Joel Cohen is a travel industry veteran, having worked closely with the President of New York City Vacation Packages, Barry Tenenbaum, for over 40 years. Both an accomplished author and speaker, Joel Cohen has appeared at many travel industry events. He was once named the Who’s Who of American Business Leaders, and with his customer first attitude it is no wonder why. Joel has helped to build great relationships with both travel agencies and industry suppliers. To find out more about Joel and New York City Vacation Packages, continue reading.
Travel Research Online (TRO): Was there anything particular that drew you into the travel industry? Have you always loved travel, or did you fall into the industry?
Joel Cohen (JC): I was the director of a teen travel camp for a few years and found pleasure in planning 3-week bus trips for 80 teenagers each summer. Actually, it was much more fun planning the trips than it was experiencing the homesickness, weather problems and misbehavior of some of the group. I did, though, learn a lot about the travel industry so it was a natural progression for me.
TRO: You graduated from Temple University Fox School of Business Administration, as well as attended its Law School. You later went on to be speaker at many travel industry events. How does what you’ve accomplished as a speaker translate into what you do for New York City Vacation Packages (NYCVP)? Have your experiences in law school and speaking influenced or aided you in your role for NYCVP?
JC: When I first started in retail travel I didn’t feel confident speaking to either a potential client, or to a group. I found 2 solutions: First, my law school education taught me that I better know my stuff backwards and forwards or I’d never make the grade. Secondly, I took an acting course at a local college that taught me how to speak with authority and hold on to an audience. Translation: be totally familiar with your material and make sure your confidence shows through. That applies when you’re trying to sell a potential client who wants to know you’re the one to trust, as well as to keep a group interested in listening to and enjoying your presentation.
TRO: Tell us a little about your everyday operations. Is every day the same, or does each day differ? What are some of your responsibilities? Walk us through a day in your shoes.
JC: The only thing that every day has in common is two cups of coffee. Otherwise, every day presents new challenges. I oversee our Reservations/Operations, Group, IT, Sales and Product departments. Fortunately I have a great staff of folks who are genuinely dedicated to their jobs, their customers and our vendors. And to make my life even better, I have a boss (the President of NYCVP, Barry Tenenbaum) who I’ve worked with for over 40 years now.
TRO: You developed the company’s reservation system and infrastructure. Can you speak a little on that? How did you come up with the design and process that you currently use? Was it challenging?
JC: I learned a lot from previous wholesale experience prior to starting NYCVP along with Barry 20 years ago. We made sure we knew what we were doing. We outsourced some of our technology until we hired our own experts to build ourselves a system that worked precisely for our needs. Recently we’ve realized that we have outgrown our system and our ability to maintain it so we have contracted with a travel technology company to totally revamp our systems. We’re now in phase 1 of that development and plan on going live second quarter of this year. The changes and enhancements will be significant for us, but even more so for our travel agent partners.
TRO: Give us some insight to some of what New York City Vacation Packages offers. What are the most popular offerings and packages? Do you have a favorite, or a most popular?
JC: There’s a great benefit in only selling one destination. We do some things at NYCVP that no one else can do because we’re 100% vested in the City. Probably the two most visible events in the City every year are the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade and New Year’s Eve in Times Square. They have worldwide audiences. So we have exclusive parties to watch these “Bucket List” events – parties along the Thanksgiving parade route with fantastic views, a party in Times Square high above the crowds to watch the Ball Drop, even a party in Rockefeller Center for the lighting of the famous Christmas Tree. Of course, we also offer daily customized FIT and Group arrangements, all commissionable of course. So I guess my most favorite offering is that we can do just about anything travel agents need for their clients!
TRO: Your customer first outlook is one of the reasons that you have such a strong rapport with travel agencies and industry suppliers. Do you have any advice or tips for someone looking to build similar relationships with suppliers and agents?
JC: Be honest and straightforward. I’ve found over the years that technology has changed the way we find and disseminate information, but the basic tenets of marketing still remain the same. Provide a good value for the money, back it up with service and develop relationships.
TRO: Is there anywhere you have wanted to travel that you haven’t made it to quite yet? What about your favorite place to travel?
JC: I do have a bucket list that’s still pretty long. I know it’s trite, but my favorite place to travel is wherever I’m going next. This year it happens to be Scotland, England and Norway.
TRO: What can you tell us about New York City Vacation Packages in this upcoming year? Any exciting news you can share?
JC: Well, aside from our new technology, we’re adding new boutique hotels to our FIT program, adding another Thanksgiving parade party at a very prestigious venue, cooperating with the NYPD on our special events, adding hosted and escorted products, and expanding our Group Department. We’re very excited about what we’re doing in New York City to make sure travel agents’ clients have an incredible experience in the City.