|Me preaching 1974|
I have never considered myself to be anything other than a "preacher of the Gospel." Everything else has been an avocation.
So, I want to start this conversation by giving you some background information. To begin with you need to know how I came to be involved in the travel industry in the first place. I never started out or even considered a career in travel. However, life, as it often does gets in the way of living. After preaching for more than more than 40 years and pastoring four Baptist Churches for most of those years (Same as the earthly ministry of Jesus) I was forced to make a major life change.
The principle reason for that change was a massive heart attack which the doctors said damaged more than a third of my heart muscle. Doctors were clear that I had to (1) take time to recover and (2) find something to do that is less stressful than being a Baptist pastor. As things turned out they were wrong about the amount of heart damage but they were absolutely on target with the stress analysis.
As I reflected on this I wondered what I could do that I would enjoy and find some level of significance from doing that at the same time not be stressful in the same way as being a Baptist pastor. I realized that much of my stress I experience came from within. I discovered that I was assimilating the weight of other people’s issues. It became important to me to find I something I could do and at the same time have a sense of joy, fulfillment and significance without the stress level of being a pastor.
I have to be honest and say that there is nothing that I enjoyed more than preaching and teaching. People tell me I was gifted on both counts. I was also pretty good at growing churches. With the exception of the very first church I served every church I served grew and did so at a rate that required expanding the facilities to accommodate the need.
With all this in mind I started looking for something within my ministry years that I could cherry pick as a career outside of the normal structure of “the church.” Truth is, religious ministry affords a number of career paths outside the ministry itself. In fact, some of the best Life Coaches, Leadership Trainers, Fund Raisers etc. are former ministers.
It occurred to me that I had been participating in and later leading a large segment of the Texas Baptist Partnership Mission with Australia. Starting in 1985 and terminating in 2000 I had worked with Bill Grey and later Don Sewell of the BGCT as well as Terry Denton and Beverly Berens of Main Street Travel in Fort Worth to plan these trips. It was through that process I had been able to get an inside view of what a travel agent does. I saw how they put together travel for hundreds of people on the same trip.
But what I caught from Terry and Beverly was how they related to the clients (my team members) . . . . it was always personal. By personal I mean that while the “nuts and bolts” of the trip had to have a high priority it was the relationship they maintained with my team members that lasted. They seemed to see themselves not just as facilitators of our projects but as team members with us. I thought . . . . . this is not unlike what I did was a minster . . . . . this I can do without completely retooling.
|OSSN Directors on Solstice|
Then it occurred to me. I need to associate with people who are doing what I an trying to do. As a pastor I had a monthly pastor’s meeting and other collegiality meetings that help keep me centered. As I looked around for something similar in travel I began hitting a brick wall. So I began participating in travel bulletin boards (remember those) and other online avenues. I checked out some organizations (joined one which turned out to be a scam) but didn’t find anything that seemed to meet my needs.
The next month I attended my very first OSSN Chapter meeting where I found the members engaging and Jeff warm and approachable. I was a happy camper just being a member of that Chapter. Jeff and others in the Chapter became not only colleagues but friends. Each month we had an interesting supplier presenter but the main attraction for me was developing relationships with colleagues and supplier BDM’s. These people, unbeknown to them, taught me a lot about being a good Travel Agent.
It was while a member of the Houston OSSN Chapter that I had my heart attack aboard a Carnival Cruise Ship. Jeff and I were meeting with Carnival sales people that day. I thought if I die today at least my last meal was terrific ---- Tiger Shrimp and Prime Rib. Shortly after that I am getting serious about the travel business I had originally created as a vehicle for Christian mission projects.
In 2005 I moved to Dripping Springs, Texas located just SW of Austin. I wanted to connect with the Austin OSSN Chapter but had no luck. So I emailed Jeff and in a few days I received a call from Gary Fee offering me the Director position for the Chapter in Austin. I accepted and thus began my journey with OSSN. In less than a year we grew from “0”attending to an average of about 18. This immersed me deeply into OSSN until I relocated to Port Neches, Texas. Moving meant I had to give up the Austin Chapter.
Now, fast forward six months . . . . It was sometime in May that I was asked if I missed anything
about that job now that I was six months out from it. I suppose I would have said, "No" had it not just seen a photo of a group of Chapter Directors meeting up at an event. It reminded me that there was something I missed about being an OSSN/CCRA Chapter Director and Regional. I really wish I could either say, "I miss everything about it" or "I don't miss a thing," but that just wouldn't be truth. There are some things I do miss and there are some things I happy to not miss.
The truth is, there is very little that can be done to make someone successful in this business (Travel Agent) by offering products and training. I remember Jack MacGorman telling me back in the late 1960's that I would learn more Greek by just doing a little translation each day than I would in three years of classroom studies. He was right. That is also true of being a successful Travel Agent.
Products are but tools designed to make certain tasks easier. Like any profession there are some basic tools that everyone must use and like other professions there are a variety of brands for those tools. Whatever brand chosen the tool still must be used to be beneficial. I'd also suggest that when it comes to tools you adopt the mantra, "Be not the first by who the new is tried nor the last to lay the old aside." I might add, "Don't buy tools you really don't need."
As an OSSN/CCRA Director I could put members in touch with valuable and tested tools designed to make them more efficient and profitable. I could do the same for Directors. When they accepted them, used them and prospered with them I felt a sense of satisfaction and validation. But I never came to the place where I thought we had the only tools or even the best tools.
I could also, in some cases cut through the gate keepers and put them in touch with supplier reps and others who would help them. I also often had a voice in industry issues. Being a Chapter Director and then a Regional Director opened doors for me in the industry that might otherwise remained closed.
However, that satisfaction and validation was very short lived. No, I don't miss any of that. In fact, there are some aspects of it I am glad I don't have to deal with any longer and those now involved don't need me to elaborate on those. . . . they probably already know.
What I miss is the comradery and collegiality with other Directors and members of our many
|Austin OSSN Chapter 2007|
I owe Gary and Melody for my time on the stage in the travel industry. They got the ball rolling for me when others were not quiet so sure. I also missed the direct relationship with our allied suppliers and the travel agents from across the country. Truth is I also miss most of the folks at CCRA Corporate.
I need to add that I really do miss being on the cutting edge of making things happen in what next to the Gospel Ministry was one of the most rewarding things in which I have been privileged to be involved. There is a kind of adrenalin rush that comes with building something or taking something to the next level. I have been blessed to be a part of that in two arenas and for that I am thankful
Much of the above has appeared elsewhere in public print. However, recently a “Like” on a Facebook posting helped bring this whole OSSN/CCRA thing into sharp focus. That posting coupled with the fact that at the time I was sorting and filing emails and notes helped me understand why it just wasn’t fun for me anymore. As I reviewed these emails and notes I was struck by something I might characterize as promises made, promises kept, and promises broken. I know, that sounds like a sermon outline. Well it could be.
Don’t misunderstand what I am about to say. Although I am not a Director at any level any longer with CCRA I am still a member. But honesty demands that we acknowledge that the bringing together two corporate families is never without its challenges. The question is not are there challenges but how are those challenges met. I saw a lot of good people come and go for a wide variety of reasons. I have already explained how I became a part of all this and now I’ll tell you why, from my perspective, I left.
|My CCRA Badge|
So I guess since I am no longer there the question becomes, “When did it stop being fun?” The answer is not really that complex. It did not stop being fun because of structural changes even though I sensed early that core values and heartbeat of OSSN were slowly being eroded. It was not even the added stress brought on by the clumsy beginning we had bringing the two cultures together and finding leadership. It had nothing to do with the ever changing efforts to monetizing the associational aspect over the development of the collegiality and networking aspects and to incentivize Chapter Directors. Truth is others will have to judge the positive and negative effects these things had. Oh, I have my views but they shall remain just that MY views. It was simply a relationship issue and the frustration of not being able to function properly because of the micromanagement and that things were left hanging for long periods of time without resolution. Let's just leave it at: "Me and my immediate Director just did not make a good combination. "
Personally, I don’t think the associational aspect of OSSN was very high on the priority list in the beginning. I believe that the associational aspect was and has been kept largely to support and leverage the TRUE seller of travel coding system owned by OSSN at the time of the CCRA purchase. That coding system was the key to the purchase. No other Travel Agent group can offer that.
For me, and keep in mind that all Regional Directors had their own reasons for staying around after the merger, the reasons for staying was to support friends Gary & Melody Fee during the transition period; to help shape the future of the associational element of OSSN inside the CCRA structure; to maintain a personal industry standing and visibility; but mostly I stayed around because I enjoyed it - it was personally satisfying. There was never any “real” money in it for me and so money played no part in my decision to stay on after the buyout or to eventually leave.
For me, the fun going out was the result of a personality issue that was not going to improve with time. As an organization, I can, without reservation, recommend CCRA to independent travel agents. I have always and still do believe that CCRA membership is well worth the membership fees. Additionally most of the staff has evolved in their understanding of the leisure side of the travel industry. I am grateful to Dic Marxen and Peter Pincus for allowing me to be a part of the transition. It didn’t evolve as I may have hoped but right now it is the best thing out there for the independent travel agent.