The start of my conversation with Doug Colon summed up the theme of the interview in its entirety. When asked about how things are going for him, he answered, “Trying to get this backyard done. My contractor didn’t show up, so I started on my own.” This being our first long-form conversation, I was going off what I’d researched online. He was there when break dancing took off in the early 70s, grooving with prolific DJs known for legendary innovation in hip hop—check. He’s currently the owner of Dancin Doug Travel—check. But now, right at the start, I knew that I was talking to a man who knew how to get up and get it done.
Mentioning the multiple positions Doug has held in different fields, “I kind of stumble and fall places. I’m a stumbler.” This was clearly evident in his path through life so far. Travel started as a break from his profession at the time, Special Agent in Charge, US. Office of Labor and Racketeering. When he moved into booking, his first experience was with a “card mill.” He continued, “I got $1.17 for a commission, or something ridiculous.”
Disenchanted, Doug moved over to Nexion. The first trip booked was a cruise for 70 people, a college reunion. Realizing that he’d “topped out” at his job, he was now retired and looked to continue in the travel industry. “I did my next trip; it was like 120 people came. The next trip, I had 200 people come.” This obviously surprised him, but this wasn’t even close to the 503 people who signed up for a trip to Egypt—far beyond any known expectation. Though, he says, “and that’s the year they [Egypt] had those riots. So, that’s what taught me about counting my money beforehand.” Yet, Doug still took 50 people on that very trip.
Similar to the Egypt trip, and most agents’ experience, COVID-19 put a halt to a party trip of 700 people in 2020. Steady growth stunted in the blink of an eye, but not for long. Dancin Doug Travel is back to 400 people on the annual party trip.
In my research leading up to the interview, I watched YouTube videos recorded on the annual party trips. They looked, simply put, fun. Party is an understatement; they include professionally trained dance instructors, comedians, famous DJs, and live music. But, as I realized throughout the interview, having fun has been a lifelong passion for Doug. Being part of the creation and evolution of hip hop and breakdance, aka B-Boy culture, Doug was in on what makes a party great. Taking the party to the next level was more of an instinct than a choice. “When they [clients] leave, all they talk about is ‘give me the time for next year, so I can put in my vacation time now.’ ”
“Obviously it’s lucrative.”, he says. “But I didn’t do it for the money. Because I wanted to have someplace for me and my friends to go hang out at.” Doug didn’t advertise DDT. The word would spread by mouth, friends telling friends. “For the first seven to eight years, I knew everybody that was coming. Or, at least I knew who invited them.” It grew organically, in what he describes as germinating sideways… to eventually build upwards with a better foundation.
About then is when we had a moment of connection that ties directly back to my first impression. When asked about his interest in martial arts (Shotokan Karate and Vee-Jitsu), and how that has formed the discipline to accomplish so much, “It [martial arts] makes you push through things.” Doug went on to demonstrate, “I gotta do this thing, but I’m tired. I’m tired… I’m still going.” This resonated with me, as a practitioner of Kung Fu. Our, everyone’s, willpower and productivity are essentially tied into how we view our limits—further solidification of Doug’s skill in breaking those limits and getting the work done.
The Bucket List trips that Doug does, five for the year 2022, are also on the rise again. “We have nearly 50 going to the Maldives; about 75 going to Egypt; Hawaii is about 30; Italy is 30; and Alaska is about 25.” Though, at this point, I had to broach the earlier subject of COVID-19 in the future of travel. “If it shuts down, it shuts down…”, he says. A resignment to what may come, and what may not; but surely not in a pessimistic light. “That’s all you can do.”, Doug said.
Doug sends out a newsletter every week to his list, to “keep them abreast of what we’re doing… thinking about doing.” He favors clients calling directly to remain personal and to solve issues on a one-to-one basis. “People have maybe one week, maybe two, to have a vacation. You have to respect that.” Doug researches everything, “I’m a former Special Agent,” he said. This has given him an eye for researching the possibility of safety issues like riots or diseases, but also goes doubly so with the possibilities of creating fun times and catering to each traveler—the hallmark of a travel agent that cares.
As Doug so aptly said, “It’s a love thang.” And, from the work ethic he’s shown, it’s a labor of love.