AVRO has launched its first national agent booking incentive scheme to try to create greater awareness among counter staff of what it has on offer.
National sales manager Vickie Smith said the scheme, which will run for the next 12 months, was particularly aimed at increasing business travel agents' knowledge of the Avro seat-only product.
"We need to let agents know that we offer flexibility," said Smith. "A lot of agents, particularly business travel agents, often book scheduled flights rather than book through us because they don't realise we can offer durations other than seven and 14 nights, and that we also sell open-jaw tickets."
The agent incentive scheme, called Lucky Stars, gives agents the chance to win a range of prizes from long-haul holidays to scented candles by entering them into a monthly draw each time they take a booking.
Lucky Stars is based on the signs of the zodiac so the prizes are loosely themed around each star sign. For example, first prize later this month - which falls in Leo - is a Kenyan safari supplied by Avro's sister company Distant Dreams.
Among the other prizes up for grabs this month are a television and video, two pairs of return flights, microwaves and cameras.
Agents receive one entry in the draw for every booking they make with Avro that month, plus additional entries for booking products such as car rental and insurance.
Retailers have to list the reference numbers of all the bookings they take on special Collector Cards and send them to Avro to receive entry into that month's draw.
Smith admitted this created additional paperwork for agents, but she added: "We have tried to keep the amount of hassle to a minimum, and by asking agents to fill in the booking details we are making them realise how much business they are doing with us."
The launch of Lucky Stars comes at a time when Avro is considering cutting commission levels for its least-productive agents (Travel Weekly June 21), but the operator denied the scheme had been designed to soften the blow.
Avro's new distribution director John Fitz-Gerald said the seat-only operator was not planning any significant cuts, and only agents who had not increased their business with the company over the past few years were likely to see their commission reduced.
"This incentive scheme is not intended to compensate for any possible loss of commission for agents," said Fitz-Gerald. "It was planned four or five months ago because it was felt that we needed to do something for the trade."
Lucky Stars has not been welcomed by all agents. One retailer, which did not wish to be named, said it was against schemes aimed at counter staff rather than managers.
"It should be up to the managers of each agency to find ways to incentivise their staff," he said. "Schemes like this take control out of the managers' hands, and it has been introduced without any consultation with us."
ARTAC commercial director Julian Foster said such schemes for counter staff should only be introduced where they had the consent of the agency managers.
Lucky Stars will run until June 2000, after which Avro said it will review the scheme.
"It may be that by then we have achieved all we need to with the scheme within a year," said Fitz-Gerald.
He said Avro may run fewer roadshows and spend less on agents' educationals this year in order to finance the Lucky Stars scheme.
Travel agents who have not received Collector Cards for the first three monthly draws should call Avro on 0181-715 1980.
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