Thirty-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 business 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 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, a dozen airlines, cruise lines and tour operators agreed to test our concept. 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 called the shots until her own retirement in 2012.
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 website 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 and Portuguese and French, launched group cruise and hosted singles departments and the industry's first department dedicated solely to cruise passengers with special needs.
Somewhere along the way, we became the world’s largest seller of cruises and river cruises.
So many people have contributed to the growth and success of Vacations To Go that it would be impossible to name them all. Three that stand out are Emerson Hankamer, our CEO; Troy Bringle, our President; and Elizabeth Armstrong, our VP & Editor of Travel Media.
Today, we represent every significant cruise line, river cruise company, tour operator and hotel chain in the world. True to our roots, we are still the very best at finding last-minute discounts for our customers. Our 90-Day Ticker is the standard by which all last-minute cruise lists are measured.
Every week, we sell hundreds of cruise cabins at the last minute, at rates that other travel 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.
Some tour operators and hotel companies also offer last-minute discounts. When they do, we rush the deals to our customers. However, the bigger discounts on tours are frequently offered many months in advance of departure.
When I look back at what has been accomplished in the last 35 years, I am most proud of the group we have built here, the more than 800 men and women of Vacations To Go. They are the kind of people you want to go to work with every day, dedicated to being the best and providing the best service and advice in the travel industry.
I am grateful to be on the same team.
In our three and a half decades, 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.
What new adventures await travelers in the next 35 years? I can hardly wait to find out!
You can be sure that Vacations To Go will be here to bring you the very best the world has to offer -- at a discount, of course.
Vacations To Go