Thursday, July 10, 2008
The worst story in all of Willard Kravitz's 44 years in the travel business happened not long ago. There was this girl who wanted him to book a romantic weekend in Las Vegas. He gets the couple a killer deal; and a week later the boyfriend's on the phone looking to buy a honeymoon. Kravitz says, "Congratulations! I'm so happy for you and Sarah!" -- he'll call her Sarah; he can't remember her name -- and the boyfriend says, "Actually, it's not with Sarah."
It was with some girl that he met in Las Vegas.
"Now, I am 64," says Kravitz. He sounds a little like Gilbert Gottfried, but less abrasive. Has that squinty look, too, but goofily charming. "I like to think I am a pretty modern guy. But that one just knocked me off my kazoo." It was awful, plain awful, no two ways about it.
So did he? Did he book the honeymoon?
You bet he did.
An old-school travel agent in this point-and-click industry? He'll take all the business he can get.
* * *
"You know how I told you I couldn't get a hold on the trip at that price? Well, I found someone. And I begged. And I pleaded. And I carried on like a madman. And, well . . ."
The interior of Smash Daddy's is dark and smells like old beer. The sign outside advertises both all-you-can-eat pasta and Jamaican karaoke. It's not a place Kravitz, the founder and single employee of Worldwide Wholesale Travel in Baltimore, would normally go. He likes places on the water. He lives on the water, in a two-bedroom condo decorated with Asian tapestries and special editions of People magazine. Today he looks like he could captain a ship at any moment: khaki pants and a navy blazer and boat shoes without socks that peel and slap across the sticky floor.
But you go where the customers want to go. Travel is unnerving for people. You want to make them comfortable. So if they want to go to a dive bar in Pikesville, Md., you meet them at a dive bar in Pikesville, Md. Ninety-five percent of his business is long-term clients or referrals. You're only as good as your last trip.
Brian Sanders and Ashley Butara are 24 and 21, and have never been out of the country. They were hoping to go to Aruba for their September honeymoon, but it was a little out of their price range. Kravitz suggested Barbados and found them a steal. Two people, two plane tickets, six days, seven nights at an all-inclusive resort: $2,093.19. Try getting that on Orbitz.
Last time he'd corresponded with them, they wanted to think about it. Kravitz was afraid the price would go up. He suggested they meet in person to sort this all out. Now Sanders and Butara, who both work at Comcast and met Kravitz because they all use the same car mechanic, wait to learn the fate of their honeymoon.