What makes a top travel agent? Is it something easy to measure—sales volume, perhaps? Or is it something less tangible—pure dedication and willingness to go above and beyond for a client? Or is it some combination of the two?
Looking to find answers to this query,Travel Agent
invited our readers to tell us why they were the top of their field. Some agents were home-based and part of a larger parent company. Some were in small, independent businesses. Some were part of huge corporations. All of them had wonderful stories about the challenges and triumphs of being a travel agent, making it very difficult for us to select just 25.
But we narrowed it down, and here they are — Travel Agent magazine’s Top 25 Agents for 2010.
Blecker provides a unique and specialized service to a misunderstood segment of the cruising population: solo occupancy travelers. “While singles seeking to meet others are well-served by a variety of agencies, there is no one else in the industry specializing in solo occupancy cruising and reduced single supplements,” she says. Between never-married passengers, those who have been widowed or divorced, or even married couples who prefer separate cabins, she understands the unique needs of solo cruisers. “As a solo traveler myself, I’ve aided many people who were hesitant to travel, and helped them understand it’s about what you can do, not what you can’t.”
Her greatest challenge, she says, is working with clients, cruise lines and the press to further the cause of solo occupancy cruising. Clients have to understand the supplement process and why it is a necessary evil, “but also how they can minimize what they pay by selecting the right cruise lines, itineraries and timing of purchase.”
She adds, “With suppliers, it is an ongoing conversation to not only help them understand the solo occupancy market but also the value of solo cruisers to their bottom line. I’ve worked to help them recognize they should market reduced supplements rather than keep them virtually hidden. Finally, in the press, I’ve leveraged the broad exposure of my blog, achieving national media exposure for me, the industry, and most importantly, to the benefit of consumers, both solo and traditional.”
L. Diane Bower
An Independent Affiliate of America’s Vacation Center/Avoya Travel
Specializing in cruises to Alaska, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and South America, Bower says she has built her business on a few simple rules: “First, I listen to clients without interrupting. This allows me to focus on their needs and gather information on where they have traveled and with which cruise line. Second, I consistently follow up with new leads using e-mails and telephone calls. Third, I never forget the clients that have booked with me, whether they have booked one cruise or 30 cruises. Fourth, I am very thorough and patient with clients. Providing too much information can be overwhelming, so I take care to learn how much information is just enough for each client.”
Her greatest challenge, she says, is gaining the trust of clients who are used to storefront travel agents. “I go the extra mile to show them that I have the same resources, knowledge and access to the same cruise lines. I make sure I respond to their e-mails and telephone calls immediately to reinforce their trust in me.”
She had a family from China that traveled to the Mediterranean last spring after both grandparents were killed in an accident. “The extended family included 10 children and six adults. We put together private tours, shows in London and special activities on the ship, just for this family. The cruise line assisted me with the arrangements. This was the exact vacation the grandparents had taken a year before for their 50th anniversary. Nothing is more rewarding than receiving letters from family members thanking me for making their dreams come true.”
Chuck & Denyse Campione (Team Campione)
Independent Affiliates of America’s Vacation Center/Avoya Travel
Palm Desert, CA
The Campiones specialize in luxury cruises, but have expanded their business to include other unique experiences. They booked one of their repeat world-cruise clients on another world cruise, and at the last minute the clients decided that they wanted to book the adjoining suite for their family members and some employees. “The guests were to join our clients on different legs of the seven-segment World Cruise, all in the same cabin.” This was a task that even the cruise line found to be a challenge, especially since the guests were from several different states. “We arranged their air travel, pre- and post-hotels, passports and visas. We also made arrangements for a ‘special needs’ child. Time was of the essence for our clients, so using our close business connections we were able to make everything come together and these 15 people had a fantastic vacation. In fact, our repeat clients recently rebooked another world cruise with us.”
Another client in Dubai wanted a last-minute cruise as a belated honeymoon for his wife and their new baby daughter. “The baby was five-and-a-half months old, and the minimum passenger age was six months. With the help of our DSM, we were able to get the baby a special waiver so our client and his wife could take their daughter on the cruise prior to her turning six months old. We also were able to get their visas expedited so they could travel in just one month’s notice. The client was a very happy man and his wife was thrilled by the dream honeymoon that he was able to give her.”
For most travel agents, the emergence of the Internet as their biggest competitor became the test of how much they really wanted to stay in the travel services field. It was for Chlebeck, whose love of travel and dedication to her clients became her primary motivators as she dug in her heels and refused to be another casualty of the online onslaught.
Chlebeck is realistic about the challenge poised by the Internet, but also recognizes the flaws in the system. “Yes, the Internet has made it possible for clients to book their own trips online,” she says.
“While this is easy to do, clients have realized that it is difficult to plan entire vacations or trips in a city or country they don’t have expertise in. We continue to be a great service resource to our clients and provide that personal touch and personal experience you can’t get online. That has been the biggest challenge I have faced as an agent over the last several years.”
With over 20 years in the industry and having a very loyal clientele, Chlebeck has very diverse requests from her clients—anything from a simple trip in North America to exotic worldwide destinations. She says her specialty is a “strong international expertise with emphasis on FITs.” Chlebeck also notes that her long experience with the currently very trendy destination wedding market—mostly in Mexico, the Caribbean and Hawaii—has been a big plus.
Her sheer dedication to both her company and her clients is evident. “My goal is to be the best I can be and to provide top-notch service to my clients,” she says. “I strive to never let a client down even with the most simple of requests. My client retention and referrals over the past 23 years truly speak for themselves. I have worked with many of my clients for more than 20 years!”
Among those longtime clients are Gary and Patricia Sauer, who told Travel Agent, “We completely trust and value her expertise and experience and wouldn’t think of using any other agent for any of our personal or group travel. She has developed complicated itineraries for us in difficult-to-navigate areas, such as Russia, China, Egypt, the Middle East. Her attention to detail in every step of the process, before, during and beyond is above what anyone would expect from a travel agent.”
“I work extremely hard for my clients because I genuinely care about them,” Chlebeck says. “I customize each trip and itinerary to surpass the expectations and desires of my clients. I want each trip they take to be an amazing memory to have and a great story to tell. I strive for each client to feel like they are my only client and very special.”
Lynn Kubrick Ciccarelli
Valerie Wilson Travel
Mexico is one of Ciccarelli’s specialties, but she likes to show clients the Mexico they don’t know, offering insights into the culture as well as selecting hotels that best suit their budget. “As a world traveler myself, I use my experience to create stress-free travel plans,” she says. She starts by asking questions to find out what they are really looking for. “Once the trip is designed, I will send a guidebook, offer suggestions on what to do, how to pack, where to eat and the best things to do to utilize the time they have. Once that is done, I contact the hotel or cruise line to make sure my clients are offered any additional upgrades or special attention they can get.”
Her biggest challenge, she says, is making the public aware that there still are travel agents. “Many think that online booking is the only way,” she says. “I find that it is a great opportunity to let them know how much knowledgeable advice a professional agent can give to help them select the right cruise line, hotel or resort for their budget and personal interest.”
One memorable trip was a 105-day around-the-world journey that took a couple to Australia, China, Thailand, India, Egypt and Spain. “It was a challenge to be sure that [they] had the proper transfers, air and time change calculated,” Ciccarelli recalls. “I can say the entire trip went off without a hitch. One flight was delayed and I was able to rebook before they knew what happened.”
Jason Coleman Inc.
In 2006, Coleman took over an agency that had been very inactive for about 10 years. The focus, he says, had been on higher-end cruises, but that was not the best fit for him. “I chose not to jump in and start doing anything and everything; rather, I took my time researching, asking questions, studying the industry, and doing some personal reflection on what I wanted to accomplish with the agency. I also reached out to local supplier reps for advice and insight into what works locally.”
His efforts paid off: For the last several years, Coleman has more than doubled his sales year-over-year. “My ratio of repeat clients continues to increase, and my efficiencies in office management make me a lean operation that is very goal-oriented,” he says.
Coleman likes to look at every vacation he books as a dream trip. One example he remembers was a Betty Boop Fan Cruise. “I was contacted by a guest who wanted to book the group as a surprise for his wife,” he recalls. “The challenge was that they would be coming to San Diego from their home in Kuwait. All kinds of coordination and logistics were required to keep this a secret from her, including making up a story that had him coming to the U.S. for work. The funniest thing was how he had to throw in some of her Betty Boop clothes without her knowing, since it was a fan cruise group. I know it was a dream trip for her!”
DalPoggetto’s association with the travel industry began while in high school, learning the business from filing brochures and tariff pages. He learned the vendor side of the industry before acquiring a local agency and building it up. When commissions were abolished, he closed his office and rebranded himself as an independent agent specializing in “luxury business and experiential travel.”
His greatest challenge, he says, has been going from being owner of an agency making $5 million in sales and with multiple employees to being an independent agent—making the change from having a company brand to a personal one. “I just believed in my expertise and myself,” he says. “Realizing that we cannot be all things to all people, I reinvented myself and have never looked back [or] regretted [taking up] the challenge. It was the best thing that ever happened.”
When asked about a dream vacation he’s organized, DalPoggetto remembers a luxury second honeymoon he put together as a surprise for a VIP client’s wife. “They flew business class from LosAngeles to Papeete, connecting to Raiatea. We transferred them to a resort for the day. Right before sunset they boarded a private yacht, for 10 days sailing the Tahitian Islands. Their cruise ended at Hotel Bora Bora, where they had a villa with private pool for seven nights. They then flew to the island of Tahiti for their last night in an overwater bungalow.”
English has been in the travel business for 26 years but says she has never lost her passion for helping people make their dreams come true through travel. “I sincerely listen to what my clients are—and aren’t—telling me, and work with them to create the right trip for their wants and needs. I used to be a piano teacher, so I have a keen ability to work with people across many generations. This serves me well in my travel career, as I’m able to work equally well with young honeymooners, families and retired individuals, and most importantly, to understand how their travel requirements and desires change based on those very distinct life stages.”
The most distinct “dream trip” English recalls organizing is a trip that wouldn’t be considered a dream at all for most. “I had a client, a sweepstakes winner, who was an elderly widow. She wanted me to assist her in taking her first trip outside of her home state of Massachusetts! There was just as much handholding involved in this planning as there would be for a high-level VIP client because everything about this experience was new to her, including the plane ride. The itinerary we planned included a cruise and a stay at Walt Disney World. It truly changed her life—when she called after her trip she was bubbling over with excitement, and now she is working with me to take additional trips.”
Susan M. Entringer
Bon Voyage Travel
Oro Valley, AZ
“My clients are not celebrities,” Entringer says. “Their trip will be unique and very important to them, yet may not be large revenue generators for Bon Voyage Travel. I use common sense, courtesy, my experience, knowledge and connections to benefit each customer, to create the perfect trip for them.”
Entringer faces daily challenges with constantly changing rates, rules, policies, protocol, documents to travel and technologies of every travel supplier she works with. “I build confidence and trust in my clients by looking after all travel requirements pertinent to their best interests and specific trip. I monitor and follow up with every detail to ensure the success [of the trip] and happiness of the client.”
One notable trip she arranged involved sending a family abroad for three months—with minimal flying and at least three nights in each hotel. She got them first-class flights to and from New York, and then had them on a seven-night cruise on the Queen Mary 2 from New York City to Southampton. They stayed in a London apartment rental for 21 nights before flying to Nice, where they stayed for four nights before taking a seven-night Viking River Cruise from Avignon to Chalon Sur Saone. They stayed in Paris for six nights, then flew to Copenhagen for three nights. A Regent Seven Seas cruise to Stockholm took seven nights, and from there they flew to London for another three nights before returning to New York on the Queen Mary 2. Naturally, the trip included private cars and driver transfers for each leg of the journey.
Delray Beach, FL
Friedman has spent more than 30 years in the travel industry and has learned that many clients think they know what they want, but a good agent should see past the request to what the real dream is. “Many agents shy away from this type of work, whereas I thrive on the challenge,” he says. “Creating dream-fulfillment is like an artist taking a blank canvas and producing a masterpiece. I always try to surprise the client with unexpected events not shown on their itinerary.”
The greatest challenge, he says, is continuing to “up the game” each time you do a custom trip for the same client. “If their first experience working with you is great, the next trip has to be better. The only way to maintain this performance is with constant study and traveling the world searching for the lesser-known travel opportunities.”
One memorable journey was a 12-night family trip to India with private jets and helicopters. Friedman arranged several unique events, like a floating dinner on the river with each course delivered by boat, a special evening at a well-known palace with dinner under a large tent with live music. They even arranged to have a Christmas tree with gifts under it waiting in the main suite, and private elephant polo lessons as well.
With more than 25 years’ experience, Hammond says developing her style as an agent was easy. “With a balance of patience, persistence and a caring attitude, I am able to provide my clients with an exceptional level of service while building loyalty and friendships,” she says. “I connect personally with each client and use our introductions as a friendly interview. I really want to get to know their personalities so I can develop not just a dream trip but their dream trip. Whether it is a quick weekend getaway or a long excursion, I will meet and exceed my client’s expectations. That’s my job as an agent.”
Something’s working, because Hammond, an FIT Europe and South America specialist, had sales of more than $1.7 million in 2009. That’s particularly impressive since she only recently transitioned careers from being an agency manager at one agency to becoming a full-time luxury leisure agent at another travel agency.
“With my existing clientele, working with our existing corporate executives and extending my services to friends, private clubs, etc., I had developed quite a good base,” she says. “At the same time, I wanted to make sure I created a friendship with all my co-workers and became part of the office team. I make a concerted effort to extend my time, knowledge of destinations, sales techniques and always offer to help out when I can. It is a pleasure to be part of CWT Vacations.”
That pleasure is no doubt shared by CWT and its clients—particularly the international golf writer (and his eight business associates) for whom Hammond created a trip of a lifetime. “I organized an 11-day luxury yacht vacation. It began in Barcelona and ended in Lisbon. We arranged world-class golfing excursions for the golfers, and for the nongolfers we arranged local touring and culinary experiences in each port of call. We topped off one culinary chef experience in Seville with horse and carriage transfers back to the yacht. This was a huge undertaking, but was a pleasure to execute.”
Hayes has been involved with the travel industry for more than 30 years—as a travel owner, manager and an agent. “I know what I expect and what my clients expect at every level and I work hard to live by the motto, ‘customer service above and beyond!’”
One of her greatest challenges was helping a service group that was traveling to India to bring the polio vaccine to the country. “They were working with another travel agent and agency to plan the expedition. However, eight days before the trip it was evident that the agent didn’t know India and its procedures and intricacies,” she recalls. “The group didn’t know they needed birth certificates with their parents’ names along with their visas.” Because of the contacts and relationships Hayes has developed in the industry, she was able to secure the visas for all 10 people. “The group left, as scheduled, for the trip.”
In another memorable case, a professional golfer was looking to surprise his wife for her 50th birthday. Hayes arranged a true “dream trip” to Italy, with the best of everything. “The couple began in Rome, then traveled to the Amalfi Coast, through Tuscany and ended in the Lake District at Bellagio.” Hayes also arranged to have special gifts at each destination as souvenirs and for the 50th birthday. Since the trip was a surprise, she also helped secure a dog and nanny for the couple’s high school-aged children.
Patricia Kathleen Humble
Humble specializes in travel to Paris. “It is all that everyone says it is: one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and romantic.”
She credits her success to being available to her clients at all hours—even in the middle of the night. “I just don’t take ‘no’ for an answer when it comes to my clients,” she says. “I’m their advocate during a trip and will do whatever it takes to act on their behalf. I bring 36 years of experience to my clients, which is likely why I am privileged to work only with repeat clients and direct referrals from those clients.”
The trip that stands out for Humble most is a trip she organized for some neighbors to go find and bring home a new puppy. “I’m very active with animal rights and in the local Humane Society, so when my neighbors’ beloved Irish Wolfhound passed away several years ago, I combined my love for animals with my travel expertise to assist them with their transportation arrangements,” she says. “It’s one thing for two humans to fly to Ireland, but it’s quite another for a little puppy and its new owners to take a ferry from Ireland back to England, then take a train to London to catch a flight home, which is what they had to do to make everything work out.”
Iantosca says he used last year’s recession as an opportunity to upgrade his existing client-base to high-end cruises, hotels and tours. “Instead of giving in to the downturn, I turned my fear into confidence and upsold every client I had,” he says. “I thought that the customers who found mass-market cruises for $70 a day in magazines or on TV would hurt me, but with perseverance, patience and by taking a fresh approach, I realized that the only thing to do was sell luxury. This was the turning point and motivation to stay in business and continue to be profitable regardless of these times. I found value in staying close with luxury suppliers like Regent Seven Seas, Oceania and Classic Vacations. This led to my agency becoming a Virtuoso member, which has helped me tremendously.”
One memorable trip Iantosca designed took some clients on a high-end tour of Africa. They started in Uganda at the Jane Goodall Institute on Ngamba Island to interact with chimpanzees, went on safari at the Queen Elizabeth National Park and then spent two days gorilla trekking at Bwindi Impenetrable Forest. From there, they flew on to Victoria Falls and stayed at Tongabezi in the Bird House on the river, and then onward into the Okavango Delta of Botswana to sleep in Star Beds at Baines’ Camp. They also stayed at Pezula in South Africa, and went to the little Karoo desert at Sanbona to see the San People and their rock art, and finished at the Twelve Apostles Hotel and Spa in Cape Town.
Patty Brewer Ireland
Ireland says her clients know she’s not an order taker: “I’m skilled at asking the right questions to determine what it is they really want in a trip, whether they fully understand it yet or not.”
As an example, she was given just four weeks to plan a totally custom, three-week safari to Kenya and Tanzania for a group of Southern California filmmakers. “Working with my trusted luxury tour operator, I was able to secure airline arrangements, take care of their visas and ship valuable filming equipment to their destination,” she says. “Their itinerary included visits to Amboseli National Park, Samburu Game Reserve, Masai Mara Game Reserve, Ngorongoro crater, Tarangire National Park and Serengeti National Park. They used private airport transfers, stayed in luxury tented camps and had private tour guides in the parks. I planned some very special experiences for them, such as Champagne brunch out in the camps, a stay at Giraffe Manor and dinner at the world-famous Carnivore Restaurant in Nairobi.”
A very different dream vacation was for a client who had been with Ireland for a decade. The two-week wine tour through France wasn’t just for the client, however. It was also for her husband and their best friends. “The tour was tailor-made to suit their interests in wine, culinary experiences and local archaeology. The trip involved First-Class air, private transfers, meet-and-greet service, visits to centuries-old wineries, and overnight stays in chateaus.”
Jewish Travel Agency
Palm Harbor, FL
There are specialists for every kind of travel, but a specialist in Jewish heritage travel? That’s pretty unique. “My true passion is customizing tours for individuals and groups wishing to personally experience their Jewish ancestors’ cultural and physical landscapes,” Kulich says. “Working with a network of expert in-country guides and local companies, I conduct family-specific Holocaust research.” She compares her work to the ancestral detective work of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Everything Is Illuminated. “Like Jonathan, many of us yearn to uncover the lost stories of our Jewish heritage in distant lands, to trace the footsteps of our ancestors, but unlike Jonathan, we choose not to travel in unsafe and unsanitary conditions. So that’s where we come in!”
Of course, focusing on one particular group for travel can present certain unique situations for an agent: “Kosher travel presents challenges, from special food arrangement to travel. We have to arrange travel so clients do not travel on Shabbat (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown). They cannot even open the door with electric keys, so in some cases we got hotel staff to open the doors for them.”
Heritage travel can also be some of the most rewarding. “We’ve done research for a family of six that was looking for families in Lithuania and Ukraine who knew their parents during the war. In a small village near Lviv, Ukraine, we found a son of the woman who had hid the client’s mother during the war, quite like Anne Frank had been. But unlike Anne Frank, the girl survived. The clients connected with that family. We also found for them people in Lithuanian village who knew their father.”
Langford believes that to be recognized as a top travel agent, one must be passionate about what one does. “When I have a client come in to plan a vacation, I put as much into their trip as I would do on my own vacation—and usually much more,” she says. “After almost 20 years in the travel industry, I’ve learned to listen not only to what the travelers are saying, but also what they are not saying.”
Langford got her start in the industry at 19, and had to work hard to earn the trust of clients due to her age. The effort she had then put into gaining the trust of her clients came back into play as the industry shifted and changed dramatically. “Over the past 20 years, the role of the travel agent has changed significantly,” she says. “From the elimination of commission from the airlines and the beginning of the Internet craze, you really have to strive to be a step ahead and keep learning. I am always participating in webinars and as many training seminars as I can, to be more knowledgeable than my clients.”
One of the most memorable trips she planned was among the first long tours of Australia she ever organized. “There were two couples traveling together for 45 days visiting most of the country,” she recalls. “Their journey began in Sydney and continued through Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Heron Island, Port Douglas, Darwin/ Kakadu/Arnhemland, Ayers Rock, Coober Pedy and Adelaide before ending in Melbourne. Some of their highlights included climbing the Harbour Bridge and taking in a performance at The Opera House; visiting the Australia Zoo (made famous by Steve Irwin); snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef right from the beach; exploring the rainforest; experiencing Longitude 131; having an Aboriginal guide take them through Kakadu National Park and Arnhemland; Noodling in Coober Pedy; exploring the Barossa and Yarra valleys with a private guide; and sitting on the beach with only a park guide while the blue penguins came ashore at night. They experienced almost everything Australia has to offer.”
Robert P. Malmberg
The Malmberg Travel Group
After 55 years in the business, Malmberg has learned that one of the most important assets of an agent is up-to-date knowledge about a destination. “Information has to be updated constantly,” he says. “What was true two years ago is no longer valid. A library of current information is vital to understand that even today’s news is borderline stale. The agent comes to the table with responsibility and has to be devoted to accuracy and current information to the fullest extent possible.”
Every year, two of his clients depart the U.S.in early December and return in late January. They travel around the world, all of Africa, Asia and the Pacific territories but last year they decided on South America. Their itinerary included Peru, Chile, Argentina and Brazil. In Peru they visited the Sacred Valley, Urubamba and Machu Picchu, the Monasterio (complete with oxygen bottles), and Santiago followed by a 15-day Silversea cruise around the tip of Patagonia to Buenos Aires, staying in an Estancia on the Argentine pampas. The grand finale in Brazil was on a private island on the Emerald coast at the Ponta dos Ganchos with its pure, white sand beaches for a week.
Scully Travel of High Point
High Point, NC
Destination weddings and honeymoons are big business, and have proven to be a smart specialty for Ovittore, who, among her other specialties, counts the Caribbean, Sandals/Beaches, Disney, AMResorts, Hawaii and Las Vegas.
“I take pride in selling to my clients and making their dreams come true,” Ovitorre says. “I have traveled to all the Sandals/Beaches Resorts and have arranged for many destination weddings at their properties. I feel the details and attention I give my clients makes a big difference in helping them choose a travel agency that will answer their questions 24/7 and is there for them. My dedication to clients and listening to their needs is what makes their travels with us the best trip they have ever experienced.”
The home-based Ovitorre, who earned total sales of $500,000 last year, is also an ordained minister—which can come in handy in the destination wedding business. “I had a client come on a Friday in December last year near closing time and ask me if I did honeymoons,” she recalls. “I said I did. We made an appointment for Saturday, booked them at Sandals Montego Bay–Bay Rock Villas, a Butler Suite. He also said his fiancee did not have a passport, and we did her photo that day and sent her Monday to get the application expedited.
“They then asked if I knew someone who could marry them on Thursday,” Ovittore continues. “‘Yes I do!’ I told them. ‘I can marry you on Thursday and help you write your vows and send you on Friday to Jamaica for your honeymoon.’ They received their passport on Wednesday, they got married Thursday evening at their home and went with their docs on Friday a.m.—all in less than a week!”
Just Spas & Adventures
Bolton Landing, New York
Spa destination specialist Radin-Leeds started her business in 2003 after retiring from her own market research firm. “I had been in the travel business in the 1970s, but in 2003 there was a whole new Internet world out there. I needed to find a niche to set apart my business from others.” Radin-Leeds works with clients to find the best spa destination to meet their goals, needs and budget. She also works on serious weight-loss destinations, often booking clients for two- to four-week stays. “Knowing which destination offers what, I am able to work with each client to recommend the best destination for them. I also visit one or two different destination spas each year to have a firsthand experience to offer clients.”
As an example of how important spa travel can be, Radin-Leeds recalls a client who was not only stressed from work but had also been through several back surgeries. “She was not in a good mental or physical state,” Radin-Leeds says. “When she returned, a week later, she lost a few pounds, was physically stronger, had rejuvenated her spirits and had met some wonderful people whom she is already planning to visit. She feels like a new person and continues to be more physically active with her renewed confidence.”
Anne Morgan Scully
McCabe World Travel
Scully has worked on “The Today Show’s” Today Throws a Wedding for the last eight years, and has had 13 honeymoons selected for on-air choices. She also had the final honeymoon choice selected by the voting public on three occasions.
Her philosophy about the business is simple: “Time is the most valuable asset our clients have, and the one we can never give back if we have not honored their time properly.”
She points out the number of times the industry has had to reinvent itself: “After the Commission Caps, Gulf War, 9/11, SARS, Norwalk Virus [and] Volcano Eruptions” the important thing is getting clients to understand that with one life to live, “if not now, when do you travel? Travel is the greatest classroom. It changes who you are as a person. You become so much more open to other cultures and ways of living.”
The trip she remembers most was for a client who wanted to bring 24 family members to France to honor his father who died at Omaha Beach on D-Day, and whose name is inscribed on the Obelisk. “I arranged a memorial service to honor his father as a surprise to him and the family. A large white wreath was laid at the base of the monument with all family members’ names printed on blue silk ribbons. We had the mayor of the town come and present a medal to our client in honor of his father’s service to France. The mayor also read a statement from the French Government in both French and English, and copies were given to each family member on a scroll in grateful thanks to his father’s service.”
“Almost everyone has a special request for something—at least one thing—they want to do on vacation,” Trevino says. “It is my job to help make that happen for them. I know most of my suppliers personally and have a relationship with them so I can contact them for that personal touch.”
Trevino has been an agent-advisor for more than 17 years, and has seen things change quite a bit in the industry. “The many ups and downs—the rollercoaster ride of travel—just keeps making things more challenging all around,” she says. “Economy, of course, is a major challenge, but doesn’t really affect the luxury traveler or the budget traveler as much as the middle-of-the-road traveler. The Internet has probably been the biggest challenge, but that has changed, too.” She notes that people are coming back to travel agents as they become overwhelmed by the “black hole of possibilities” offered there. She believes in a simple motto when it comes to travel: “Without a travel agent, you are on your own.”
Trevino recently planned a dream honeymoon for some clients going to Australia. “I started them off in Sydney at Observatory Hotel with dinner reservations at some of the best restaurants in town,” she recalls. “Then they jetted off for a wildlife, wine and culinary indulgence on Kangaroo Island at Southern Ocean Lodge. The grand finale was time spent on Lizard Island, including dive trips out to the reef. I had arranged private tours and dinner reservations throughout for them.”
Independent Affiliate of America’s Vacation Center/Avoya Travel
Waffle specializes in planning destination weddings, honeymoons, student exchange groups and cruises, and knows how to help her clients have the experience of their lives. “Since our product is intangible, service and confidence is most important to clients. I’m always on call,” she says. As an example, she mentions a student group that was stranded in France when the volcano erupted in Iceland. “I was on the phone with the group (parents, chaperones) and transportation companies for one week getting them home.”
In her 20 years in the business, Waffle has evolved from using OAG for flight information, hand-written tickets, and the fax machine for instant communication to using e-mail and Internet booking sites.
“Embracing the Internet was difficult,” she recalls, “and I watched my client-base shift as more customers booked their vacations online. I had to change my way of doing business to stay in business, and transitioned from storefront to home-based 14 years ago. However, at that time the relationships between home-based agents and suppliers were weak, in part due to the lack of technology and communication.” Today, she says, she has technology that allows her to embrace the Internet and communicate anytime with customers, suppliers and services anywhere in the world.
Among the dream trips she’s organized, Waffle fondly remembers a honeymoon to Victoria Falls, South Africa, and the Maldives for a client who wanted a safari, secluded beach, and the best, most unique accommodations possible. “I prepared a wonderful trip with the help of my vendors, beginning with their stay at Sussi Lodge in luxury tree house accommodations near Victoria Falls. Here, they began their safari, complete with a private boat ride and elephant sightings on the bank of the Zambiezi River.” From there, the couple went to the Sabi Sands Game Reserve near Kruger National Park. “When not on safari, they could enjoy game-viewing from the back of their suite in Sabi Boulders. Their final stop was Banyan Tree Vabbinfaru, Maldives, in a beachfront private villa with outdoor living space and garden shower.”
Palo Alto, CA
Wiedeman walked away from a successful career in Silicon Valley and worked part-time (and went to travel school as well during that time) to pursue his dream of working in the travel industry. Three years later, he was a full-time agent, and now specializes in the South Pacific, Mexico and the Caribbean.
The best trip he ever planned wasn’t for a client, but for himself and his family. He, his wife and then-17-year-old son flew from San Francisco to New Delhi, where they stayed at the Imperial. They then spent two nights in Varanasi at the Nadesar Palace—“a unique and highly recommended experience,” he says. “We went out on the Ganges for a sunrise cruise and later that night for an evening experience—both very different. We took the train to Agra and saw the Taj Mahal, and stayed at the Oberoi Amarvilas for two nights. We then drove to Jaipur and checked in at the Rambagh Palace. Our trip concluded with a three-night stay in Udaipur at the Udaivilas, with visits to the city and nearby regions.”
His greatest challenge, he says, is to have a client repeat a destination. A trip to an exotic destination doesn’t need to be a once-in-a-lifetime event, and he tries to convince clients that repeating a destination will actually enhance their overall impression of an area and allow them to visit more places.
“Sometimes I feel that when the emphasis is on the one trip, the expectations rarely live up to reality,” he says. “Knowing you can return, I believe, helps eliminate the anxiety of having to have the perfect experience every time.”
Independent Affiliate of America’s Vacation Center/Avoya Travel
Queen Creek, AZ
“Two words set apart the best from the rest. Transactional vs. transformational,” Woody says. He wants his clients to have transformational experiences like they see on TV, and experience everything the planet has to offer.
Woody says that he has embraced all forms of technology to communicate with his clients in the method they prefer. “Despite having this digital barrier that can often take away the personalization in communicating, I have used it as an asset for both my business and my customer,” he explains. “My clients appreciate my desire to communicate with them in the method that fits their lifestyle, whether that is an e-mail, text message, social networking, or the phone.”
Among the more memorable trips he’s organized, he says, was a 27-night South Pacific, Australia/New Zealand cruise with a land tour. “At the start of the client’s journey, I arranged for them to fly to Papeete Tahiti and stay a few nights before boarding the third leg of the Seabourn Odyssey’s 17-night New Zealand cruise ending in Sydney.” Upon arrival in Australia the client flew to Brisbane where they stayed at O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat. After a few days in a villa overlooking the valley, they flew back to Sydney and then drove to the Blue Mountains and stayed at Lilianfels. They ended their vacation with a final few days in Sydney before heading back to the U.S.