Q. Why do we still need travel agents?
A. If you have a travel agent that has been in the business long enough to have learned it, you've really got something valuable there. When I call someone at a cruise line, I know if it's their first week on the job. They don't have the background, but a travel agent who is trained, who deals with the business all day, they have gotten feedback from clients and have traveled themselves, and they know so much more than somebody who is just hopping on a computer.
Sometimes I hear from people who say, 'My travel agent retired,' and it's like your longtime physician or your hair dresser retired. It's usually word of mouth, because you want to be able to trust your travel agent. This is a profession. I have it on my business card, "I am a travel designer." I design their trips. But I go beyond that: I know their birthdays and their anniversaries; I know that they prefer warm climates and hotels in quiet areas and restaurants with superior wine lists.
It's a shame a lot of people haven't had that experience, of having someone know how they like to travel and then have someone actually tailor their experience for them.
Q. What should people expect to pay for your services?
A. It's all over the board. If you check some of the big companies, like Amex, Frosch, they post their fees right up front. But really, these days, there are no commissions. They get commissions for cruises still. So people have to charge. It's depending upon the hours they put into things, they say, look I have researched this fare for you, and here is what I put into that.
So it all depends. The range might be $10 to $100, or if there's a lot of calling around or researching, maybe $200 if I have to get the insurance and really put together a package.
Q. How many countries have you visited?
A. Oh, my gosh, I've never counted. I've been to a lot. All over. All over Africa. Russia, Scandinavia, most of South America, all through the Pacific Rim, China. I loved Singapore. I've been all over Europe, of course. I can't believe I've never thought to count them all.
Q. OK, then, what's the best trip you ever took?
A. (Laughs) That's even harder! The Orient Express was wonderful. But I think probably China in the '80s, before it opened up for tourism. I was invited to view sites they were thinking of opening up to tours. Everything was gray uniforms everywhere. It was old China. Going up the Yangtze River before the dams, that was magical.
Q. What's the hot ticket this year?
A. Cruising is hot, hot, hot. Vietnam has opened up tremendously. The Pacific Rim, now in the last two years, they've transferred a lot of ships to going there and for good reason. Now that Denver has a nonstop to Tokyo, Japan has been very laidback in their promotions, but the yen versus the dollar is so good. But I think that Vietnam has been really coming up, and they are so welcoming there. Dubai, for sure, it's back. Maldives is really popular; it's expensive, but so luxurious.
Q. What's your best travel tip?
A. Be prepared when you get to that airport. I'm signed up for the express (Trusted Traveler Program) security thing to see how it works. I can see that more people are showing up more prepared when they get there, and that makes it less stressful for everyone.
I always tell my clients, whether they're going on a cruise or a tour or whatever, what to be prepared for. A lot of people don't know what to take for what kind of trip, or what to do in what situations.
Q. Will you ever retire?
A. When I first came to Denver, a woman who became my good friend, Hilda Eisner, she was from Germany, she started in the travel business at the age of 62, and she was amazing. She stood about four feet high, and she worked until she was 99. She was still selling cruises until she died; everyone knew her. I loved her,;she was such an inspiration. I'm gonna follow Hilda's lead.
Q. Where do you still want to go?
A. I'd like to go back to a couple of places, but one country that I haven't been to is Switzerland. I haven't been to India. I had first-class tickets, but the week before I was supposed to go, I took my niece on another trip, and coming back on the plane, there was a kid sitting next to me who was obviously sick, and the next day I had a 104-degree fever. I had to unpack my bags, I couldn't go. And then it just never happened.
Q. What's the biggest change in the business?
A. Every single flight is full. The airport congestion, oh, my word. Every single airport is packed, and every day is like Christmas anymore. I see these little kids, they're three, four years old. They've got their little suitcases, and they are experienced little travelers. They've even got their own cell phones. Kids did not know how to travel back then, and that's quite amazing to see.
Also, that camaraderie of being in the travel agency community, whether you're working for an airline or a cruise line, sharing stories of the business, is disappearing. No one knows anyone anymore.
I go to 24 Hour Fitness to work out, it's in the middle of the day, and it's packed then, and I wonder, where do these people work? Well, everybody works out of their home, and that's good because you have the flexibility, but you also don't have this social interaction. Years ago in the industry, you'd have people working in an agency, and the airlines would give you the domestic and international tickets to train your staff – they would actually send you places, there would be all these FAM (familiarization) trips and the cities would want you to come so you could sell it better. Now it's all through the computer, and no one knows anyone personally, or what they really know about anything. Losing that personal touch, we're going to keep regretting that.
— Kyle Wagner