Vacations To Go celebrated its 25th anniversary in May 2009. Read on for a bit of the company's history.
Twenty-five years ago, we strung a hand-painted "Grand Opening" banner above the door in a small shopping center in Houston and Vacations To Go was born.
My partner (Bob Carney) and I opened our two-room travel agency on a Sunday because the travel editor of the Houston Chronicle, Mary Lu Abbott, ran a story about us that day. With my meager life savings on the line, I wanted to be in the office just in case the phone rang, and it did.
We were a new breed of travel agency with a unique mission: to convince cruise lines, airlines, tour operators and hotels that they should deeply discount the price of unsold cabins, seats and rooms near departure date, that making anything on the inventory was better than making nothing.
If we could do that, we would have a viable business and open up the world to people who could not have afforded international travel otherwise.
I set out to convince the major travel companies to give us deals they did not offer to other travel agencies. This was not made easier by the fact that we had no customers.
Finding customers, on the other hand, was not aided by the fact that we had no deals.
Eventually, I convinced a dozen travel companies to test our concept, and riding what turned into a huge wave of publicity due to our record-low prices, we were off and running on that day in May, 1984.
In 1986, we took the company public, and in 1987, we launched our publishing division with the first of our three magazines, Vacations, which was later joined by Travel 50 & Beyond and Where to Retire. I coaxed Mary Lu away from the Houston Chronicle and she became the founding editor of Where to Retire, where she is still calling the shots today.
We grew out of that shopping center space and opened an airline-style reservation center, and added travel and retirement books to our list of publications. After several years as a public company, we bought out the outside shareholders and took the company private.
In 1999, we launched our cruise web site and within a few years, we launched sites for river cruises, escorted travel, air & hotel packages, safaris and more.
We bought our own office building, translated our cruise site into Spanish, launched group-cruise and hosted-singles departments and the industry's first department dedicated solely to cruise passengers with special needs.
Today, we represent every significant cruise line and river cruise operator in the world. We are the very best at finding last-minute discounts for our customers, and our 90-Day Ticker is the standard by which all the other last-minute cruise lists are measured.
Every week, we sell hundreds of cruise cabins at the last minute, at rates that other agencies never even hear about. And we offer deep early bird discounts and shipboard credits for people who simply have to make plans in advance.
While many non-cruise companies tested last-minute discounting, it never really caught on with the tour operators, airlines and hotels. When they do it, we rush the deals to our customers, but the biggest discounts on those types of vacations may be offered many months or a full year in advance of departure.
When I look back at what has been accomplished in the last 25 years, I am most proud of the team we have built here, the nearly 600 men and women of Vacations To Go. They are well-trained, highly motivated and dedicated to providing the best service and advice in the travel industry.
We have added more than 90 new employees during the global economic slowdown of the past nine months. People are taking advantage of international airfares that are much lower than normal, and we are busier than ever.
In this last quarter century, the travel industry has survived more epidemics, hurricanes, wars and recessions than I can remember. The instant, global dissemination of bad news sometimes makes it seem like the world is a dangerous place, but I don't believe there are any new threats in the world, just new strains of old threats.
International travel today is safer than it has ever been, and there are more amazing trips to more fascinating places than ever before.
Next month, I'll kick off the second 25 years with a family vacation in French Polynesia and a cruise on the Paul Gauguin, and I will check in from the South Pacific to let you know what I find. (I know what you're thinking...could Alan's job be more tedious...)
As for Vacations To Go, we will continue to bring you the very best the world has to offer -- at a discount, of course.
Vacations To Go
French Polynesia Trip, Part 1: I'm Never Going Home!