Honeymoon guru dishes out advice online

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Absolute Travel's Natalie Navares is an in-house "honeymoon guru" with an online presence. Anyone can ask her questions and get her advice online for all to see.

If you check out her web page at www.absolutetravel.com/honeymoonguru, you'll find looking back at you a practical, no-nonsense type who, with dark-rimmed spectacles and dark hair pulled back from her face, looks amazingly like Jo Frost, star of ABC-TV's "Supernanny."

NatalieNavares"Thank goodness the honeymoon guru is here to help," reads a company statement that is similar to something the Supernanny would say.

The company denies a takeoff on the TV show, subliminal or otherwise.

"That's Natalie, that's how she looks," a spokeswoman said. "The resemblance is stunning but entirely unintentional."

The need for a honeymoon guru is real, the company maintains. Honeymoon travel runs nearly twice the cost of regular outbound leisure travel, and honeymoons are more luxurious than ever. And with the high price tag comes high expectations that sometimes need to be tamed.

The site, launched early this year with little promotion, is not the first Q&A section on a website, but its singular focus on honeymoons around the world makes it different, and, according to the guru herself, "there is an audience for it."

"Initially, I received maybe one question every week or two," Navares said. "Now I receive several questions each week, and many of these turn into longer, off-line conversations. Agents and direct clients have been very receptive."

Navares, who joined Absolute Travel in 1997, said she finds her job often requires the skills of a therapist ("planning a honeymoon can be an extremely stressful exercise"), although the former florist makes no claims in that area.

The key issues, Navares said, are:

• Scaling back a couple's "crazy-ambitious" honeymoon plans. "Americans tend to be active on their honeymoons, want once-in-a-lifetime experiences and don't realize that some trips, coming a day or two after a wedding, can be too ambitious and tiring," she said. "They email me with the idea of an itinerary that sounds cool, but in reality translates into hours on the plane to make it all happen."

• The weather as a factor in choosing a destination. "Uncertainty or sometimes complete lack of knowledge about local weather conditions becomes crucial when planning a honeymoon," Navares said. "A discussion of the weather in Thailand in June might lead to discussions of what activities can be arranged at that time of year and what beach resort would be appropriate. There are different seasonality issues, depending on which coast in Thailand you're heading to."

• Budget wisdom. "Many questions revolve around what is good value," she said. "For example, if a couple has a limited budget and can't decide between Africa and Thailand, the counsel is easy: Thailand is a better value destination than Africa. But couples often take their budget and try to find a trip that works for them, but end up picking a destination that simply will not allow for a luxurious experience with a limited budget. In those cases, it's helpful to understand that the bride and groom are searching for the impossible trip."

The website provides a link to travel agents "for anyone who doesn't have a travel agent but is looking for a good one," Navares said.

"We really value our relationship with travel agents and encourage them to send their clients to our website to browse destinations, hotel reviews and itineraries," she said. "However, we always want to refer clients back to their travel agents."

The honeymoon guru said agents can post questions on the site and/or call her for information.

"Honestly, I think what is most helpful about the service I provide is the range of my destination knowledge," she said. "Many traditional honeymoon advisors may have a specialty (cruises, the Caribbean), and they tend to steer clients in that direction or can only speak to that type of trip. I have planned trips throughout the world, and I have traveled to most of our destinations.

"Often travel agents get asked about destinations they know nothing about, and they use my knowledge to make them look like a real pro. Recently, an agent called me about a honeymoon couple that was considering something exotic like the Maldives, Bali, Africa or Thailand. She knew nothing about any of those destinations. By the time I was through with her, she had all kinds of exciting itineraries to forward to her clients."

Absolute Travel is a New York-based provider of private and customized luxury travel experiences to Asia, Africa, South America and the South Pacific.

For more information, call (800) 736-8187 or visit the company's website.

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