Travel agencies are notoriously crowded and cluttered. Brochures constantly appear in the mail, and a great deal of equipment needs to be available to each agent. Psychologists have conducted studies which prove that environment has a major impact on individual performance-and, therefore, productivity. In the course of visiting travel agencies over many years, I have identified some principles that can make designing a productive travel agency simpler and more straightforward.
First and foremost, it is important to allocate an adequate amount of space for each staff member. Generally speaking, an appropriate ratio seems to be 100 – 150 square feet per employee. You may have a 400 square foot office for yourself, and a conference room that takes up another 200 square feet. Otherwise, the ratio should hold.
When considering your layout, group specialties together – commercial, vacation or group travel, for example. Physical space should be designated for vacation sales. Similarly, a separate space needs to be established for commercial sales. The specific requirements of these two areas will be discussed later.
Keep in mind that vacation agents deal with the public, and should be convenient to the public entrance. Commercial agents do not deal with public, and can be located in a back room. Ticket production and the physical process of tearing down tickets should be located near an exit to reduce traffic from delivery people through the office. It is advisable to have your main computer in a separate room.
Vacation Department Design
First, you need to decide what business you are in. If you are selling point-to-point tickets, the ideal configuration is a counter top for the general public to approach, receive their tickets and leave. They are discouraged from lingering, but are able to be served efficiently -as the airlines discovered a long time ago.
If however, you’re in the business of providing counsel to vacationers, then a space more conducive to discussion would be appropriate, such as small conference tables with an agent at each table. A bookshelf at each conference table should contain resource material. We would recommend against putting any kind of reservation automation on these tables. The tables should be open, spacious and attractive. The agents need to be disciplined to keep the space uncluttered and free of piles of paper. The reservation system for the retail agents in this type of layout should be situated in a computer workstation at the back of the room. The same discipline in terms of keeping the station orderly applies here.
Vacation agencies all over the world are experimenting with video displays of destinations. Such a facility, if you can afford one, is extremely attractive and enticing to the general public. A small room with comfortable chairs and video display can double as your waiting room. Again, the key is to keep the space tidy, attractive and as spacious as can be accomplished within the limitations of your facility.
One of the major obstacles in an attractive vacation office is the proliferation of brochures which lie in piles on the floor, in boxes under the desks and dripping from racks on the wall. If you’re going to keep brochures in your office, it’s extremely important to establish a formal library. Someone needs to be assigned the duty of maintaining this bank of data. To a certain extent, there is little that can be done to make huge numbers of brochures attractive. Therefore, we recommend that brochures be kept in filing cabinets out of the view of the general public. These files of brochures must be maintained, with obsolete brochures taken out on a regular cycle. Clearly, in order for these files to be workable, an orderly indexing system needs to be available so that agents know where to find a brochure on a particular destination.
An electronic message board in a vacation office adds a degree of light, color and interest to the visiting client. A message board can display special fares, packages and destinations.
Commercial Department Design
Commercial travel agents essentially function as order takers. Their space requirements are considerably less than those of a vacation agent. There is need for more coordinated activity in a commercial reservation center and therefore, the supervisor needs to be located centrally, with clear visibility to all areas within the reservation center. Ideally, to enhance visibility, this area should be raised off the floor six to eight inches on a platform. We recommend a glass enclosure built around the supervisor’s platform to give privacy, without losing visibility.
Because the agents frequently have less working space, the commercial area needs sound baffling to keep the noise level below a distraction threshold. We recommend raceway furniture for commercial agents which provides a 14-inch fabric panel surrounding each work station.
Raceway is a kind of furniture developed for high density work areas which includes a “race” or channel for all the cables and wires for each work station. It works particularly well for computer work stations. It also usually comes with sound baffle “privacy panels” surroundings each work station.
Electronic message boards also have application in the Commercial Department, serving as vehicles for communicating important last minute messages, such as fare changes or even airline bankruptcies or major weather emergencies. They can also be used to stimulate productivity by tracking how close the agents are to a target sales goal.
Many of the automated accounting systems available for travel agencies operate on mini- computers which require a controlled environment. ADS and ABS both fall into this category. These computers should be placed in a small room with a tile floor. There should be no work stations in that room. There should be no equipment or supplies stored in that room. Ideally, no printers should be located in that room. Ticket printers produce dust. Office supplies collect dust. Dust and static electricity are the enemies of a mini-computer.
Every time someone walks past a computer, the potential for a static discharge arises. Static discharge can cause a head crash, putting your computer out of operation until a repair person can be dispatched. Head crashes are extremely costly in terms of down time, and potentially dangerous in terms of data loss.
Remember, your goals in planning your facility are to:
• Provide sufficient space for your staff,
• Meet the space particular requirements of each specialty area, and
• Create an uncluttered atmosphere conducive to greater agent efficiency and attractiveness.
A well-thought-out, well-designed office can maximize your professional image, minimize your expenses and stimulate productivity.