If you’ve been an active travel agent for 60 years, you’re a member of a very small club.
Larry Austin, 83, is a member of that club. He shares the dramatic stories he has accumulated during a long career in travel in his new book, “… And Away We Went” (2014, AuthorHouse).
The former chairman and CEO of Austin Travel in Woodmere and Syosset, N.Y., Austin’s book contains the kind of stories that only a travel agent has experienced. Austin Travel was sold to Protravel International four years ago.
Travel Market Report spoke to Austin about the book and his career selling corporate and leisure travel in New York.
A born storyteller, Austin also has other interests. He is currently the chairman of the Long Island Philharmonic. And he wrote another book earlier in his life.
“I had written an earlier book called “Memoirs of a Travel Agent,” but that was many years ago,” said Austin. “I enjoy remembering all the things that happened, so I decided to go ahead and write.”
Perhaps the most dramatic moment of his career came when he was asked to help clients escape from Iran during the violent revolution in 1979.
“Grumman was a big corporate client for us, and they had nearly 2,000 people stationed in Iran teaching people how to fly the airplanes they built,” said Austin.
“When the Iranian revolution happened in 1979, we first found a plane in Hawaii that we flew to Tehran to get the first group of 200 out.”
Austin stayed in Frankfurt to help coordinate the escape of additional Grumman employees because every seat in and out of Iran represented a potential life saver.
Austin is also proud of saving a trip for a large group who showed up to their hotel, only to find they wouldn’t be able to check in.
“We had a group of more than 200 who were set to stay at the Hamilton Princess in Bermuda,” said Austin.
“When we arrived, the general manager told us that a large incentive group was stranded in the hotel, because of a storm in their home city in the U.S. and we would not be able to check in.”
Austin found a room for each member of the group for the night, after rounding up the entire group and telling them he would find a solution to the hotel’s snafu.
A family affair
Today, Austin mostly deals with clients at his agency while his three adult sons oversee the operation of the company. These days the company sells a lot of European and group vacations.
He says his longtime community connections are key to the continued success of the agency.
“Contacts are crucial,” said Austin. “My wife has three very good friends who wanted to take a river cruise in Europe and she turned them over to one of our agents-- we put together a trip for them that totaled $43,000.”
A changing industry
When asked about the changes in travel he’s seen during a long career, Austin pointed to the shift away from storefront agencies and the complexity of the business before the Internet.
“There used to be a storefront travel agency on every corner of Long Island; now, there are so few,” he said.
While the agency still boasts two storefront locations, the company does employ several agents who work from home.
“When we started [in business],” he added, “we had to go the airport every few days to pick up tickets in person.”