Meeting the Vacation Challenge


Only a seasoned agent would know the nuances of flight schedules from New York to Jamaica. Or that Beaches Negril can accommodate five people to a room -- and that it also offers kids state-of-the art video game equipment.

Donna Guttman, co-owner of No. 1 Travel in Merrick, N.Y., knows all those things and, its safe to say, a whole lot more. In fact, her prodigious knowledge of the travel industry is what landed her on the Travel Channels Vacation Challenge, which debuted in September.

Each episode features one set of travelers who are presented with three vacation options tailored by three agents. In the Oct. 18 episode, three retailers were given a limited budget to design a Caribbean vacation for a family of five from the New York area.

The family was offered vacation options to Nassau and Puerto Rico but, in the end, opted for Guttmans Jamaica vacation to Beaches Negril.

Guttman said her skills at qualifying clients were aptly showcased by the familys vacation choice. The father, a police detective who was active in the 9/11 rescue efforts, and his wife, an occupational therapist, had three children and told Guttman they wanted to relax and unwind.

They wanted a place where the kids could be occupied and where they could spend some time alone, explained Guttman. The kids hadnt ever been on a plane. They hadnt really traveled anywhere but local destinations like Virginia, but they were definitely open to new experiences.

Beaches Negril, she said, fit the familys demographics. They had young kids, and he was a fifth-generation police officer very much affected by 9/11 who wanted to totally relax. They were just a very down-to-earth family.

The Travel Channel show, said Guttman, illustrated the value of using travel agents. For her part, Guttman has visited Beaches Negril and knows the resort inside and out. She knows how its rooms are configured, what amenities are available for children and adults -- and what type of client would find this vacation appealing.

For instance, only a qualified agent would know that Beaches has an Xbox video game center where kids can play a variety of Xbox video games, and a Kids Kamp, which keeps kids occupied.

Sales skills are as important as product knowledge, said Guttman.

I think what makes me a good agent is my interpersonal skill, she said. People feel comfortable with me knowing that Im booking their trips. I foster relationships.

Guttman, who is a second-generation retailer who works for the agency her parents, Irwin and Beverly Markman, founded 25 years ago, held part-time jobs at the agency in high school and college.

After graduating from college, Guttman worked as an account executive for an advertising agency. I didnt like the ad business, she said. I needed to be out selling.

Her next job, selling pharmaceuticals, was much more to her liking. The job taught her first and foremost how to deal with rejection. Its tough to sell to doctors, she said. Its a hard sell.

Her attitude now is: You try to figure out what you did wrong and not make the same mistake twice. Just move on when youre not going to close the deal.

Although No. 1 Travel always has sold a high percentage of upscale travel, its affiliation with Virtuoso that began four years ago has greatly boosted the companys sales.

Before joining Virtuoso, Guttman said she shied away from booking on-site destination trip elements. That has changed, thanks to the consortiums on-site travel partners.

Previously, I never pushed creating individual elements of trips, she said. I would always tell clients theyd be better off going to hotel concierges to arrange day tours. Now, I contact a Virtuoso on-site and they create the whole specialized itinerary -- and Im making more money.

Guttman added that she also has forged stronger ties with cruise and hotel suppliers, thanks to Virtuoso. For instance, she met the general manager of Italys Palazzo Sasso, Stefano Gegnancorsi, at Virtuoso Travel Mart and was able to capitalize on the meeting in an unexpected way.

A week after the Travel Mart, I sent clients for the first time to Palazzo Sasso in Ravello, she said. When they arrived at the hotel, the general manager came out and told them what a wonderful travel agent they had -- and he immediately upgraded them. This is something the client told me they will never forget.

Which, she added, is the very thing selling travel is all about -- unforgettable experiences.

To contact Agent Life reporter Claudette Covey, send e-mail [email protected].

The Perfect Itinerary

Five days in Fiji

John Clifford, president of San Diego-based International Travel Management, created an itinerary to Fijis main island of Viti Levu on the Coral Coast that is well suited for shorter itineraries. This stretch is a sunny locale, safe from the rains and high humidity of Suva, Clifford said.

Agent John CliffordDay 1

Clients check into Shangri-Las Fijian Resort on an islet linked to Viti Levu by a causeway. This place has the most recreational features of any Fijian resort as well as a pristine beach and a crystal-clear lagoon, said Clifford. He suggests dining at the waterfront Vilisites Seafood Restaurant near the Shangri-La. This restaurant, owned and operated by a friendly Fijian woman named Vilisite, doesnt look like much from the outside, but it offers a nice selection of excellent seafood to complement the fantastic view of Fijis Coral Coast from the veranda, said Clifford.

Day 2

Travelers take a ride on the Coral Coast Railway located right outside the resort. The railway uses two restored sugar cane locomotives for a variety of excursions on narrow-gauge railroads through the cane fields and along the coastline. The most popular trip travels to Natadola Beach for swimming and a beachside barbecue lunch, said Clifford. Prices run about $57, including lunch.

Day 3

Clients visit the remote and scenic villages of the Nausori Highlands. Along the way theyll visit Nakabuta, the Pottery Village, where the residents make and sell authentic Fijian pottery. They have dinner in Nadi at Chefs, the Restaurant. Chef Eugene Gomes establishment offers gourmet cuisine, excellent service and many fine touches that make for one of Fijis finest dining experience, said Clifford.

Day 4

A day cruise takes travelers to one the Mamanuca islands resorts for lunch, snorkeling, swimming and boating.

Day 5

Clients tour the capital city of Suva, with stops at the cultural center at Pacific Harbour. They can shop for handcrafts in Suva and then finish the day with a visit to the Fiji Museum. The site for lunch is Suvas Old Mill Cottage. Diplomats and government workers fill this old colonial cottage at breakfast and lunch for some of the regions best and most affordable food, Clifford said. The site for dinner is the Shangri-Las Takali Terrace, which features Asian cuisine and sweeping views of the bay.

Hand in Hand

Costa Cruises, agency find common ground

Most people probably havent heard of Mountain Home, Ark. But when Joseph Cavarra, senior vice president of sales development for North America at Costa Cruises, met Cameron Tucker, who owns Professional Travel Services here, bells went off.

Joe was familiar with the place, said Tucker, recalling that initial meeting at Julys conference in Las Vegas. It was one of his first sales territories many years ago, and he knew it was a [popular] place to retire.

Retirees translate into group business, a segment that Costa has long aggressively pursued. Capturing group business also is a priority at Professional Travel Services. We do a lot of groups, and were always looking to produce more, said Tucker.

Soon after the meeting, Cavarra and Tucker strategized on ways to capture a large share of group business from the surrounding region.

Costa Cruises helped Arkansas agent Cameron Tucker boost his group business. Shown, the lineCosta and the agency planned several cruise shows, the first of which drew 100 people to a local hotel for lunch. The decor and meal were carefully chosen to reflect Costas Cruising, Italian Style image, said Tucker.

To incentivize attendees to buy, Costa offered complimentary upgrades and an array of prizes for attendees who signed up at the show.

At least 15 to 20 signed up that day, said Tucker, adding that Costa and the agency were promoting two different cruises during the lunch.

Costa also has helped the agency subsidize the cost of a billboard that promotes the cruise line, and the agency is cosponsoring several other cruise promotions in regions just outside Mountain Home to help the agency capture even more group business. Theyve bent over backwards for this agency, said Tucker.

Cavarra said Costa looks to form partnerships with agencies just like Professional Travel Services.

Theyre very aggressive and followed through on everything we had discussed during our meeting in Las Vegas, he said. They took immediate action. When we recommend what we think they should do, they do it.

Hand in Hand highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working together. Send suggestions to [email protected].

Turens Tips

Compelling TV: The Amazing Race

By Richard Turen

Richard TurenWhen it debuted in 2001, CBSs The Amazing Race pulled in anything but amazing ratings. But the show, originally overshadowed by the popularity of Survivor, came into its own this season.

Winner of two straight Emmy awards as best reality series and high on virtually every critics list, The Amazing Race ought to be required watching for anyone who has designs on a career in travel.

It serves to illustrate just how frustrating, difficult and wonderfully inspiring travel to the far corners of the earth can be. Take, for example, the first episode of the spring 2002 season.

Teams of two gathered in Pahrump, Nev. They received their instructions to book the first flight to Rio. From Rio they had to meet the Big Guy (the Christo Redentor statue) on Corcovado, Kiss Fat Maria on Paqueta Island, take a gondola to the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain and then rappel down the mountain.

Each week, one team is eliminated. Each week, obstacles are placed in teams paths. Each week, teams have to choose from travel alternatives. There are, of course, the personality conflicts. And there is the money at the end. Some of the contestants ask for the Lords guidance, while others pull every scam possible to defeat the competition.

On limited funds, contestants have to negotiate fares in the airport, figure out routes and choose seats near the exit door for the fastest exit.

I like the scenes at international airports. Many of the facilities are better organized, cleaner and more service-focused than ones in the U.S.

Yes, one or two of the younger contestants felt Calcutta smelled rotten and they saw, along with viewers, unbridled poverty. But there was also something in the hearts and souls of the Indian people that came through the screen.

You could trust the local taxi drivers. People would try hard to give contestants the right directions to their next location. No one in Calcutta tried to rip them off.

Ive never been an advocate of armchair travel. But this television show is happily addictive, and it offers inspiration to anyone who wants to go off and see some of this planet.

And when the new season airs, likely in the coming months, be sure to watch for the one skillful team that learns that the best way to navigate flights, routes and nasty situations is with the assistance of a good local travel agent.

It turns out that when youre smack in the middle of travel reality -- the Internet isnt all that helpful.

Industry consultant Richard Turen owns the vacation-planning firm Churchill & Turen Ltd., based in Naperville, Ill. Contact him at [email protected].

5 Things

Creating successful fund-raising cruises

1. Allow enough time to promote the event. If youre going to try to promote a fund-raiser in a short period of time, you wont be successful, said Susan Zoller, president of Tampa-based Cruise World, an agency that specializes in fund-raising cruises. You need at least a year to a year-and-a half.

2. Select the right cruise line and look for corporate sponsorships. Enter negotiations on the nonprofits behalf, said Zoller, and select several lines and see which will give you the best concessions. Corporate sponsorships will help offset costs. For instance, if youre promoting a church group, most houses of worship have corporate professionals who attend services. These people can sponsor events, advertise and make donations, said Zoller. Theyll get some nice recognition and feel good about giving a few extra dollars to a special cruise.

3. Form a committee of volunteers to assist you in your endeavors. Its vital to get volunteers involved, said Zoller. If theyre going to work as pied pipers theyll be enthusiastic and enjoy the feeling of being part of the venture. If you do it alone, you wont get the support you need. 

4. Make the promotions process fun. Invite as many people as possible and generate enthusiasm, said Zoller. If youre promoting a church group, invite the cruise rep, feature door prizes and have a raffle, she suggested. Our agency had a raffle for a church group, and we ended up raising $12,000 just from that, she said, adding that her group of volunteers helped create the ambience of the promotion in the church community center. Theres no way one person can do it all alone, she said. If you do it together as a committee its really wonderful.

5. Accompany the group. Its important to be hands-on throughout, said Zoller. If, for some reason, agents cant sail, they should make sure to accompany the group on board for embarkation -- and throw a bon voyage party of some sort. Its important to bond with the group, she said.


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