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5 must-have WordPress plugins for travel agents

Many (if not most) agents now use a WordPress platform to host their websites and blogs. The beauty of the free platform is that is can be customized in literally millions of ways due to the open source design. Plugins are little snippets of programming that can be installed into your WordPress site to give it additional functionality. A couple of years ago Steve Cousino wrote an article outlining several recommended plugins for WordPress websites.  Since that article was published I’ve come across a few more plugins worth considering for your WordPress websites. Read the rest of this entry »

Organizing Your Electronics

If you are anything like me, you’ve got a lot of electronic equipment in the office.  The desktop computer, printer, keyboards, digital camera, laptop, tablet computer, ticket printers – the list goes on!   It can be aggravating to keep things neat and tidy, especially when you have a lot of cords to contend with.  I did some research to find the best ways to organize your electronic zoo.  This can come in handy for your home stuff, too! Read the rest of this entry »

Managing Computer Files

In the past, I’ve discussed steps you can take to organize your office, and even how to organize your office electronics.  This time, I’m going to discuss organizing the files on your computer.  If you’re the sort to dump everything into the same folder all the time, or to keep it all on your desktop, this article is written for you!  A computer file system is an extension of your paper filing cabinet; the more organized it is, the easier it is for you to find the information you need quickly.  And, while it seems like this is elementary information, there are a lot of people out there who just don’t think this way naturally, and put every file in the same folder, regardless. Read the rest of this entry »

You Shouldn’t Do That With Email

Not long ago, I shared with you how email autoresponders are used improperly and can be a nuisance or even present you negatively to those you wish to do business with. The sad truth is, email autoresponders are the tip of the iceberg. Which of the following Bad Email Habits are you guilty of? Read the rest of this entry »

The Basics of Domain Names

It seems like such a simple thing – choosing a domain name for your business.  Domain names are the “address” by which your website is found on the Internet.  In fact, websites are identified by an IP address that looks something similar to 123.456.789.0.  But, that looks ugly and it’s hard to remember – so, domain names act like a mask on top of the IP address.  It’s much easier to remember www.ABCTravelCompany.com rather than an IP address!  But, if you don’t plan properly, your domain name can actually hurt your business!  I have seen many strange domain names in this industry, some of which make me ask, “What were they thinking?” Read the rest of this entry »

Email Autoresponders

Whether you use an email client like Microsoft Outlook or a web-based program like Gmail, most likely you will have a feature called an autoresponder.  This is a terrific feature that helps other people to know that you did receive their email, but you aren’t able to reply personally right away.  Yet, too many times, this feature is way overused, or used improperly, and it can cause a negative perception of you and your business. (note: this is different from the autoresponder feature found in email sending programs like AWeber, Constant Contact, MailChimp, and others.)

Let’s be frank, here: I personally hate it when I receive an autoresponse to an email I’ve sent, and I am willing to bet you do, too. Read the rest of this entry »

Safely Disposing of Old Computers

Technology is rapidly changing how we do business, especially when it comes to computers.  In the last ten to fifteen years we’ve gone to large desktop machines to compact laptops to handheld iPads and tablet computers.  With each change in technology and each upgrade of a machine comes a weak point for data security that many people simply don’t consider. Read the rest of this entry »

The word in the office these days is “fees” – plan to go fees, cancellation fees, consultation fees – you name it, it’s been done or talked about somewhere.  The general idea is that travel agencies need to develop additional revenue streams instead of being tied to a supplier’s commission structure, not only to increase revenue but to compensate for lost opportunities, especially when clients use our services and don’t book.

This has posed a problem for some – how should these fees be collected?  The traditional way of thinking involved collecting a check from the client, especially if they were not local to the agency.  This poses a number of problems, including the potential for bad checks, having to wait on a check to arrive at the agency, and further waiting for the check to clear the bank.  Then, in the event the fee is refunded, that poses additional issues and costs to the agency as well. Read the rest of this entry »

Signing Documents Electronically

These days, having a signed agreement or waiver between travel consultant and client has become imperative.  Travel insurance declinations, travel planning agreements, credit card authorizations – it’s a fact of business and the CYA principle that the signature of a client is needed more than before.  With the help of email and social media, it’s quite common for a travel consultant’s book of clients to include people all across the country, rather than just their immediate geographical region.

So, how does one get the signature of a client who lives far, far away? The traditional methods are faxing, emailing, and mailing.  Each has their downsides that make it less than ideal to transact business. Read the rest of this entry »

4 Ways to Fight the Email Monster

We all use email in our work – it’s an indispensable part of our operations and, truthfully, we couldn’t do what we do as efficiently without it. But, there are times when email becomes a huge monster that prevents us from getting any work done and can be the cause of many frustrations. One travel agent I know gets so much supplier email that her client email would easily get lost in the inbox maelstrom if she didn’t practice good email management. Here are four strong tips for fighting and taming the email monster!

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An Introduction to Skype

It used to be that when traveling internationally meant difficulty keeping in touch. When it was possible, it cost an arm and a leg, making contact difficult.

These days the globe is wired in ways that make it much easier to stay in touch without spending a ton of cash. Email and social media are the frontrunners, allowing folks to stay in contact and share their experiences – even destinations once considered “disconnected” have Internet cafes for a reasonable cost. But, sometimes, you need to TALK to the traveler in a situation that requires quicker communication than email or social media. What other option is there?
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Enhance Your Newsletter or Website with Images

I’m often asked where to get images for a blog, website or newsletter. This is something that comes up quite often and it’s one of those issues that,if not handled correctly, can cause legal complications that you simply do not need!

First off – why should you use photos in your digital publications? Simply put, people like to look at pictures. Just witness the volume of photo sharing that occurs on social media platforms for evidence of that. Utilizing photos can enhance your marketing and help you sell – words can only paint so much!
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Information Security: PIN Codes and Passwords

Welcome to the final installment in our series of articles discussing information security. You can catch up on past articles here: #1, #2, #3, #4 and #5. This time around we’re going to discuss something that you might not normally thing about: PIN codes and passwords.

How many of you use a password on the main computer on which you keep client information so that if it’s lost or stolen the criminal doesn’t have instant access to your hard drive? How many of you use a PIN code to lock your smartphone or tablet for the same reason?
Read the rest of this entry »

Information Security: Back-Up (and Recovery)

Welcome to number five in our series of articles discussing Information Security. This time around we’re going to look at how to back-up your data securely while still allowing you to recover the information in the event of a disaster. You may want to read our previous articles here: #1, #2, #3 and #4.

Before we get into the discussion on back-ups and recovery, however, it’s important to understand what qualifies as a disaster. There have been several large scale disasters recently: the Japanese Tsunami, the Haitian Earthquake and flooding in Australia. But disasters don’t have to be large scale – and they don’t have to occur naturally. One dictionary definition of disaster is “a sudden or great misfortune or failure.” So dropping your laptop down the stairs – or your iPhone into the toilet – would qualify as personal disasters.

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Information Security: File Encryption

Welcome to number four in our series of articles discussing Information Security.  You may find it helpful to read previous articles in this series: Information Security: An Introduction,  Information Security: Malware Protectionand Information Security: Personally Identifiable Information.

Encryption is the word of the day and we’re going to explore what it is, why you need it and what can happen if you don’t use it.  (This type of encryption differs from the encryption used by web browsers, in that the browsers only encrypt the data when traveling on the Internet.  An encrypted file is secure until you unlock it with the correct key.)

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Welcome to number three in our series of articles discussing Information Security.  If you’re just joining, it may be helpful to familiarize yourself with the first two in the series: Information Security: An Introduction and Information Security: Malware Protection.

If you’ve been following the news lately, you’ve certainly seen (or been affected by) some recent breaches.  Whether it was the TJ MAXX breach a couple years ago or the very recent Epsilon incident (which affected Hilton Honors as well as several credit card companies), breaches are becoming front page news.  What actions need to be taken will depend on the type of information that was breached, or what was done to protect it.

Why do I need to be concerned?
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Information Security: Malware Protection

Welcome to number two in our series of articles discussing Information Security.  In the last article, we provided a foundation to help you understand the different aspects of Information Security and how they relate to you.

You may have noticed that this article is not called anti-malware.  That’s a very deliberate choice, because malware protection is much more than just installing an anti-malware product.  But before we get into details, it’s worth taking the time to define what malware is – and what it isn’t.

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Information Security: An Introduction

Although this series of articles may not sound intriguing, the information they hold is critical to the well-being of your business.  Just as you help your clients understand why they need travel insurance, our purpose here is to make you aware of the benefits of understanding and adequately addressing information security in your business.  It can be the difference between surviving and going out of business.  Read these articles to gain an overall understanding of what and how your business should be protecting.  Don’t panic! If you do not consider yourself “tech savvy” just pass this information along to your “computer guy” (be it your teenage son or the Best Buy Geek Squad) and have them take the necessary steps to protect your clients, your business and yourself.

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How to Use Cruise Groups as Charity Fundraisers

By now you probably have a good grasp on how to find and sell group cruises.  To date, there have been several TRO articles on the subject (Making Money with Groups, Getting Started with Groups and Looking for Groups), but I’m often asked specifically about how to do a group cruise as a charity fundraiser.  A lot of what you already know about groups also applies to charity groups.  But fundraising cruises do have some subtle differences.  For example, with charity groups you are often “sacrificing” any type of incentive for the passengers (like onboard credit) in exchange for the charitable donation.  And in some cases, the supporters are paying MORE than the published cruise fare for the opportunity to support their favorite charity.
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First Steps for a New WordPress Theme

So, you’ve made the plunge – you downloaded WordPress and installed it on your web host.  You’ve selected a theme and are ready to make it yours.  Here are six basic set-up tasks you will want to complete before you get too far into customizing your theme and adding content.
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More Useful Websites

In an earlier article,  we highlighted a few websites that we thought “might be useful for business, educationally valuable or just plain fun but otherwise useless.”  This installment is our second round of recommended websites that you may find useful for business or educationally valuable (alas, nothing fun and useless this time around).

Secure Password Checker

Whenever you create a password for anything (bank account access, supplier website log-in, email, etc.) you should ensure that it is a strong password, making it harder to crack (no password will ever be 100% foolproof).  Microsoft offers a free secure password checker. Simply type in the password you want to check and the analysis will tell you if it is weak, medium, strong, or best.  All passwords that you use should be “strong” at the very least. Read the rest of this entry »