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Career Day: The Travel Agent

By Schuyler Velasco

Arlene Goldberg is the owner and president of Action Travel Center, Inc., a 12-person travel agency near Cleveland, Ohio.

What should people know about travel agents?
We’re still in business!

How has your job changed?
When I opened up my agency 38 years ago, there was no automation, just a teleticketTeleticket machines were large printers used solely for airline tickets. They were widely adopted by airlines in the early 1980s. machine. We would call in reservations and write them out by hand. Computers didn’t come into effect until we were in business maybe three, four years, and even then people didn’t book air travel online.

The computer is a double-edged sword. We don’t have as much business as we had, but it’s enhanced our business. Clients come to us now because they want our opinions and guidance.

The internet took a lot of the vacation business away. So it’s probably 75 percent corporate travel and 25 percent vacations.

Who are your clients?
The internet took a lot of the vacation business away. So it’s probably 75 percent corporate travel — booking business trips and helping companies write their employee travel policies — and 25 percent vacations. For vacations, our typical customer is older, probably in their 60s, but I plan a lot of honeymoons too. We’re constantly looking to grow with people in their 40s and 50s. Many have children who are grown, maybe they’ve paid for college, and they get to a point where they say, “it’s time for me.”

What kinds of vacations do you work on the most?
Cruises are booked more than any other vacation. River cruises have grown very popular, and I love booking those. They’re all over Europe, and people want help with packing tips, changing currency, sometimes getting a passport. We do escorted trips. For 24 years we’ve done a trip to the Cleveland Indians’ spring training.

Do travelers today have different expectations than they did 30 years ago?
They’re much more knowledgeable. We used to host informational “cruise nights” and “tour nights” in the office or at a restaurant. We’d show a video, bring in someone from that cruise line or tour to give a talk. Today, no way. You can go online and see whatever you want. Now they may come in with two or three different tours or cruises picked out, and we recommend one based on their age, travel experience, and budget.

What’s a typical day at work like?
Today I’m putting together a very involved trip to Italy, in high season. Originally, [the clients] came in my office and said, “We want to fly business class and we want first class hotels, and we want a private driver.” Well, they couldn’t afford that. So we do premium economy class, and they’re not going to have 4- or 5-star hotels, but we try to find something really good that they can afford.

Where do you like to travel?
Guess what? I can’t get out of this office very often. When I traveled regularly in the ’80s, I used to take groups to Asia on big shopping trips. First, we would take them to Seoul, because they can have anything made there — suits, dresses, jewelry, shoes, bags. Then we’d go onto Hong Kong and do the same thing, and so on.  Oh my gosh, did we buy.

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Schuyler Velasco is senior writer for Experience.

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