The internet seemed to destroy the once-booming travel agency industry. But the industry has evolved, and for one U.S. military veteran, it provided the perfect opportunity.
For as long as he could remember, Nick Moyneur had fantasized about launching a company. But by 2014, at age 31, he saw no clear way to do it. Moyneur had just concluded six years in the Navy, and he felt disoriented without the regimented military direction he’d been used to. He was also now married, with two young children to care for, and betting the house on an unproven business idea was a nonstarter. “I was going over ideas for a couple of years, and my wife kept shooting them down,” he says. “It was too much risk for her.” And, he admits, she was right.
At a loss for what to do next, Moyneur took to Google. He began searching terms like “business opportunities for veterans,” which eventually led him to VetFran, an organization that ranks veteran-friendly franchise companies. One of those companies, Dream Vacations, was running a contest called Operation Vetrepreneur, exclusively for U.S. military veterans: Moyneur could present a résumé, a business plan, and a video application. If he won, he’d receive one of five free franchise agreements along with training, corporate support, and marketing materials—which is to say, a debt-free ticket to owning a travel agency.
But wait—weren’t travel agencies left for dead, no longer needed once people could book flights and hotels and tours online themselves? Was this actually a viable business? Moyneur wasn’t sure, but he at least knew something about the industry. His wife had worked for travel agencies for years, and much of their lives had already been centered around traveling.
Years earlier, he’d taken a scuba-diving instructor’s certification course while an undergrad at the University of Missouri. After graduating, he decamped to an island off the coast of Honduras to spend three months as a dive instructor. Afterward he took a bus to Costa Rica, met up with a pal from dive school, and drove a Toyota Tacoma up through Central America and all 1,400 miles of Mexico. Once back home in St. Louis, Moyneur launched into a full year of intense, rigid training to become a U.S. Navy diver. “I’d wake up at 4:30 every morning to work out,” he says. “I wanted to do diving the right way.”
Just before joining the Navy, he married his wife, Julie, in 2008. His first post after training was in Hawaii, where he was assigned to Pearl Harbor’s Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit One. Julie took work as a travel agent while he deployed to Vietnam, Singapore, Japan, South Korea, and the Philippines, carrying out underseas government missions.
Julie liked her job as a travel agent and knew there was opportunity there. So when Moyneur told her about the contest to win a Dream Vacations franchise, she finally saw a business that didn’t terrify her.
With his wife’s blessing, Moyneur applied for the contest. Everything has led to this moment, he thought. This is my future.
IF YOU THOUGHT travel agents were obsolete, you were right, to an extent. When sites like Travelocity and Expedia arrived in the mid-’90s, customers no longer needed their local brick-and mortar agencies. And once airlines had a direct line to consumers, they stopped offering the commissions agents had long relied on. “The internet killed the old-fashioned travel agent,” says Dave Hershberger, chair of the American Society of Travel Advisors (ASTA). “It just took them all out of business.”
Of the agents who survived, many found refuge in the exploding cruise industry. While customers approached airline tickets as a basic commodity, they looked at ship travel as an experience, and first-time cruise-goers needed all the help they could get sort- ing through itineraries, dining options, and room choices. To win those customers, companies like Carnival and Royal Caribbean continued offering agent incentives. All of this functionally reshaped the travel agency industry as a whole. The old time role of “agent” began to morph into “adviser.” And once that happened, the industry learned how to adapt and rebuild.
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