had talked about . . . you mentioned them earlier in our conversation, but the closed Facebook group with The Crazy Cruisers. And I think one of the things . . . I’ll ask you to tell us a little bit more about it, but I think one of the things I wanna point out is, you said that it hovers around 40 people, is that correct?
Lu: Yeah, yeah.
Lu: And these are the past cruisers, and present cruisers. And I always ask my cruisers, "If you know anyone who's like-minded, you know, friends or family who's like-minded, who you think has the potential to join our group, you know, have them join our Facebook group." And I like to keep it closed because, you know, there again, you know, you wanna make sure that you have a solid group, you don't want any drama queens, you don't want any drama kings, you know. You want people that are, you know, that are committed, that are interested. And you don't want everybody in the world to know about it, you know, you do want to have a little bit of control, especially when it comes to deciding where we wanna go next, and just keeping the group cohesive.
Steph: Well, I also feel like your Facebook group is a nice way to remind people as well that you don't need to have 1,000 people in your group, but because you get tons of bookings from, you know, it just being 40 people. And for us at Host Agency Reviews, we've seen the same thing with our Facebook groups. We have a seven-day setup support group, and a Travel Agent Think Tank, and I will link to those in the show notes. But they build community like no other. So, you know, there's...
Lu: And it's also important to know that a lot of my clients are also not on Facebook, so the 40 that are here are the ones that are on Facebook. But I do have to kind of also keep track of the ones that are not on Facebook and...
Steph: To keep them up to date?
Lu: Yeah. So I will periodically, you know, say, "Oh, we're thinking about such and such in the future, please weigh in." You know, "I know you're not on Facebook, I know you're not interested, but you know, you traveled with me in the past," you know, that kind of thing. So, you know, you do have the Facebook group that you, you know, kind of nurture, but you also have to be mindful of the people who are not on Facebook, and kind of nurture them as well. And so, you know, there's like various groups that you kind of have to keep track of.
And then there's a lot of people who are my Facebook friends who are not part of The Crazy Cruisers group. And so I kind of nurture them through my own personal page, you know, with a lot of pictures of my travels, and so forth. And so, you know, you have a lot of little groups that you're kind of nurturing, and you know, kind of quietly promoting that way.
Steph: All right. Well, I have two more quick questions since we're kind of running low on time. But I think one of the fun things that we talked about was that you've had great success in the past with client events. Would you mind sharing really quickly with us about how those client events work, those dinners, or lunches?
Lu: Yes, yeah. Well, with the agency that I was with previously up until we merged earlier this year, we would have client events, it started out two client events a year, but everyone got so busy, it just became an annual thing. And it's kind of like a combination of client appreciation and also education because we would focus on four vendors presenting. And it was usually a lunch, I think maybe once or twice we had a dinner or a breakfast, but lunch always works out the best. And we would have it at a country club, or a restaurant. And we would limit the numbers to our best clients or people that you knew who specifically had interest in the vendors that were presenting.
And we would always have a theme at each client event, whether it was something exotic or it's something, you know, staying local, but we'd always have, you know, at least a couple of cruise vendors, and a couple of land vendors who would focus on either their company or destination. But it was, you know, a good variety.
And so it showed appreciation to our clients. You know, "Thank you, here's this lovely lunch, enjoy it on our behalf." And also a little bit of an education because it exposes them to companies, the cruise lines that they may have never heard of, or destinations they may have never heard of. So it was always about planting the seed. And the vendors would share the expense of the lunch, and the event, and the venue. And they would also offer show specials, you know, that were good for a couple of weeks after the event.
So I always got, you know, I would invite, oh, maybe about 20 of my best clients . . . best clients and also clients that I knew had potential for these particular vendors and destinations. And I always got good bookings from these events because my clients were able to, you know, network one-on-one, you know, ask questions of the vendors, and you know, just get inspired.
So if you can do these, if you can get your vendors . . . And always switch it up, you know, have different themes, have different vendors, always switch it up, and you know, broker them in, you get them to co-op, and it's a great, great marketing tip.
Steph: Yeah. Well, speaking of marketing, I talked about this in the very beginning, but let's get into the question of how to properly frame a photo, because you seem to be more liberal with how you take photos, often missing like three quarters of your face or something. But really this marketing tactic and whether or not you meant to do it, it's one that's worked really well. So go ahead and tell us about your like quarter-face selfie of the foreheads.
Lu: I know. Yeah, it's the forehead. My husband and I are now known as the foreheads. And this is something that just . . . it was a very, you know, I hate to overuse the word organic, but it was just an organic outgrowth from our travels because, you know, we love...my husband is an amateur photographer so we love to share photos of wherever we go, wherever [inaudible 01:00:02]. People would say, "But you know, we don't see you, where are you? How do we know you were there?" So thus the foreheads were born because we didn't really wanna show our faces, or our bodies, but if we showed our foreheads, it showed, yes, we were there. So that's how we started the forehead series.
And so now, whenever I travel, I'll post. First and foremost, I'll post the airport, sign board. Where are we going next? Where are the foreheads headed? And then I'll start like maybe a series of forehead photos that show where we've landed, which ship we're on, you know, whatever destination. But it's always the foreheads and then, you know, a prominent landmark in the background, whether it's the Eiffel Tower, or it's, you know, the domes in St. Petersburg, or the Blue Mountains in Australia, it's always the foreheads. And it's funny because, you know, people will say, "Where are the foreheads going next?" And, "Oh, so that's where the foreheads have landed." And there was one time where I took a photo where my husband wasn't there but it was my forehead, and then people were asking, "Oh, there's a forehead missing. Where is the other forehead? What happened to the other forehead?"
Steph: They've really become attached to it.
Lu: Yeah. So they know from the first forehead shot that they know that the foreheads are on an adventure, and they'll hear all about the cruise, they'll hear all about the destination. And it's planting seed, you know, getting people to think about, "Where they can go next? The possibilities. Look where the forehands are going."
Steph: Yeah. If I can, I'll find a link to some of your forehead pictures and we'll share them in the show notes. Or actually, you know what? You can send us some, and we'll put them in the actual transcription.
Lu: Yes, absolutely.
Steph: Well, let's see. Our long-time listeners know what it's time for. And for our new listeners, this is probably the first podcast you've ever listened to and will ever listen to that has a segment dedicated to warm fuzzies, because I mean, heck, why not, right? All I know is that in our newsletter to travel agents, I somehow managed to finagle a picture of Dogstronaut Rigel, who is my dog in a space suit for those that aren’t aware. So, really, I think we can all agree that this warm fuzzy segment isn't really that far out in the leftfield.
So Lu, now that we've established that this warm fuzzy segment is totally normal, go ahead and make us feel happy and sparkly, what's your warm fuzzy that we can close out on?
Lu: My warm fuzzy segment is actually probably multiple segments. And my warm fuzzy is client satisfaction. You know, I just love it when, you know, I plan something, a wonderful vacation for clients, and then I get back videos, or gifts, or you know, wonderful, wonderful letters of thanks. Clients have sent me gifts from Hawaii. They've sent me, you know, really nice restaurant gift certificates and accompanied by, you know, the most wonderful, heartwarming letters of thank you.
And just the client satisfaction is such warm and fuzzy because you know that somehow you've done a decent job. You know, you've worked and this people have trusted. And lot of times, like I say, I haven't met these people face-to-face. They don't know what I look like, I don't know what they look like, and yet they trusted me, you know, with their travel plans, these expensive travel plans, the thousands of dollars, they entrusted me with it. And hopefully I have done, you know, a fairly decent job sending them on, you know . . . fulfilling their travel dreams. And so when I get these "thank yous" from them, whether it's a gift, or a note, or a video, or whatever, the acknowledgment of a job well done, I mean, that to me is the best warm fuzzy that I could get in this industry.
Steph: Yeah. And I think that also speaks to your ability as an agent that your clients are connecting with you so much that they are giving something back to you.
Lu: Oh, I know. It's so fulfilling to know that you can actually accomplish something like that and, you know, make people happy. You know, I like to see people happy. And, yeah, that's what it's all about. And I love to share the world with them and know that they're out there having a good time. You know, that's my great, big warm fuzzy about being in the travel business.
Steph: That is a great, big warm fuzzy. And thank you so much for sharing.
Well, you know, time flies, and it's time to bring another episode of "Travel Agent Chatter" to a close. So if you've enjoyed the show, don't forget we send out loads of free in-depth resources in our monthly newsletter, which has the Dogstronaut in it. So you can subscribe to our newsletter at hosteagencyreviews.com/newsletter. And speaking of subscribing, if you haven't already, you can subscribe to our podcast on iTunes by searching for "Travel Agent Chatter."
And, Lu, thanks so much for coming on this show and sharing your expertise with all of us.
Lu: Thank you, Steph, for the opportunity. This has been such fun, and I hope that your listeners can come away with, you know, maybe at least one, or two good tips for their travel business, you know. It is the best. The travel business is the best.
Steph: Yes. They definitely will. There's going be a lot of other foreheads, the foreheads out there after this.
Lu: I can change my [inaudible 01:06:21] tonight, p.m.
Steph: Well, until next time everyone. I hope that you have something cute and wonderfully random happen to you today. Maybe you'll see a person in a T-Rex suit, or maybe like a dog in an astronaut suit, who knows? So thanks again for listening, and we'll chat with you soon.
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