Taking leisure seriously

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life072108At Garber Travel in Beverly, Mass., a client's travel experience begins with the first visit to its newly renovated office, before destinations have even been discussed.

At least, that is the intent behind the office's high-end boutique feel. The decor combines artifacts and furnishings suggestive of exotic destinations with modern elements such as glass desks, VoIP Internet phones and a large-screen, plasma TV for viewing travel videos.

Garber Travel opened the revamped Beverly office, doubling its size and gaining lots of storefront visibility, in mid-May after spending six months devising a total redesign. Recast as an International Travel Center, it is the first of several refittings on tap for the agency's leisure branches.

It represents a major statement of faith by Garber/FCm Travel Solutions, No. 25 on Travel Weekly's 2008 Power List, in the future of face-to-face travel consultations with leisure travelers.

Roz Garber, president and CEO of Garber/FCm, said she set out to increase sales at Garber Travel, the company's leisure division, by attracting "upscale clients who appreciate the skills of our agents."

To that end, she hired "a dynamic travel professional," Carolina Murillo, as the agency's leisure district manager and charged her with devising a plan. Murillo proposed the chain of International Travel Centers to Garber and made the case for investment.

Garber said she agreed because "we've realized there is growing dissatisfaction with the Web and that [clients] really are on their own without a travel agent." She said clients need an advocate, and Garber Travel wants to be that advocate.

She also can justify a place where clients "step into an experience," where they find a place that is "beautiful, serene and zenlike." Beverly is an upscale community north of Boston where the agency can target households with six-figure incomes. These customers will want to talk to someone about their five- and six-figure vacations, and, said Murillo, they are "collectors of experiences." At the Beverly location, Garber has six well-traveled counselors with 15 or more years selling travel.

The agency is promoting the reinvented leisure branch in direct mailings to its database of households with incomes of more than $250,000; via its leisure program for corporate customers; in Boston Globe magazine ads; and, for a few months, on a nearby billboard.

Garber Travel is the leisure division of a $426 million agency that employs 370 people. The bulk of the business (90%) is corporate and accounted for in 17 full-service business travel offices in the U.S., Canada and the U.K.; a Garber emergency travel center in Boston; and 33 on-site corporate locations in the U.S. Another 1% of sales is meetings, and the remainder is leisure.

Roz Garber said she isn't specifically trying to grow leisure as a share of the agency's sales as long as all the business grows, but she expects the portion of leisure sales accounted for by upscale products to grow from a third to "at least 50%."

Garber Travel joined the Ensemble Travel Group early this year because that "just adds to the concept with [Ensemble's] phenomenal marketing and value-added amenities," and the agency wants the in-country support Ensemble affiliates can provide to clients once they have left home. This is Garber Travel's first affiliation with a leisure marketing group in 62 years.

In another first under Roz Garber's stewardship, which dates from 2002, she sold 25% of the closely held family business to Australia-based FCm Travel Solutions, in part for reasons that parallel the Ensemble affiliation: to obtain overseas support for clients; in this case, business travelers.  

The agency, based in Chestnut Hill, Mass., was founded by Roz Garber's father-in-law, Bernie Garber, in 1946. When the senior Garber died in 1999, his son Lou, Roz's husband, became president. Lou Garber tapped his wife to be his successor after he was diagnosed with cancer in 2001. He died the following year.

Her background was 25 years in the nonprofit world, having served as assistant director of the Synagogue Council of Massachusetts and executive director of Hadassah in Boston.

Nevertheless, she said, her husband trusted her to learn and take over a business "where I knew nothing." She learned through tutorials by staff experts.

As for future International Travel Centers, she said each existing leisure site would be assessed for the makeover as each lease comes up for renewal. Downtown Boston is the next candidate, and Garber said that office could be converted by the end of the summer.

Perfect Itinerary
Ride along Portugal's wine route

itin072108The following itinerary to the Alentejo region of Portugal was prepared by Denise Felizardo, an international destination specialist at Garber Travel's new International Travel Center in Beverly, Mass. The Alentejo region has been noted for its vineyards from the days of the Romans. There are about 22 wineries between Evora and Estremoz.

Day 1: Upon arrival at Lisbon Airport, pickup by private car for transfer to Evora, a Unesco World Heritage site. In the town of Evora, visit a Roman temple, Gothic cathedral, Moorish terraces and the Chapel of Bones inside the Church of Sao Francisco. Dinner at a local restaurant.  Overnight at the five-star Convento do Espinheiro Heritage Hotel and Spa (www.conventodoespinheiro.com).

Day 2: Morning free to enjoy the hotel's spa. After lunch, travel through the Sao Mamede Route by private car for an itinerary that includes six wineries with wine tasting and dinner at one of the local winery restaurants. Overnight at Convento do Espinheiro Heritage Hotel and Spa.

Day 3: After breakfast at the hotel, follow the area's historical wine route in a private car. The route consists of 12 wineries, and the day includes lunch with wine tasting and dinner. Overnight at Convento do Espinheiro Heritage Hotel and Spa.

Day 4: After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to Lisbon by private car. Enjoy guided sightseeing at the Tower of Belem, the Jeronimos Monastery and the Castle of Sao Jorge, which dates from the Roman era. Walk the narrow streets of Alfama, Lisbon's traditional district, to visit handicraft shops and taste port wine. Conclude the day with dinner and traditional fado music. Overnight at Pestana Palace (www.pestana.com).

Day 5: Enjoy Lisbon on your own in the morning. Pickup by private car for an afternoon trip to Sintra to visit the Royal Palace and enjoy local sweets and tea at the Royal Palace Tea Room. Continue to the Cascais beach area and the Estoril Casino. Overnight at Pestana Palace.

Day 6: After breakfast, transfer to Lisbon Airport.

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