Honeymoons: Agent to Agent

Keys to success in selling honeymoon travel are listening carefully to the customer and knowing places personally, say agents who sell many such trips.

Angela Restivo at Sherman Oaks Travel in Sherman Oaks, Calif., says paying careful attention wins her a lot of repeat customers, as well as family members and friends of the honeymoon couple.

In getting to know properties firsthand, Restivo prefers fam trips to independent travel, provided the agents "are along to learn, not just for a holiday." Seminars are useful, she says, but she doesn't attend a lot of travel shows.

For most travelers, and certainly for less experienced ones, Cynthia Funderburk at Bryson Travel Agency in Staten Island, N.Y., "walks them through it," and gives brochures, books and videos about the destination.

"They rely on me. They tell me what they want. I listen and understand. And then it takes me less than 30 minutes to sell the trip. That's 80% of it."

Funderburk also sells them travel insurance, telling her clients that, "It's better to pay $30 than to lose $3,000."

For some couples, expenses are secondary. A two-week trip recently planned by Lucie Fattal at Westside Travel in Beverly Hills, Calif., included a wedding in Rome, arranged with Fattal's help, and a honeymoon traveling to Venice, Siena, Aix-en-Provence and Eze, using the best hotels. In addition, the couple invested in a pre-wedding trip to Rome to check out arrangements and talk with the people involved.

"I know the nice places personally," she says. "I travel on my own for inspections. If I know the owners, I go directly to them. Otherwise I use the Luxury Collection, Leading Hotels of the World and similar upscale sources."

Not all couples, however, can afford elaborate trips. With those, Malcolm Potter of Worldwide Travel in Tucson, Ariz., counsels patience.

"Younger couples often have dreams that are well beyond their budget," he says. "They have to be brought down gently. It's a matter of working with them. Many don't figure the costs of food and beverage, gratuities and other extras."

For these clients, Potter usually suggests inclusive hotels. He arranged a modestly priced Jamaican all-inclusive for a couple who thought they wanted a cruise but couldn't fit it into their budget. They were thrilled with the new experience and the help they received in making their dream come true, he says.

Potter has several pieces of advice for agents: "Ask where they've been in the past. Don't sell. Listen. Make a couple of alternatives. See which appeals. And then start pricing it out. If money wasn't a consideration, where would they like to go? And then make their dreams come true."

To arrive at the perfect vacation, Vicki Redman at Arrow Travel Center West in Tucson, Ariz., wants to know what the couple is able to do, as well as time available, budget, interests and the time of year. All that information goes into her intuitive formula for finding the ideal place.

"If Daddy's paying, we try to give them the best," she says. "One honeymoon couple just invested $20,000 for a suite on Crystal Cruises. They've traveled a lot together, and wanted the best.

"But if they have a $1,000 budget, we give them a three-day weekend at a nice resort nearby, where there's a romantic restaurant.

"Some people come in with a specific place in mind--a suggestion from a couple or a friend. Some come in with no clue and you can really steer them a lot," Redman says.

While she gets good information from trade shows in her area, especially when they have a good presentation, Redman says she prefers to "sell from firsthand knowledge--and what other customers come back and tell me."

"Honeymoon planning is a wonderful part of the business," Redman says. "It's a happy occasion. You're helping people do something they'll always remember. You try to make it as happy as possible."

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