A Fugazi Partner, Robert Romano Is Fulfilling Childhood Dreams

The business of wine turned Robert Romano on to the travel industry. The 46-year-old, now a partner with San Francisco-based Fugazi Travel Agency Inc., grew up in MarinCounty, near San Francisco, where his father was in the business of wine marketing and importing. As his father became busier and busier with work, Romano took it upon himself to plan both family vacations and business trips for the company. "My father appreciated it that I was interested in that facet, so he let it fall to me," Romano recalls. "My father was so busy, he'd say, 'I forgot to book a vacation, do you have any ideas?' So I'd be like, 'Hey dad, guess what, I happened to make reservations for Hawaii six months ago.'" Even at a tender age, Romano knew the benefits of booking early.

In the early 1980s, Romano was working for his father when his father sold the business, retired and left his son jobless.

 Robert Romano

Fugazi Travel had always been his family's personal travel agency, and, one day back in 1986, Romano walked into the agency with only his hankering for travel. "So I went there," he says, "and the owner knew me growing up. I told him I didn't have a job anymore, and I wanted to learn travel. So he said to me, 'Well, you can hang around here for a few days and see if you like it or hate it.'"

Right Place, Right Time

Fugazi is not the type of place that has a high level of turnover, but Romano was in the proverbial right place at the right time. "I was fortunate, someone got married and moved away; another was having surgery that would require a long length of recuperation." The rest is history: Romano has been with Fugazi 21 years now, and has subsequently been made a partner by owner George Lippi.

The 18-employee company caters primarily to travelers seeking luxury experiences. "We attract a lot of high-end cruise market and high-end resort business, especially for Hawaii and Mexico," Romano says. "We sell a good amount of Silversea, hardly any Carnival," says Romano.

Perks of Ensemble Membership

One way that Fugazi has become a better cruise seller is through its affiliation with Ensemble. Romano mentions the value and benefits of Ensemble's On Location program, which allows member agents to create specialized services for their clients, such as customized shore excursions, through destination specialists stationed in virtually every area of the world. "You can contact them for anything—from obtaining an airport transfer to renting out an entire island," which Romano once did for a client who wanted to use it as a base for a fireworks show. "It's a good way to compete against discounting companies."

Romano counts Abercrombie & Kent, Classic Vacations, Auto Europe, Silversea Cruises, Crystal Cruises and Regent Seven Seas as Fugazi's best suppliers. "They all have outstanding sales and marketing reps," says Romano. "They take the time to know our business and give us a window into theirs; together we work to please the customer so they come back, which makes money for the supplier and us."

Like any good salespeople, agents need to be good listeners. "That is key," says Romano. He adds that it is important to ask clients as many questions as possible to understand their likes and dislikes. It also helps to experience the products you sell. "If you want to sell luxury, you have an obligation to not sit at your desk for 365 days. Work with suppliers to get invites."

Fugazi's been around since 1869, its early years spent operating as a bank for immigrants. At some point, it was sold to the founder of Bank of America so it could concentrate on travel. "Who knew?," Romano says with a chuckle. "We should have kept the bank and got rid of the travel agency, but here we still are and making a living."