Longtime Travel Luminary Susan Tanzman Passes

by Richard D'Ambrosio
Longtime Travel Luminary Susan Tanzman Passes

Photo: Martin's Travel Facebook


The travel industry this week is mourning the passing of Susan Dale Tanzman, president of Martin’s Travel and Tours and a longtime member of the American Society of Travel Agents’ (ASTA) leadership. Tanzman battled cancer for more than 16 years, and passed on Tuesday, Sept. 5.

An ASTA member since 1975, Tanzman served as a chapter president, area director, national treasurer, national secretary, co-chair of the 1992 Western Regional Conference and chair of the 2002 ASTA World Congress in Hawaii.

She was active in the California Coalition of Travel Organizations and was instrumental in the development and passage of California’s Seller of Travel law in the early 1990s. (Tanzman held a law degree from the University of Southern California.)

“Today, the ASTA family mourns the passing of one of its own,” ASTA president and CEO Zane Kerby said in a statement.

“She was an icon within the industry, a 40+ year veteran who served on countless committees, boards, associations and councils supporting both the travel agent and legal communities (ASTA), issues. Our deepest sympathies go out to Sue’s family and friends on this sad day.”

Tanzman’s son Michael Kaplan wrote a tribute to his mother on Facebook, calling her “my inspiration, my best friend.” She had a second son, Darin Tanzman, of Culver City, CA.

“My mom battled this horrendous disease for 16+ years and she never complained. She never whined or wanted a pity party,” Kaplan wrote. “My mom didn't lose a battle with cancer. My mom won the battle at life by truly loving others, never giving in or acting defeated, by continuing to inspire everyone around her, and to setting a standard of what is right and wrong, while standing by her loved ones through thick and thin at all costs.”

"She represented drive and tenacity and I saw that as she battled cancer," said Diane Petras, CMP, CTIE, and chief operating officer at The Travel Institute.  

"I admired her persistence in both her personal life and professional life," said Libbie Rice, co-president of Ensemble Travel.

"Susan never gave up on anything. Whether it was advocacy for the travel agent community, her vision for Ensemble (as a board member) or her battle with cancer, she was strong and courageous in all that she did. The passion and desire-to-please she had for her clients was amazing too, always going the extra mile to assure their satisfaction. In fact she would travel to Hawaii four or five times each year to make sure she was up-to-date and hadn't missed anything. And, despite her increasing health challenges, she was always concerned about others in need, even serving on the board of an ALS chapter in Hawaii, Susan was an amazing person."

A contributor to Conde Nast Traveler magazine, Tanzman’s bio on their site described her as an agent especially expert in Hawai. The magazine said she was “best known for her pull-out-all-the-stops Hawaiian honeymoons… and her connections at top resorts.”

On Facebook, other tributes poured out from travel industry colleagues.

“I was blessed to know and work with the amazing Susan Tanzman over the past 20 years,” said Sue Kanoho, executive director of the Kaua'i Visitors Bureau (KVB). “Her dedication to the Hawaiian Islands and the culture always impressed me. We will miss your passion for sharing life's experiences and give thanks for all you have done for those who were fortunate enough to know and work with you.”

Stacy Small, CEO and founder of Elite Travel International, told TMR she remembered meeting Susan for the first time at an ASTA conference in the 1990s when Small was working for Travel Agent magazine.

“She was one of the kindest people and always took my calls and made time to answer my questions on any subject that affected the travel industry. When I started my own travel agency in 2005, it was always fun seeing her at events and chatting with her because I think she knew more about this business than anyone.”

Clients share their memories

Some of the most profound tributes came from Tanzman’s clients, many of whom only knew her through telephone conversations, social media and email.

Anne Marie Abernathy, Kingsburg, CA, said she met Susan through a Google search. “I was trying to plan my wedding in Kauai in 2004, and by luck was introduced to Susan through Martin's...She helped plan the most beautiful wedding in the most beautiful paradise and everything and I mean everything was perfect!”

“I never met Susan in person but talked with her many times about our trip to Hawaii in 2014,” said Sandra Quinn, College Park, MD. “I remember her love for the islands and her great advice and arrangements. I specifically remember the day before our flight when she called me and without even saying ‘Hello, this is Susan Tanzman,’ she excitedly began telling me what specific foods to eat and where. And she was right, of course, and I will always smile thinking of her love of the sticky buns at the Kahala!”

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