Working with charities is a great way to increase your travel agency's name recognition while doing positive things for your community.
Still, even the most altruistic travel agent has to ask: "Where's the pay-off?"
Believe it or not, some agents do reap profits, directly and indirectly, from working with charitable organizations.
Travel Market Report spoke with several agents about their experiences developing relationships with charitable organization and the potential of earning extra business in the process.
Scott Kertes got started a few years ago when a colleague told him that Bern Nadette Stanis, the actress who played Thelma on the CBS sitcom “Good Times,” wanted to arrange a cruise to raise money and awareness for Alzheimer’s disease.
Kertes, owner of Hartford Holidays, an Ensemble agency in Garden City, N.Y., has since moved beyond making company donations or contributing to fundraising auctions.
He now sets up lucrative group cruises for charities’ top donors.
A charitable model
These ventures have opened the door to another business model, according to Kertes. The charity gets a percentage of the ticket sales, while he makes a sizeable commission from the bookings.
Kertes has worked with various charities, including Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS. He’s now arranging an August 2015 cruise aboard Royal Caribbean’s Grandeur of the Seas for the American Autism Association.
Kertes dismissed the notion that non-profit organizations are reluctant to partner with travel agents.
“Charities, big and small, are hungry for money,” he said. “If you can put together proposals that clearly outline the benefits to their organization, chances are they’ll be interested.”
Work directly with non-profit donors
A major benefit of setting up group fundraising trips for charities is that agents can often tap into lucrative donor lists.
Kertes noted that the American Autism Association, like many large non-profits, has “a huge network of donors across the country,” and he can potentially “tap into their list of donors” for prospective clients.
Robert Romano, CTC, owner of Fugazi Travel, an Ensemble agency in San Francisco, pointed out that some charities will not release their donor list to interested agents.
“It has to be a mutually beneficial situation,” said Romano.
Introducing clients to charities
For Ansley Thomas, working with charities is an important part of serving upscale clients who increasingly want their expensive vacations to be meaningful as well as enjoyable.
“They want to immerse themselves in a culture,” said Thomas, the Atlanta-based founder of ATLAS, an independent affiliate of Century Travel, a Virtuoso agency. “They want to learn as much as possible about a community.”
To best serve her clients, Thomas carefully researches charitable organizations. “I’m not going to work with a charity that only gives one-third of its proceeds to the running of the charity,” said Thomas.
Corporate philanthropic programs
Many agents, however, help plan philanthropic travel without making any money for their efforts.
Just as Ansley Thomas works with charities to benefit individual clients, Kathy Burns Lamphier, owner of Posh Travel, a Virtuoso agency in Greenland, N.H., helps corporate clients serve their charities.
Lamphier organizes travel for one company, which takes more than two dozen people each year to help handicapped children in Africa.
“We don’t charge a commission or extra fees,” said Lamphier. “It’s a lot of work, but we do it as a courtesy.”
Lamphier’s hard work also helps keep a valuable corporate client.