By Andrew Wroblewski
After spending 60 years in the travel industry, Larry Austin’s résumé reads more like a movie script – actually, make that several movie scripts.
Now a Dix Hills resident, Austin once arrived to Bermuda with 200 guests ready for a relaxing vacation and comfy hotel room. But as Austin approached the owner of the hotel those rooms were supposed to be in, he heard these words: “I’m fine, nice to meet you, too. Unfortunately we don’t have any rooms.”
In the 1970s, Austin and his company, Austin Travel, had nearly 2,000 clients stationed in Iran helping to teach the local people how to fly service airplanes that were sold to the government by Grumman Aerospace – Austin’s largest corporate account. On a Thursday in 1979, Austin got a call. A war was breaking out and Austin was tasked with hopping on a plane to Iran and getting his people out; his mission was successful.
After spending a few days on the road to speak at a travel conference in Las Vegas, Austin was just one plane ride away from home. However, as he made his way through a St. Louis airport, a voice came over the loudspeaker asking for him to report to “Gate 24.” Confused, he did so and when he arrived, Austin was told that his granddaughter had arrived safely. To his knowledge, he didn’t have a granddaughter, but as it turned out, he said, Amanda – the new arrival to the family – was born during his travels and awaited him at Huntington Hospital.
“Over the 60 years I have been in business, many unusual things – some funny – have occurred and I wanted to share them,” Austin said of his book “...And Away We Went!” which was published in July. “They’re all true… Every story in my book is based on actual events that took place.”
But while the book details the tales of Austin’s past, the 83-year-old is still hard at work making new stories.
In 1955, after graduating from what is now Baruch College in New York City, Austin founded Austin Travel. The company had success and merged with Protravel International in 2010 to become the then 18th largest travel management company in America In 2012, another move was made, this time to join with Tzell Travel – a Travel Leaders Group company. The move made Austin Travel even bigger.
Today, Austin is still going and he believes the travel industry – an industry not typically thought of as prominent as it once was – is only getting bigger.
“If you look around… 10-15 years ago there was a travel agency on every corner; now they’ve become concentrated,” he said. “The travel industry is growing, travel agencies are not.”
According to a statement issued by the U.S. Commerce Department in April, the facts and data seem to match Austin’s claims. Based on the National Travel and Tourism Office’s 2014 Spring Travel Forecast, it is projected that international travel to the United States will continue experiencing growth with a 3.5-percent increase, bringing 72.2 million visitors who stay in the United States for more than one night.
But the market is changing, and the industry knows that just as well as Austin does.
Home representatives, Austin said, with the advent of new technology making the planning of trips easier and easier, have swarmed the industry and led to the near-extinction of local travel agency.
“Everything today is so electronically oriented, everyone is connected to so much information at all times,” said John Vater, partner of Ceviche Tours – an online travel agency that specializes in trips to Mexico, offering “niche” ventures like whale shark tours, snorkeling and sports fishing charters. “But there’s still really good credence in using a quality travel agent. They pre-screen, they’ve been there, they’ve done it all – it’s a recommendation through experience.”
According to World Travel Market – a leading global event for the travel industry – in its “Global Market Trends Report for 2013”, online travel agencies are showing ann ever-increasing importance in the industry. Companies like Expedia and Priceline are replacing the travel agencies that Austin and his fellow agents used to occupy on “every corner,” but that hasn’t necessarily doomed those people – it’s just changed the way they do business.
Now, as he sits in his Syosset office, Austin can maintain his team of home representatives while working alongside three men whom he can trust.
“I’ve worked with my sons for 25 years… They really are good boys, they do a good job,” Austin said of his sons Jeffery, Jamie and Stewart.
As for which genre Austin will step into next, only time will tell. Whichever it may be, though, it’d better have room for a larger cast.