Customers looking for standard cruises wont
find what theyre looking for at Leslie Fambrinis travel agency. And
she wouldnt have it any other way -- because Fambrini focuses on
one sector of the cruise industry and one sector only: luxury.
Fambrini, owner of
Personalized Travel Consultants in Los Altos, Calif., will tell you
that she learned from the creme de la creme of cruise companies:
The venerable Royal Viking Line, where in 1973 she took a job as an
administrative temp and stayed for 11 years.
I loved the deluxe
nature of the product and cruising, she said. As far as an
introduction to the industry, it could not have been better. We
were selling the best at the best time in history. The product did
nothing but make people happy.
Through the years she
worked in the companys shore excursions department and as an
in-house travel agent. Arranging tours worldwide for Royal Viking
passengers gave me the confidence to open my own business, she
In the 1980s Fambrini
did just that, opening a small office on the 11th floor of an
office building. I was always told that the most successful agents
were upstairs, she said, adding that shes also believed that phone
conversations are far more efficient than walk-in
It has never been her
intent to be one of the biggest agencies, Fambrini said. She runs
the business with just one assistant. I want to control everything,
she said, and Id rather have quality over quantity. I not only am
able to focus on my cruise products and clients, but Im so small I
dont have the disruptions agents with larger offices
Keeping her business
small also enabled Fambrini to focus on building relationships with
both cruise lines and customers. Its all about personal
relationships combined with good, old-fashioned hard work, she
said. Ive been doing this for eight hours a day, five days a week
for 30 years.
The hard work and
personalized service appear to have paid off. A case in point: I
have one client who is on his 141st cruise with one cruise line.
Repeat customers, she said, become a part of her family.
You know them so well
that you know all their needs. You try to anticipate their needs,
Fambrini said. And just make sure that everythings just right. You
choose a product that you know is just right for them.
Knowing the ships she
sells -- and ensuring they meet the clients exacting standards --
is equally as important as cultivating client and cruise line
relationships, she noted. Fambrini is judicious about choosing
ships to sail on. I turn down more trips than I take, she said. You
cant produce and be out there on ships all the time.
When on a cruise,
Fambrini pays close attention to the attitude and spirit of the
crew and how they interact with guests. Then theres the cleanliness
factor. Fambrini said she scours the edges of rooms for evidence of
lint or dust.
A little help
from her friends
Virtuoso, is equally as exacting, said Fambrini, adding that she
wouldnt want to exist without it. Virtuoso not only enables
Personalized Travel Consultants to offer clients the best fares --
its Voyager Club provides clients with value that cannot be
translated into dollars.
For instance, her
clients are treated to personalized shore excursions and cocktail
parties available only to Virtuoso-member clients. We make our
shore excursions the most fabulous available in any particular
port, she said.
Fambrini hasnt had to
actively advertise these special services. She has relied on the
publicity of such publications as Conde Nast Traveler, where, year
after year, she is recommended as one of the publications Travel
Conde Nast has really
helped me build my business, she said. Its been a real honor. The
listing in the publication, she said, has helped her tap the
lucrative baby boomer market.
Whats so exciting to
me is the baby boomer generation and the way in which its members
are evolving, said Fambrini. Theyre sophisticated and they know
what they want. In essence, she said, this generation of travelers
wants enlightening, educational experiences when
baby boomers love luxury, and Fambrini believes she knows how to
keep them happy. They come back with smiles, she said. Its very
seldom I ever hear a complaint. Its just a win-win, positive
To contact Agent
Life reporter Claudette Covey, send e-mail[email protected].
Anchorage and beyond
Margaret Propper, a travel
counselor and Alaska specialist at Brownell Travel in Birmingham,
Ala., has traveled to Alaska 25 times and will be attending the
Iditarod dogsled race in March. Proppers perfect itinerary begins
in Anchorage and visits Prince William Sound, the Kenai Peninsula
and the Katmai Coast.
Clients spend the
night at the 307-room Alyeska Resort in Girdwood, which is 40 miles
from Anchorage. From Anchorage, they take an Alpine Air flight to a
glacier where they meet up with their team of dogs that drives them
across the glacier. Afterwards, clients spend some time with their
team before flying back to the resort, said Propper. In the
afternoon, travelers hike on trails around the lodge. In the
evening, they dine at Seven Glaciers restaurant, which is accessed
by cable car. You have a view of seven glaciers when the weather is
clear, Propper said.
Travelers depart via
rental car for a short drive to Whittier, where they board a Prince
William Sounds Cruises and Tours vessel and take in the scenic
vistas of Prince William Sound. They have lunch onboard. Dinner
that evening is at the Turnagain House, whose specialties include
fresh Alaska seafood, prime rib, duck and lamb.
Travelers check out
of the Alyeska Resort for a scenic drive to Homer on the Kenai
Peninsula, taking in the beautiful views and small villages en
route. They overnight at the four-bedroom Aloha Bed and Breakfast,
with sweeping views of glaciers, the Kenai Mountains and the Homer
Clients board a small
plane operated by Bald Mountain Air Service and fly to the Katmai
Coast for a day of bear viewing. You are sure to see lots of bear
as the plane is able to land where the bears are fishing, said
Travelers spend the
morning bird watching on the Homer Spit, a 4.5-mile-long bar of
gravel that extends from the Homer shoreline. In the afternoon,
they depart for the drive back to Anchorage. En route they stop at
Exit Glacier to hike on a paved trail up to the glacier. Later they
stop at the Portage Glacier Visitors center and the Native Heritage
Center on the outskirts of Anchorage. They dine at Simon and
Seaforts in Anchorage, which specializes in seafood.
Itinerary is an example of an itinerary an agent crafted his or
herself, not available anywhere else, but can be duplicated by
other agents to sell to their clients. To send an example of an
itinerary youve customized, e-mail Covey at[email protected].
A New York
partner has all the answers
challenge: A recently divorced father wants to arrange a
vacation to New York for himself, his teenage daughter and four of
her friends. But he doesnt know how to plan such a trip for
teenagers, so he turns to his travel agent.
solution: The agent calls Manhattan-based Discover New
York With Kitt Garrett, her Virtuoso on-site partner that will
arrange virtually any New York special event or
Kitt Garrett arranged
for personal shoppers, limo transfers, the best seats in the house
for sold-out Broadway performances and a helicopter ride to see the
city, said Rebecca Falkenberry, an adventure and leisure travel
consultant at Hills Travel Service in St. Petersburg, Fla. The
father and daughter came home glowing with a renewed
All Falkenberry had
to do was provide the company the names and ages of the group and a
general idea of what they wanted to do while in New York. The
company took over the booking from there.
Falkenberry is so
comfortable with Kitt Garrett that she had no second thoughts about
putting the client directly in touch with the company. Thats a
wonderful gift to be able to trust the supplier to talk directly to
the client, she said.
Julia Salem, a client
services associate at Kitt Garrett who worked on the arrangements,
knew the right activities for the group. She knew that teenage
girls would rather check out hip clothing stores downtown than
visit the traditional shopping spots like Bergdorf or
She also knew which
personal shopper/guide to accompany the girls and which restaurants
and shows to book. They dined at Ruby Foos and took in Wicked, one
of Broadways hottest shows.
Our job is to take
away all the time an agent would spend booking the hotels,
arranging transfers and planning itineraries, she said. Kitt
Garrett is one-stop shopping. We can do it all for the
Hand in Hand
highlights successful examples of agents and suppliers working
together. Send suggestions to Covey at[email protected].
What does it all
Arent there words or
phrases you cant stand? I have a whole inventory of them. I thought
Id share them with you because they can easily disconnect you from
what youre trying to achieve with your client.
Suite. Whats a suite? It used to be a room with
clearly separate living and sleeping areas. Now it can refer to any
oversize room. And do super-luxury vessels really have all suites?
Or are they big staterooms? Or, CLIA forbid, cabins. Make sure your
customer doesnt get the wrong idea about what a suite
flight. This used to mean a flight stopped somewhere then
continued to another destination. Now airlines often surprise
passengers by announcing there will be a change of equipment when
they get to the first destination. The whole point was to stay on
hotel reservation. OK, suppose the hotel is oversold and
the guest gets walked to another property. (Guests usually walk in
a taxi.) Perhaps a guaranteed reservation means that if you dont
show up, youre guaranteed to have the first night billed to your
FIT. Dont even get me started on what FIT stands
for. If you think you know, ask a few other travel professionals.
Each may give you a different answer. I think its called that
because it inevitably gives you a fit.
Generational words and phrases. I shudder when I
hear an agent call several women you guys. Whats next, a young
agent who calls a client dude and says a trip is wack?
sentences. Have you heard any of the following? Youll have
to ... Its against policy ... I cant ... Were really busy ... Its
not my job (a timeless classic). At all costs, avoid avoidance
Contradictory phrases. Why does the American Plan
mean all meals are included, even though such plans are rare in the
U.S.? And what about the European Plan, in which no meals are
included -- even though many European hotel rates include
breakfast? Actually, Fred Miller,
Marriotts vice president of global sales, gave me the answer. Early
in the 20th century, many Americans were afraid of eating outside
their hotels, so all meals were provided. Conversely, Europeans
were adventuresome and preferred to eat away from the
Jargon. I once heard an agent say this to a
customer: The K and V seats are sold out, so you have an H seat
with a 50% penalty instead of an NR. That, of course, left the
Marc Mancini is
an industry speaker and consultant who teaches at West Los Angeles
tools for home-based agents
1. Wireless G
router: Linksys Wireless G Broadband Router with Speedbooster
WRT54G, about $75. You want a wireless network because it
gives you the flexibility to move your office equipment around
without having to worry about ethernet cables, said Rik Fairlie,
editor of Computer Shopper magazine. The G router lets you share
broadbrand connections with co-workers.
laser printer: Konica Minolta Magicolor 2430DL, about
$499. This laser printer will attract small businesses and
home users fed up with the high cost of color-inkjet cartridge
refills and photo paper, Fairlie said, adding that agents can
create professional brochures and itineraries. Inkjets are slow,
and cartridge costs are notoriously high. Lasers are better
all-around printers, he said.
hard drive: Maxtor OneTouch II, 300GB, starting at $250.
If your hard drive goes south, youre dead, said Fairlie. Everyone
needs to back up their work, but its often too much of a hassle.
With this 300-gigabyte hard drive, users press a button that
automatically duplicates their hard drive. Users also can opt to
automatically schedule overnight, unattended backups.
4. Voice Over
Internet Protocol (IP) phone: Linksys Vonage Phone Adapter Model,
PAP2, $59. This Internet phone enables agents to set up a
phone number in any area code and take the phone adapter with them
when they travel. Once you set it up, its like using a regular
phone, Fairlie said, and the service is cheaper than standard phone
Streets & Trips 2005 mapping software, $39. This
product is great for printing maps of cities for clients, Fairlie
said. Its faster than using online map services and offers better-