The Brancatelli File



October 29, 1995 -- Selling magazine asked several sales executives involved in the travel business for their best tips to help salespeople become better travelers. Here's what they told us.

Chris Vukelich has held sales positions at TWA, British Airways and Ciga Hotels, and is now vice president of sales and marketing of IST Cultural Tours. "Don't make an enemy of the gate agents," he says. "They've got your comfort and your destiny in their hands. Don't approach them demanding an upgrade because you feel you're a good customer of the airline. Don't be rude or condescending. I've seen gate agents screw business travelers--pass them over when they were the logical candidates for an upgrade--because those travelers was nasty to them. Be polite and courteous. That's what gate agents respond to."

Bob Gilbert is vice president of sales and marketing of Richfield Hotel Management, which provides management services to 145 hotels in the United States and Canada. "Reverse the selling order when you negotiate a room rate with a hotel reservation agent," he says. "Reservation agents are trained to sell by both room type and rate type. The order of sell is always highest priced and most luxurious rooms first. To get the best room and the lowest rate, you must keep asking and probing for the best rate. You've got to understand the reservation clerk is not going to offer the cheapest rate first."

Fred Fleischner is vice president of sales and marketing of Dollar Rent A Car, a division of Chrysler Corporation and the nation's fifth largest rental firm. "The car-rental market is so competitive that you have a choice between earning frequent flyer miles or a getting lower daily rate," he explains. "Business travelers can rent a car and get a few hundred frequent-flyer miles or your can save $5-$8 a day by renting a car from a company that doesn't offer miles. Business travelers earn so many miles from so many other sources that I don't think getting them from a rental car outweighs the...benefit of saving money."

Meanwhile, there is the eternal question: How do you become a better, smarter, more savvy traveler?

One way is to get out there on the road, live the life, and figure it all out along the way.

But Chris McGinnis believes there's a better--and less expensive--way.

"We can make a salesperson a seasoned traveler through the training process," says McGinnis, director of Atlanta-based Travel Skills Group. "The other alternative is just too expensive. Inexperienced travelers cost companies thousands of dollars in wasted [travel and entertainment] expenses."

Formed in 1988 after McGinnis became his previous employer's "travel guru," the Travel Skills Group has trained about 5,000 business people in the ways of smart business travel.

McGinnis' seminars are customized for either novice or seasoned travelers, and can be as brief as two hours or as intensive as a full day. Among the strategies and tactics McGinnis offers to novice travelers:
+ Always use a telephone card. "Never make a call from a hotel room and charge it to your room because hotels slap 50-100 percent surcharges on the cost of the call."
+ Don't request a particular style or body size when reserving a rental car. "Ask for the car with the least mileage because that lowers the chance of getting a vehicle with mechanical problems."
+ Never take what you've given by a hotel, airline or other travel provider. "Most of the rules of travel are meant to be bent or even broken. You can almost always get a better room or a lower price, but not if you don't ask."

Many of the sophisticated strategies McGinnis offers in his seminars for seasoned business travelers have been boiled down to fit into a book, 202 Tips Even the Best Business Travelers May Not Know. It covers topics such as packing and pre-trip planning and includes snappy axioms like "Bring half as many clothes and twice as much money."

Salespeople--and sales managers--are especially good candidates for travel training, McGinnis believes.

"Salespeople are out on the road all the time and we can make it easier for them to sell because we can make it easier for them to travel," he explains. "I really believe a salesperson who knows how to travel will make a better sales call."

This column originally appeared in Selling magazine.

Copyright 1993-2010 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.