Susan Weissberg knows a thing or two about
tough times in the travel business. She was working for an agency
in Tel Aviv during the Yom Kippur War in 1973, a job that combined
the challenge of handling customer needs in wartime with attending
to personal safety.
On top of that,
with only three years in the business, she had been left to run the
agency because her two bosses were "fighting for their lives" in
the war, she said. "That toughened me for anything in
While in Israel, as
a result of volunteering at hospitals, she became involved with the
NAVAH Organization, a charity that she still raises funds
It is an
organization that assists the victims of terror, without regard to
ethnic background; it helps "any whose lives have been torn out
from under them," she said.
The volunteer work
in Israel can be seen as the start of a lifelong devotion to
philanthropic endeavors, although, to be precise, Weissberg said,
it all really started with her mother, who kept a charity box in
their home in Canada's Alberta province and encouraged the kids to
donate their pennies.
"beautiful and wonderful" Alberta because warmer climates suited
her better. Israel fit the bill, as did Florida, where she has
lived since 1983.
In 1987, she and a
partner (whom Weissberg later bought out) bought Wyllys
Professional Travel from Harold Binder. Weissberg moved it from
Miami Beach to Coral Gables, where it is now located in the annex
to the Westin Colonnade Hotel.
The agency, with 24
staff and hosted independent contractors, all on a commission pay
system, is about 50-50 corporate-leisure, said Weissberg, who is
the agency president.
clients from all over the world, is unique for its global reach,
she said. Some of its clients first came to the agency when they
were guests at the Westin. The agency and overseas customers do
business via e-mail or cell phone, Weissberg said.
The agency also can
boast that staffers speak seven languages, and Weissberg herself
speaks four of them: English, French, Hebrew and Spanish. (Staff
also can assist travelers in Arabic, Italian and
half the clients are Floridians, and regardless of locale or
worldly rank, she said, "we treat them all as if they were our only
clients." That includes giving customers access to her or her staff
around the clock. "My clients can call me day or night," she said.
"And believe me, they do."
emphasizes exotic travel. "All agents have in-depth experience, and
I encourage them to go to the exotic destinations. ... Seeing is
selling." She might also have said that doing is selling: Weissberg
became a certified scuba diver in order to better sell scuba
Weissberg said the
key to success for her agency was "the contacts I've established
worldwide over 37 years. They allow me to break wait lists and get
upgrades for clients." Upgrades and other value-added amenities on
cruises and land bookings were key reasons for her agency's
membership in Ensemble.
Weissberg, a member
of the Ensemble board, was the leader of an Ensemble group of
clients to Vietnam in 2001. During a side journey to Cambodia, she
said that she was "deeply moved" by the poverty and particularly by
the fact rural Cambodians did not have clean water.
This situation "had
been on my mind for many years," she said, when in 2006 a client
returned from Cambodia and said: "We have to do
So the pair began
raising funds to install safe drinking wells for the boat people of
Siem Reap; the first well has been installed, with more to
have local beneficiaries. Several years ago, Weissberg said, one of
her agents was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, which inspired
her to work with Royal Caribbean International as the cruise line's
liaison with the Multiple Sclerosis Society in connection with a
fashion show fund-raiser that yielded $300,000 for the society. She
said her employee "is an inspiration to me," and she expects a
continued involvement with other fund-raisers.
charity of Weissberg's is the Funding Arts Network in Miami.
Weissberg helps the organization raise funds used as grants to
support new talent. The group will raise and distribute more than
$200,000 this year, she said.
This is not an
exhaustive list of Weissberg's commitments, past and present. In
addition, she said, "My work is not finished." She would like to
expand the clean-wells project to other countries."
She also dreams of
creating an arts scholarship for students at risk, and she would
like to see the Funding Arts Network raise enough money to approve
all worthy grant requests, instead of the 25% of grant requests
that it can fund today.
Think you're a good candidate for an upcoming Agent Life?
Contact Nadine Godwin, Agent Life editor, at [email protected], and please include your
agency name, agency location, telephone number and e-mail address
in the message and put "Agent Life" in the subject
the dreaded questions
Talk to any travel industry
speaker, trainer or consultant and they'll tell you this: The same
half-dozen questions regularly and predictably come up.
As a result, most
speakers have developed tried, true and, hopefully, insightful
responses to these typical questions. The answers may sound off the
cuff, but they're well rehearsed.
A few questions,
though, defy a simple, single solution. Presenters sometimes call
them the "dreaded questions." They're the ones that have no pat,
prepared response, or at least an answer that totally solves the
Over the years,
three such questions have flustered me.
The first: "What
should I say when my client asks, 'What's the best cruise line?'
I recently solved
that one: "The best cruise line is the one that best fits your
needs. So let me ask you a few questions ..."
A good answer to my
second dreaded question still eludes me: "What should I do when the
wife wants one kind of vacation but the husband wants something
In some cases, the
right destination solves this dilemma. More often, you end up being
a referee, with one client on the phone, the other in the
background. (Inevitably, they don't realize that you can hear them
I need your help on
this one. If you have a creative way of dealing with out-of-sync
couples, send it along to the letters editor at Travel Weekly, at
My final dreaded
question is: "How can you control a customer who talks too
In an era when time
is precious, chatterboxes are an awful drain on efficiency and
profitability. Even worse, they hijack your sales
Here are ideas that
some front-line phone salespeople recently shared with
" Be alert
to the moment when the talker pauses to take a breath
(yes, they do breathe). At that instant, slip in and comment
positively on something they've just said -- they'll usually stop
to savor your comment -- then move directly to closing the
making "feedback sounds." As we listen, we tend to say
"uh-huh," "yes," and "really?" to reassure a caller that we're
listening and, in the cell phone era, that we're still
When a person has
been talking too long, stop making those reassuring sounds. They'll
feel uncomfortable or believe that they've been cut off. Take
advantage of this brief confusion to step back into the
conversation and retake control.
" Ask only
closed-ended questions. Usually, open-ended questions like
"What did you do on your last vacation?" generate the richest
insights. With a talker, though, open-ended questions are
dangerous. Stick to closed-ended questions that elicit simple,
factual answers. This may help.
what my mother calls a "white lie" is the solution. Cut
into the conversation by saying, "I don't want to interrupt you,
but another client has an appointment with me in 10 minutes. Let's
see if we can pull your plans together before I go." This approach
enables you to interrupt without being blatantly
A variation: Tell
them at the very beginning that you'll have to finish by a certain
time because of another client appointment and also because they
might lose the reservation if it doesn't get made now.
" If you
need to give informationto someone that you know
will eat up your time, respond by e-mail or voice-mail;
for example, call their home number if you're pretty sure they're
" If you must speak to them,call when they're at work but are likely to be in a
hurry, like just before lunch or at the end of the
" If it's a
face-to-face situation,ask them to join you as
you go, say, to the convenience store next door. Once you
get there, make your little purchase, conclude your conversation
with the proper niceties and go back to work, leaving them at the
effective: Walk them from your workspace, then explain you're going
to the bathroom.
people contact you with no intention of buying travel. Their goal
is to have an audience for their thoughts, using the possibility of
a purchase as the bait.
Don't waste your
time and energy trying to get someone like this back on track. They
have no track. They'll probably never book anything. Start talking
and, in mid-sentence, disconnect the call. Accept no calls for five
minutes, and pray they go on to torture someone else.
Marc Mancini is an industry speaker and consultant who
teaches at West Los Angeles College.