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Where do the Pros Go?

February 18, 2010 By: Jena Tesse Fox Travel Agent

We asked leading travel professionals where they like to go on vacation, and received a surprising range of destinations and tips that you can share with your clients.


Nico Zenner, president of Travel Bound, New York, NY

Zenner calls Montreal “an ideal getaway for a long weekend or a week away with the family,” and notes that a drive north along the East Coast can be “very pleasant and scenic.” In the fall, the foliage makes driving a joy—and, Zen-ner notes, driving across the Canadian border only requires a passport card, rather than a full-fledged passport book.

“Montreal is a city for all seasons, with festivals in the summer, outdoor activities year round, fantastic food, a great cultural and arts scene, beautiful architecture, the Vieux Montreal with a true European feel, cobblestone streets, the Mount Royal, a different language, a foreign currency, a sophisticated public transportation system, underground connectors [and] fantastic shopping,” Zenner says.

San Miguel de Allende, Mexico

Victoria Boomgarden, vice president/luxury division, Best Travel Gold, Naperville, IL

Boomgarden calls the colonial cities of Mexico, particularly San Miguel de Allende, a perfect spot for an idyllic getaway. “The wonderful historic city center with all the preserved 16th and 17th century Spanish colonial buildings is simply amazing,” she says. “The wonderful artisans and craftsmen, the music and art, the great architecture, the food—it offers the true flavor of Old Mexico.

“My favorite hotel here is Casa De Sierra Nevada, a wonderful Orient-Express property made up of converted colonial buildings. Casa de Sierra Nevada has its own cooking school in a wonderful old building and there are several other cooking schools in the city. “It’s not super easy to get there—it’s about a three-hour transfer from Mexico City or you can take a connecting flight into Leon, which is about one hour away (50 miles). I don’t recommend bringing a car into San Miguel for several reasons—streets are very narrow and it’s very busy with pedestrians. It’s also difficult to find your way around and there are lots of one-way streets—this is a ‘walking’ city.”

The Point on Saranac Lake

Bob Malmberg, president, Malmberg Travel, Boston

Malmberg’s quick getaway for a long weekend is at Saranac Lake in Upper New York State. (He recommends flying there rather than driving.) Once there, The Point is his favorite hotel. Describing it as a “home away from home,” Malmberg says that The Point has “everything one could possibly ask for: superb chef, gorgeous accommodations and a willing and experienced staff.”

He never needs to leave the property, he notes—“My accommodations always have a fireplace with lots of cut wood to burn, something to drink, a stack of books I’ve been meaning to read and just never get around to it. A picnic in good weather on one of the lake islands is always a treat with champagne…[and] more food than any two persons could possibly manage.

“The atmosphere is elegant, comfortable, very fancy but not—if that makes any sense at all,” he says. “Wednesday and Saturday evenings are ‘black tie,’ and for some reason it does not seem pretentious there. It just feels good.”


Steve Tracas, president,, Alexandria, VA

As a married man with two daughters (aged 18 and 20), Tracas tries to arrange vacations that accommodate all interests. “The current vacation that meets the majority of our desires as a family is cruising,” he says. “The ability to be together yet have your own individual ‘space’; the ability to unpack once; enjoy the activities on the ship to everyone’s individual preference; explore the different destinations to satisfy everyone’s individual interests; and then to meet up for dinner seems to fit the bill.

“A newer vacation experience that my wife and I enjoy when our daughters aren’t able to join in would be river cruising,” he continues. “The relaxed nature of being up-close and personal with the many great destinations in Europe, China, Russia or wherever is a favorite for my wife and me.” He appreciates the ability to unpack once, have a relaxed environment to wind down and just see the beauty of the countryside go by.

Shirley Heights Lookout in Antigua

Kevin Froemming, president of Unique Vacations, Miami

“Shirley Heights Lookout in Antigua has one of the best views on the island, and certainly some of the best food in the Caribbean at its namesake restaurant,” says Kevin Froemming, president of Unique Vacations Inc., worldwide representative of Sandals Resorts International. “Every Sunday, without fail, The Lookout throws an amazing island-style party,” he says. “It’s a must-see.”


Paul Zar, vice president, Caribbean Product and Marketing, Travel Impressions, Farmingdale, NY

“On my time off, my wife and I try to take our sons to places that don’t remind us of work or make us feel guilty for not interacting with local travel business associates or suppliers,” Zar says. “Private homes, therefore, are our preference and mostly in places where we can do things we don’t normally do—mountain biking in the Berkshires or sailing on Long Island.”


Richard Nahem, author of  IPreferParis blog and contributor to

Nahem tends to take short breaks of three or four days. “Since Paris is so central to all of Europe, most destinations don’t take more than three hours to get to,” he says, adding that since moving to Paris he has tried to explore as much of France as possible. “Last year I went to Lille near the Belgian border, for an art fair. The city also had wonderful architecture, excellent restaurants and some great photo ops.

“I usually stay in an inexpensive hotel, not more than 150 euros a night. I don’t believe in spending a lot on hotels in cities because I am out all day and the hotel is just to sleep in.”


Jack Mannix, president and CEO,  Ensemble Travel, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Mannix was on nearly 120 flights last year, many of them between his Fort Lauderdale home and his New York office. As such, he says, staying home with his wife is a nice way to relax.

“When we do get away, we love cruising the Mediterranean and exploring Italy, especially the lesser-known villages during pre- or post-cruise stays,” he says. “In one of our more recent trips, we stayed in a small boutique hotel in the walled city of Lucca. During the day, we’d hop in the rental car and explore some of the nearby villages and vineyards in Tuscany, then return to dine on fabulous Italian dishes at one of the local restaurants.

“On another Mediterranean cruise, we disembarked in Venice and stayed at the renowned Hotel Danieli where we enjoyed a spectacular dinner at the hotel’s rooftop restaurant with the most gorgeous view of the Grand Canal.”

See more of in the Hotel Danieli the slideshow below

Andrea Grisdale, IC Bellagio, Italy

For a weekend, Grisdale says she would head to the Amalfi Coast and stay at the Palazzo Sasso, making sure to rent a private yacht and head to Capri.  “Nothing beats sailing along the Amalfi Coast, swimming in the sea surrounded by this beautiful area overlooked by the Vesuvio Volcano, crossing the Bay of Naples to Capri and enjoying swimming in your own private grotto while the others are waiting in line with a thousand others to see the Blue Grotto.”

Grisdale advises taking a direct flight from Milan to Naples and then taking a private transfer.


Jim Strong, co-owner/operator, Strong Travel Services, Dallas

For a quick getaway, Strong and his wife like to hide out in the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles. “I am very sad that it is currently closed, but anxious and excited to see the new product by the Dorchester Collection,” he says. “The overall appeal of the Bel-Air is that it is a hotel that complements its surroundings rather than intruding upon them,” he notes. Outside of the hotel, the Strongs enjoy hiking the Runyon Park Trail, stopping at Pinks for a hot dog or Mel’s drive-in for a burger. “Then, of course, you have Venice Beach and the ocean at Santa Monica...followed by the drive up to Malibu.”

East Lothian, Scotland

Jennifer Wilson-Buttigieg, co-president, Valerie Wilson Travel Inc., New York

Wilson-Buttigieg’s “all time favorite destinations for total rest and relaxation” is Scotland. As an avid golfer, she says, it is the holy grail of both golf courses and history.

“My family and I travel to East Lothian on an annual basis and enjoy an average of 18 to 36 holes of golf per day on various courses,” she says. “We usually stay at Greywalls, which has reopened as a full-service hotel again.”  The property, she says, is ideal for a golf vacation, with more than 10 nearby courses.

Some easy “add-ons” Wilson-Buttigieg recommends for a visit to this area of Scotland are trips to Edinburgh, St. Andrews, Turnberry and Gleneagles. “There are many other excursion options from this location, including garden tours, antiquing, as well as a visit to Dirleton Castle. Finally, a visit to East Lothian would not be complete without a visit to Haddington to experience a wonderful small village and former ‘Royal Burgh.’”

All Over the Americas

Scott Wiseman, president, Abercrombie & Kent USA, Downers Grove, IL

Wiseman says his family tends to take both multiple short vacations, and usually one longer one as an extended family.  “As a large group we have done rafting, rented a villa in Mexico, gone cruising and rented vacation homes,” he says. Two highlights from recent vacations include an old fishing village turned local surfer beach in Mexico called Sayulita (north of Punta Mita) and rafting and ranching in Utah.

The smaller family goes on shorter breaks to explore cities, hotels and restaurants. “One of our favorites was to Washington, D.C., where we would highly recommend a visit to the Newseum. We also enjoyed a wonderful summer visit to Montreal. I would highly recommend the Sofitel as a great hotel with a perfect location.”

When the kids are at summer camp, he adds, he and his wife do “sneak away” for a short break. “Last year we went to the Ritz-Carlton in Puerto Rico—where we did nothing but lounge by the pool.”

Around the World

Nigel Osborne, president, Virgin Vacations USA, Portland, Maine

Osborne likes to visit the area of Vilamoura in Portugal. There are plenty of hotels, a yacht harbor, nine miles of good beaches—”and value,” he adds. For hotels with a good beach view, Osborne likes the Sheraton.

He also recommends staying out of cities and exploring small towns when traveling. In France, for instance, the hills between Cannes and St. Maxime have some “great villages with local hospitality.” In the U.S., Osborne enjoys Napa Valley as a great place to unwind, as well as the Hamptons. In addition, ski resorts in New England or Utah are a “good value vacation,” he says.

Aaron Kaupp, general manager, Palazzo Sasso, Ravello, Italy

As the general manager of a major hotel, Kaupp is always “on” and always in the spotlight for both employees and guests. A vacation that lets him unwind, therefore, is crucial. “All I want is the quiet calm and tranquility of a beach resort where I can recharge my batteries and read,” he says.

Important factors in choosing a vacation destination are the available activities and a variety of dining options. “As I like to change year in, year out I don’t have a favorite place,” Kaupp acknowledges, “but location beauty and a five-star setting is a must. After all, even when on holiday we do kind of work in checking what others do, and passing the finger on a table or piece of furniture [in] the lobby is just natural and part of my daily life.”

Dennis Pinto, president, Micato Safaris, New York, NY

Pinto says his trips “tend to be family-oriented, leaning toward outdoor activities.” Africa is a favorite vacation spot, and the Pintos spend much of their summers in Kenya/Tanzania or Southern Africa.

For weekend getaways, Pinto likes Kent, CT, which is two hours from New York City in Litchfield County, and features “great hiking on the Appalachian Trail, bike riding, country fairs, blueberry picking, apple pressing in the fall, and so on.” For accommodations there, he recommends The Mayflower Inn and Winvian.

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