Quality Time crafts programs for single parents

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NEW YORK -- Becoming a single mom with two young sons seven years ago was a rude awakening for Sharyn Saffan, the founder and owner of Quality Time Travel in Commack, N.Y.

It hurt that her circle of friends had suddenly changed, Saffan said, and it bothered her that when she was on vacation with her boys, she had no one to talk to or hang out with.

Children on a Quality Time vacation have the same needs as their single parents: to make new friends who are much like themselves. "The kids had a great time at family-oriented resorts, but I was alone," she said. "Most of the guests either were couples or had no kids and didn't want my company. It was a pretty lonely experience."

Fired up by this experience, and with experience as a travel agent, Saffan started Quality Time Travel, an agency dedicated to helping single parents plan their vacations.

But it wasn't easy.

"I spent years talking to groups, asking friends for names of friends and creating incentives to get potential clients before I opened my doors," Saffan said.

"Now I have a mailing list of more than 2,000 single parents and stay in contact with them by e-mail blasts, the Internet, regular mailings -- whatever it takes."

Cruises are by far the most popular product for single parents, she said, because there's so much for the kids to do day and night that single mothers and fathers get the opportunity to mingle.

However, that "meeting and mingling" isn't always accidental.

Saffan will book a cocktail party for her groups of 20 or reserve a space by the pool at an all-inclusive -- the second type of preferred vacation for single parents -- and plan simultaneous activities for the kids.

She'll arrange a game or two with prizes, throw a private barbecue and make sure the single parents sit together at dinner.

This worked for Bonnie Burton from New York's Westchester County.

Burton began traveling when her son was 6 years old and her daughter was 3.

Four trips later, all of them booked by Quality, both mom and children gave the company high marks.

"Whenever we plan a trip, my kids always ask to go with Quality," Burton said.

Because not every client needs or wants "togetherness" all the time, Saffan designs travel so clients can come and go as they please.

However, the majority buys into being together and doing the same things.

"We've had a few marriages come of my trips and many long-lasting friendships," Saffan said.

Although cruises are attrac-tive to single parents, clients seldom seem comfortable traveling farther than the Caribbean or Mexico, often because of custodial issues, she said.

Also, Saffan said, "There seems to be a distance thing that kicks in -- this far and no farther."

Quality Time, which organizes about 12 trips a year, lately has been booking individual trips for single parents who want to travel with their kids but don't necessarily want to be part of a group.

"As a travel agent, I know my clients and product," Saffan said. "I know which destinations and which activities work for single parents."

Quality Time welcomes travel agents interested in booking single-parent family vacations. Commission is 10% on cruises and land packages.

For more information, call (888) 758-9386; e-mail [email protected] or visit www.qualitytimetravel.com.

Kaleel Sakakeeny covers the family travel market for Travel Weekly and can be reached at [email protected].

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For more details on this article, see Introducing the single-parent traveler.

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