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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

Best Eateries In Paris? Ask In Topanga.

While Sonia Frieder was dining at Union Oyster House in Boston in August 2012, she decided to help out a couple of tourists who were searching for fun places to check out. By the end of their conversation, the travelers told her, “You should do this for a living.” And she took that advice. In the course of a few months, Frieder founded Sonar Travel LLC, a travel itinerary company based out of her Topanga Canyon home. Her business model is that while booking hotels and flights online may not require an agent’s assistance today, sometimes finding the best places to tour, dine and shop do. The 26 U.S. and European destinations Sonar services were handpicked by Frieder, each of which she or her husband and business partner, Russell Frieder, have personally visited. A tourist to Paris, for instance, would receive an itinerary with specifics on restaurant suggestions, how to pay for stuff and how long a visit could last for stops like the Musee d’Orsay, Basilique du Sacre-Coeur or a cruise along the Seine River. “We want to make sure people are making the most of their vacations and taking advantage of that precious time instead of worrying about the planning,” she said. Frieder and her husband self-funded the venture with $20,000 in hopes of reaching the untapped market, but so far they only have about one or two clients a month. She has mostly marketed the firm through partnerships with other travel and wedding planning sites. Her husband handles the legal and finance responsibilities but has kept his full-time job as a financial consultant. Meanwhile, Sonia, with a background in marketing, left her job with eBay Inc. to work full-time on the business’ other aspects. The competition is stiff. Websites such as Viator Inc. and TripAdvisor LLC offer travelers ideas for places to visit, while local discovery apps such as Yplan and Applauze allow tourists to review destinations on their mobile devices. But Douglas Quinby, vice president of research at PhoCus Wright, a market research firm based in Sherman, Conn. that specializes in travel and tourism, said a company such as Sonar will have to compete with digital and mobile services. He noted that while someone might not need help with a getaway to New York City, a three-week tour of Australia or a culinary vacation to southern Italy is something else. “Hotel concierges, tour operators and travel agencies have long withstood the onslaught of online shopping and booking,” he said. Frieder plans to add destinations to attract more customers, as well as write blogs for popular sites such as Magellan Travel Supplies to build name recognition. “It seems to be catching on,” Frieder said. “Travelers are open to it, and they like it.” – Stephanie Forshee

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