The Edge Of Excellence: These are the good old days | TravelResearchOnline


The Edge Of Excellence: These are the good old days

Not so long ago, at an industry event where I was about to speak, I was sitting at a table full of travel agents.  As often happens, the subject of “the good old days” came up.  I joined in with four fellow long-timers to share almost mythical stories of happy flight attendants, tasty airline meals, free FAM trips, and rock-solid commission structures.  One tablemate said with a sigh “I sure miss the way things used to be.”

After about twenty minutes of listening politely, a relative newcomer to the industry could no longer contain herself.  “That all sounds lovely, but I’ve also heard that you made very little money, had almost no say in how you ran your own business, and that you could get shut down for typos on carbon-copy airline tickets.” We all stared, momentarily speechless.

“Well, sort of” another agent replied. “But, the business was fun then!  Suppliers didn’t compete with us, it was a more level playing field, and we didn’t have to worry about the Internet.”

The newcomer smiled. “OK, I understand now.  What you are really saying is that even though you didn’t make much money, it was easy. It is different now. Thank goodness!”

Then, hardly skipping a beat, she lit up with excitement as she told us all about the amazing and exciting travel industry that she had come to know and love.  Here are the highlights as best as I can remember:

  • “I can run my business almost any way I want.  I can sell whatever I want and I choose the market I want to serve. I don’t want a level playing field!  I’m not bound by any supplier’s idea of how much I should be paid because I set my own professional fees, not them. Commission is nice, but I never depend on it.”
  • “As for fun; I wake up every day with smile on my face because I know I’m going be selling dreams all day long.  I love the Internet.  It’s my primary consulting and marketing tool.  Sure, some people ask for the deals they see, but with my professional fees I’m happy to do it. “
  • “I’m in my late forties. I remember airline food and I don’t miss it.  I do wish the flight attendants were happier.  Maybe some day when they get paid a decent wage again they will be.  I’m more concerned with making sure my clients find a beach they’ll love than whether or not the flight attendant smiled at them.”
  • “Lastly, I make great money. I didn’t quit my old job so I could take a FAM trip and call it a cheap vacation.  I wanted a career where I could make other people happy, and have a nice life for myself.  And guess what?  That’s exactly what’s happening. That’s MY travel industry, you might want to check it out.”

Moments later, it was my turn to take the stage and speak.  My first slide said “These Are The Good Old Days.” I gave the newcomer a wink as if to thank her for the perfect set-up.

Yes, I miss some things from the way back when, but I would never trade any of them for the freedom and opportunities of today.  Onward and upward!

What do you think? Do you miss the old times? Do you know them? What are your successes? Please leave a comment!

Nolan Burris is an author, former travel agent, failed musician and self-professed techno-geek. He’s also a popular international speaker both inside and outside of the travel industry.  He is the founder and chief Visioneer of Future Proof Travel Solutions ( based in Vancouver, Canada.  Nolan’s believes that if can change the way business works, you’ll change the world. His goal is to spread the message of integrity and ethics in a techno-driven world.

  7 thoughts on “The Edge Of Excellence: These are the good old days

  1. Susan says:

    I hate admitting that I too am in my late 40’s 😉 but I’ve only been in the industry for 6 years. I got in after airline commissions dried up. I got in after 9/11 destroyed so many businesses. In other words, I got in not “knowing better.” And I too LOVE it, and if I had it to do all over again, I would. In a heartbeat. But I would change one thing. I would have started charging fees from year one, not year six.

  2. Mike Marchev says:

    Nolan, GREAT article. That is with a capital G, or is it capitol G. I know the G part is right. Susan, you are a role model. Or is it roll. I know the model is right and I know that Susan is going places. I challenge the rest of you to join Susan on the ride of your life. Onward and upward Nolan. That is exactly why you are considered the best … or are you the second best? Close enough.
    Mike Marchev

  3. Gene Marck says:

    You could make good money in the old days. It is less lucrative now. That is why so many are going out of business.

  4. Nolan Burris says:

    Hey Gene – thanks for the comment, but actually the whole point that the newcomer was making is that she IS making good money, REALLY good money.

    I know lots of folks in the business making better money than ever in the past but it takes doing it in a new way.

  5. This topic seems to come up OFTEN at agent events, at which I’ve noticed that those who were around in “the good old days” are fewer and fewer in number.

    I was around in those days. I’m in my late 40s and started working in a family-owned business when I was 16. I called airlines on a rotary phone; I hand-wrote tickets, MCOs, refund notices, and there was an almost unlimited supply of FREE fams laid before us for our choosing. I do remember those times fondly (sigh…).

    However, I am young enough to know that with progress comes change. It’s very difficult to do business with the past strapped to your back. If you do business today as you did 25 years ago you won’t make money, and some agents just don’t recognize that. Sure, good old-fashioned personalized service is important; it always will be. But if you still don’t have email because you prefer the postman, or are afraid a stalker might find you on Facebook, well, buh-bye. You can sit in your pajamas at your desk at home, boo-hoo and think about how good you had it “back in the day”. But you’re not moving forward now.

    At the TravelSavers conference in Florida in June, they had a mock-up of a game-show. The question was, “How often do you turn in an ARC report?” I was SHOCKED when I heard murmers in the audience: “What’s an ARC report?” I thought to myself what a dinosaur I am. Then I remembered that we STILL turn in a very lucrative air report to ARC every single Tuesday before 5:00 p.m. and that many of those air tickets have been booked with me because I’m on Facebook!

    I admire (and to a certain point envy) the new breed of travel agent (is it ‘consultant?’). They are entering this business unencumbered by MY memories of commissions lost, hours of handwritten, backdated (ssshhhhh) tickets and watching business crumble around us along with the WTC. You know what, though? I treasure those memories as I navigate my office through this new way of doing business, which I and most of my staff have learned to embrace. SOME of us are still kicking and screaming, but I’m dragging them along.

    My only regret is that I didn’t listen to my dad, who told me I could never go wrong with a marketing degree…

  6. Karen Dawson says:

    I too am a product of the “old days” but I have to say I love these new days! I love my business model of my going to see clients at their convenience, and not sitting in an office waiting for the phone to ring. I love selling culinary, golf and garden groups that are MY passion and being around people with similar interests. I love the new opportunities that present themselves every time I get out of my office at a networking event or local meeting. It’s the best of times now!

  7. Nolan, Thank you for the article. I am a newbie and this article sums up exactly why I am now part of the travel industry. What better place to make dreams come true; my clients as well as my own of doing something I am truly passionate about and love! I am so excited to be running my business my way and having the freedom and opportunity to make my clients dreams come to life. The internet is my favorite tool and not my biggests competition because they may sell a trip but I create an experience so really there is no way to compare the two. Great article!!

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