Travel agent Lesley Egbert onboard Celebrity Silhouette during Avoya Travel’s annual conference // © 2015 Lesley Egbert
Feature image (above): Arenal Volcano, located near La Fortuna, Costa Rica, is a popular destination for Egbert’s active family clientele. // © 2015 Thinkstock
Travel seller Lesley Egbert hasn’t always catered to the family market. As the owner of Helena, Mont.-based Live Longitude — an independent agency of Avoya Travel — Egbert worked mostly with baby boomers, booking river cruises and guided tours around the world. Over time, though, word of her services spread. Not only were Egbert’s clients working with her to plan multigenerational family trips, their children, friends and neighbors were calling her, too.
Today, a substantial amount of Egbert’s business comes from families, and she has become skilled at matching groups with destinations and accommodations that suit their needs. She recently talked with TravelAge West about domestic and international favorites for families.
Why are travel agents a great resource for families?
We have the knowledge, the resources and the time required to find the destinations that best accommodate families, and we can package it in a way that gets clients the biggest bang for their buck. Travel agents also have established relationships with suppliers. A lot of the trips I work on have several components — if clients tried to book all of those on their own, it would be more expensive.
While sites such as TripAdvisor are a good resource, it helps clients to work with someone who knows the destination or the property. If you haven’t been there, you won’t know if that’s the right fit until arrival.
What destinations have the highest satisfaction rate among your clients traveling with children?
I do a mix of trip styles and places. A cruise is a great option for those with younger kids. Disney Cruises have fun options, and it’s probably my No. 1 choice, but Norwegian Cruise Line and Royal Caribbean Cruises are also great choices. It may be cliche, but these cruise lines have something for everyone, plus kids’ clubs with lots of activities. And some of the new ships are just cool.
Royal Caribbean's Quantum of the Seas is an awesome ship, with bumper cars, roller skating, a skydiving simulator, the Flow Rider surf simulator — the list goes on. This is the ship to book for families cruising in 2015.
Norwegian Getaway is another option. It offers an impressive sports complex with a ropes course, mini golf and more. There’s also a water park with five water slides, including Free Fall, the fastest drop slide at sea. The Getaway offers a Sponge Bob-themed kids’ aqua park as well.
I also sell a lot of Caribbean and Hawaii to families. Hawaii is great for a beach vacation with a variety of things to do without traveling internationally, which some families prefer. Of all of the islands, I would say that many of my families prefer Maui. There’s great snorkeling there, and Maui Ocean Center, a fabulous aquarium with [an open-ocean tank featuring] a walk-through acrylic tube. Kids will be surrounded by fish and other sea animals, and it’s neat for every age. Families also like to go during whale-watching season.
Caribbean trips depend on the budget. The Caribbean side of Mexico is great for cost-conscious families. Beyond that, I have families who love Puerto Rico, Antigua and the Bahamas.
Jamaica has a number of all-inclusives that are good family options, such as Beaches Negril Resort & Spa, which sits on Negril’s beautiful Seven Mile Beach. The resort is home to Pirates Island Waterpark, an Xbox Play Lounge and a Trench Town arcade. And since the resort partnered with Sesame Street, there are a variety of fun activities that allow the kids to interact with characters.
Other Jamaica favorites for families include Royalton White Sands Resort and Iberostar Rose Hall Suites.
What are your recommendations for active families?
For families that are a little more adventurous, Costa Rica remains a favorite, especially for families with pre-teen kids. I would say that I’m working on a Costa Rica trip almost every day. Many of my families will spend two to three days inland near Arenal Volcano, where they can zipline, hike and whitewater raft. Then, they’ll head to the beach for snorkeling and surfing.
Do you have any preferred accommodations in Costa Rica?
I point them toward all-inclusives in the Guanacaste area, which is on the Northern Pacific side of the country. There are Riu properties — Hotel Riu Guanacaste and Hotel Riu Palace Costa Rica — and the all-inclusive Westin Golf Resort & Spa Playa Conchal. And brand-new to the scene is Dreams Las Mareas Costa Rica, which just opened in November. It’s closer to Nicaragua and therefore a little more out of the way, but I predict it will be a great new possibility.
Costa Rica has been a hot destination for some time. Do you have any insight on what the next “it” country is, especially for active families?
It’s not so different, but I’ve been getting quite a few requests for Panama. I just sent a family there for Christmas, and they loved it. Boca Del Toro is the spot everyone wants to go to. It has beautiful beaches, and villa rentals are common there. There are also a few all-inclusives to choose from.
Some families might believe they can’t make a trip happen due to financial constraints. How do you work with clients on a budget?
As long as a client has realistic expectations, there are a number of options I can look into. You just have to be aware that hotels will be more in the three-star range if you’re on a tighter budget. It also helps to be flexible on both dates and destination.
Additionally, it helps if clients realize that their dollars can go further in certain places. Cancun hotels, for example, are more affordable than most Caribbean resorts. Then, with the help of awesome suppliers, I can often find deals and specials that aren’t advertised on the Internet, which allows me to offer unique packages that fit a client’s budget — without sacrificing too much.