Molly Sumption of Seattle-based Molly’s Caribbean // © 2015 Molly Sumption
Feature image (above): Sumption is a certified Sandals and Beaches specialist. // © Sandals Resorts
Molly Sumption of Seattle-based Molly’s Caribbean was inspired to pursue a career as a travel professional after her work with United Airlines. While Sumption and her husband initially specialized in corporate travel for small and midsize businesses, the elimination of airline commissions led to a change in business model — and career path. Sumption began working from home 14 years ago with a new, sunnier specialization: the Caribbean.
What made you first fall in love with the Caribbean and want to specialize in it?
We took our first trip to the Caribbean in 1989 to Grand Cayman. As Pacific Northwesterners accustomed to the Pacific Ocean, our jaws dropped when we saw the sugar-fine white sands and crystal-clear turquoise waters. Over several rum punches that week, we put together a business plan to specialize in travel to the Caribbean in Washington.
To that end, my husband joined and infused new energy into the regional chapter of the Caribbean Tourism Organization. He served locally, nationally and internationally, and we used his contacts to visit a majority of Caribbean island destinations to build our knowledge base.
How have you seen the destination change over the years?
Due to ease of access, our Pacific Northwest travelers have historically vacationed in Hawaii and Mexico. When I first began my specialization, I was lucky to book one Caribbean vacation a month. Over the years — and I would like to think due in part to my efforts — the Pacific Northwest population has “discovered” the Caribbean.
In my opinion, the Caribbean offers a variety of experiences, from recreational activities to meaningful and themed trips. More brides and grooms are opting for toes-in-the-sand destination weddings that bring friends and families together for a significant occasion. Also, a variety of businesspeople — such as chefs, artists and even firefighters — visit the Caribbean to connect with locals who share similar backgrounds. Health and wellness vacations are a recent, interesting development that spans generations.
What type of trip is most popular with your clients?
As would be expected, from working with brides and grooms who have just survived planning and executing a wedding, an all-inclusive, hassle-free honeymoon is at the top of the list. And if we’re sending them to an adults-only resort, that’s a definite plus. Most Pacific Northwesterners crave sunshine, a beautiful beach and warm water, which makes the Caribbean an easy sell for me.
If you could plan an ideal Caribbean itinerary for a client, what destinations and activities would it include?
My most important job as a Caribbean travel consultant is to match the island and resort to the expectations of my clients. Not every destination or resort is right for everyone, and “cheap” is not always the best option.
Some of my clients want a low-profile, lazy beach with a book in hand under a palm tree with their name on it. For those, I would recommend Anguilla.
Other clients want an active island resort experience with the additional goal of participating in local activities and culture. For those, I would recommend Jamaica.
Perhaps an amazing culinary experience? Then St. Barts or Grand Case on St. Martin. I like to think of the Caribbean as a microcosm of the world located close at hand that represents African, English, French, Spanish, Dutch, East Indian and Asian cultures.
You are a certified Sandals and Beaches specialist. Can you give us a little insight into why you decided to work so closely with the two companies?
We determined early on that honeymooners were a renewable resource — there’s a new crop every year — and that honeymoons were virtually recession-proof. We then committed to a variety of bridal consumer shows in both Seattle and Portland, Ore., as well as a selection of bridal events in retail stores where we often promote Sandals and Beaches exclusively.
This one-on-one organic marketing continues to be the best choice for me in developing honeymoon contacts each year. It also doesn’t hurt that the Sandals group is one of the most agent-friendly and supportive partnerships in the industry.
What do you think makes you stand out to your clients?
My years of personal experience with the various Caribbean islands places me in the spotlight. I have found that clients value expertise — wanting to know that I have “been there, done it, got the T-shirt.” While the people I work with are tech-savvy, they are reluctant to press the button unless they speak with someone who can demonstrate experience and knowledge. If a potential client comes to me and I don’t know their destination personally, I will refer them to an agent who specializes in that destination.
Most importantly, I treat my clients — existing and potential — as I would like to be treated.
What do you recommend to travelers going to the Caribbean for the first time?
Be open-minded. Not everyone in the Caribbean lives as we do in the U.S. Embrace the various cultures by enjoying the history, people, food and music. Most of all, slow down and relax, as that is the most important experience the Caribbean offers. Try to practice digital detox.