April 10, 2010

It’s amazing, the kind of vivid dreams you have when you’ve got the flu and a 102 temperature. This morning, I woke up with a whole new plan for a truly unique business venture, complete with floor plans, marketing strategies, and a business model guaranteed not to fail. You ready for it?

A travel agency. Heh.

Just goes to show the extent to how sick I feel. But it got me to wondering over my morning coffee (which, while warm and soothing to my ravaged throat, could have been mixed with chlorine or fertilizer for all I know, since I can’t taste a thing): is there any industry that the Internet has changed the way it does business more in the last two decades than the travel industry?

I still remember fondly those early days of Tracey’s and my marriage when we’d be looking at honeymoon destinations, or, after that, our annual vacation plans, and working with my favorite Auntie Marge, who, with my Uncle Don, owned a small travel agency with my godfather Milt (God rest his soul). Back then, being a travel agent (even sounds exciting, doesn’t it?) was a lot of hard work on the telephone surrounded by pens, brochures, and writing pads – especially when dealing with demanding business clients who were always looking to get the best deals, even if there plans required them to be in Baltimore, Fargo, and Sacramento over the next three days and back in Boston by the 12th – you know what I mean.

But there was also, I think, something exciting and alluring about the travel business back then. After all, Auntie knew the names of all the airline, cruise, and hotel people whose keys opened the door to travel to far-off and exotic places you could, as a kid, only dream of ever visiting. And not just that, it was a time when people worked directly with people, making that essential human connection the world seems to not care so much about anymore. Whereas nowadays – take any plane flight anywhere and you’ll know what I’m talking about – people treat travel with the same formality as they would doing the dishes at home (and often dress that way, but that’s for another time), it wasn’t that long ago that travel, business or otherwise, was deemed something special and unique.

I still remember the excitement of booking travel with Auntie. Tracey and I would come in to the Liberty World Travel office, its walls splayed with colorful travel posters from faraway places (Rome! Paris! Mexico!), and she’d hand us some brochures and stuff for us to look at. Then, after tossing around some ideas and our decision made, we’d sit there holding hands and all goofy (I was a romantic back then) while Auntie would make the calls to get the deal done. You’d write a check for the down payment, and a few months later go back to pick up your itinerary and tickets, which Auntie had carefully prepared for us to make sure everything was in place.

Today? You sit at the computer, hit Travelocity, Expedia, Orbitz, Vacations To Go, or any number of travel sites, and, within an hour, you can have whatever your travel needs are signed, sealed, and delivered. Without ever talking to a single freakin’ human being. How quaint.

Up until a couple of years ago, the only remnant left of those exciting days of yesteryear was when we booked cruises (our preferred means of vacationing). Because you typically booked your cruise many months in advance, you would still have the thrill of finding in your mailbox a packet containing all your cruise documents for you to, all flush with excitement, go over with with your wife or significant other together over a cocktail. But even that’s now gone too. For our last cruise, we simply received an e-mail from Norwegian Cruise Lines directing us to their website where we downloaded and printed everything ourselves. How efficient.

Which was OK. Me, I knew things had already changed forever – and not for the better – well before that when (this was a couple of cruises ago), all dandied up for the second sitting and strolling to our table across the cruise ship’s glittering dining room, we saw some fat slob biker dude sitting at his table wearing a Harley Davidson cut off t-shirt. Me, I would have tossed him overboard for shark food at that very instant…

Without a doubt, technology not only has made vacationing a lot more convenient, but opened the doors to a lot of different options for travel even Auntie could never have imagined back in the LWT days. (Although, to her credit, she did find us that week-long wagon train/cattle drive vacation in Montana – and this was before “City Slickers” – that remains the highlight of all the vacations we have ever taken.) And I know things change and there’s no going back to the way things were done twenty years ago – not just in the travel industry, but with anything.

Whether that’s a good thing or not doesn’t matter – the only constant in this world is change, and if you don’t change along with those changes you either die, become a dinosaur, or turn to rust. (Me, I’m constantly in danger of all three.) But I cherish the memories of those days when pleasure traveling meant something – it was all about taste, class, and appreciation for the finer things in life. I’m glad to have been around long enough to remember those days, and believe those who don’t simply don’t know what they’ve missed.

Filed in: Uncategorized by The Great White Shank at 09:31 | Comments (2)
2 Comments »
  1. Dearest Favorite Nephew: Now you knew this would get a comment from me! But not for the reason you think. Yesterday while returning from a picnic at Ft. DeSoto, we stopped to visit with Paul & Phyllis Rideout – Edna and Wally’s son – who are now full-time residents of Florida. Paul is a salesman and flies in and out of Tampa constantly and I’ll give you one free wild guess what we talked about – the “good old days” of traveling by plane. How it was really “something special” and you put on your best bib and tucker to get on a plane going anywhere. How airline personnel both at the counter and aloft couldn’t do enough for you. Polite, courteous, ready to do anything to make your trip a pleasant ex-perience. He does most of his flying now on Southwest as they (and Jet Blue) are the only ones who remember those good old days and treat the traveling public with respect and common courtesy. What a hoot to read your blog today because you said almost word for word what our conversation of yesterday entailed.

    As far as accepting changes goes, I can’t (or won’t) go along with that. No one can tell me that the world we live in today is better for all the changes that have come about in every aspect of our lives and that we have to accept them. At my advanced age, I don’t see why I have to – I liked – no make that LOVED my life the way it was and don’t see why I have to change – “do it on line” are nasty words to me, I like actually talking to someone and shall continue to do so.

    Thank you for your kind comments about good old Libery World Travel – they were wonderful times and I loved doing the “work” of booking honeymoons, first time trips, and everything that went with it. It was truly another world, another time, and a far better time and so much better than “do it on line”. Love and kisses, Auntie Marge

    Comment by Auntie Marge — April 11, 2010 @ 7:21 am


  2. Thanks for the lovely comment, Auntie – couldn’t have said it better myself. And you’re right about the whole change thing. Just because you have to work with it doesn’t mean you have to either accept or like them! 🙂 Love and kisses back!

    Comment by The Great White Shank — April 11, 2010 @ 9:58 am


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