A travel agency's journey


lifeKoubaVivienne Kouba recalls how she got into the travel business. It was happenstance. She said she had been a "perpetual student" studying Chinese language and culture at Taiwan University when she returned to Oregon as a "mail-order bride."

About that last remark: Kouba and her husband had been friends through high school and college, bonding in part because they were born on the same day. During her 18 months abroad, the relationship changed to a courtship.

Soon after she came home, the couple married, but next came the matter of her career. Kouba said she was burned out on academe and turned to travel because "it is fascinating."

Ironically, she doesn't travel very much, but today she is CEO of an agency operation with five locations in Oregon and about 60 staff.

Kouba joined Eugene-based Journeys by Ambassador in 1987. Two years earlier, then-owner Jack Brinkman had purchased a small agency and set out to grow the business internally and through acquisitions.

By the late 1990s, Kouba had become part owner and CEO of the agency, partnering with Brinkman and his wife, Dondeana. The trio managed a slew of acquisitions, 10 to 15 agencies, beginning in 2000, growing the business from about $20 million to the present $45 million, Kouba said. Then they sold to Peak Travel Group in San Jose so the Brinkmans could retire from retail travel.

Birth of a hosting business

But there's another thread to this story: Along the way, JBA created a GDS hosting business, ATS Automation Services.

Under hosting, one agency holds a master GDS contract and other agencies piggyback on the deal and receive an agreed share of GDS incentives.

JBA first tried hosting for one small agency, with Worldspan as the GDS vendor. JBA secured its first Galileo contract in 2003 and set out to make hosting services a full-time business.

JBA spun off ATS in 2004, partly as a move to protect the agency and ATS from the liabilities of the other, Kouba said.

ATS works out contracts with the hosted agencies and provides technological support and auditing services. It also reconciles statements and processes payments to agencies.

However, ATS does not contract with the GDSs. JBA held the first contract with Galileo, but as of 2006 the contract is held by Odyssey, a limited liability corporation created by three agencies: JBA, Peak Travel and Polk Majestic in Denver. Kouba said the agencies joined forces to secure the "strongest possible GDS contract terms."

ATS implements hosting services for just over 50 agencies in 75 locations in 17 states, but JBA is the host for most of the agencies, with Peak and Polk Majestic each hosting a handful.

Meanwhile, Jack Brinkman retired, but only from the agency. He is CEO of ATS, which has five employees, although that number may rise to accommodate demand for the company's toll-free support line "that GDS companies just don't offer anymore," Kouba said.

The Brinkmans and Kouba sold JBA last year, but they retained ownership of ATS. Nevertheless, Kouba's professional life remains focused on JBA, an agency that is 60% leisure and 40% corporate, with an emphasis on high-end and specialty travel on the leisure side.

About Peak Travel

lifePeakPeak Travel is a $72 million business employing 93 people, according to Tyler Peak, president and owner. The head count includes 30 independent contractors, all devoted to leisure. Peak's business mix is 65% corporate, 25% leisure and 10% groups.

Peak said he bought JBA because "in this business, size does matter. We have better leverage to benefit the customers."

He called JBA "the perfect match."

"It has a great management team and is the opposite of Peak for business mix," Peak said. "We can benefit each other."

One benefit is Peak's technology, he said. His agency patented software that is used to manage groups and meetings. It is a registration tool that Peak Travel sells to corporations.

Aside from improving connectivity behind the scenes, Peak said he "leaves JBA alone" because things work well.

He has bought and sold before but said JBA was his largest purchase so far. The first Peak agency was founded by his father in 1962. In 1990, the agency was sold to US Travel. After a four-year stint with US Travel and a two-year hiatus "playing golf" until his noncompete agreement expired, Tyler Peak founded Peak Travel Group.

At that time, he bought about a dozen agencies. Peak said he brought the former owners to his office with their staff in order "to get the relationships."

By combining the Peak and JBA operations, he now has a $117 million regional agency. Peak said his next step will be to expand his reach down the coast to Southern California.

"I think there's an opportunity there, but there is no rush," he said. "I need to ensure the JBA [relationship] continues to work well."

Think you're a good candidate for an upcoming Agent Life? Contact Nadine Godwin, Agent Life editor, at [email protected], and please include your agency name, agency location, telephone number and e-mail address in the message and put "Agent Life" in the subject line.

Perfect Itinerary

An Egypt exploration

The following itinerary was created by Mary Marlowe, an Egypt specialist at Journeys by Ambassador, for a group trip she will lead later this year.

Day 1: Depart Portland, Ore., via a United Airlines flight to Chicago to connect with Lufthansa service to Frankfurt and Cairo.

Day 2: Arrive in Cairo, where you will be met by a Ya'lla Tours representative and transferred to the Grand Hyatt Cairo for an overnight stay.

Day 3: A full-day tour with a private guide and driver. Drive south of Cairo to the Pyramid of Dahshour, also known as the Red Pyramid, which was built approximately 4,600 years ago. Continue to Sakara to see the prototype of the pyramids, the Step Pyramid, built for the Pharaoh Djoser by the architect Imhotep. Possibly visit a carpet school on the way back to the hotel.

Day 4: Another full-day tour with a private guide and driver. In Giza, see the Great Pyramid, a royal burial chamber, the Valley Temple and the Sphinx. Then visit the Solar Boat Museum. Continue to Memphis, the ancient capital of the Old Kingdom of Egypt. Return to Cairo and visit the Papyrus Institute.

Day 5: A day in Cairo begins with a detailed, guided tour of the Egyptian Museum of Antiquities, which houses the treasures of the Tomb of Tutankhamen and the Mummies Room. Mummies, including that of Rameses II, are displayed in free-standing glass cases in a climate-controlled room. Leave the museum and enter Old Cairo and walk back in time. Visit the Old Coptic Church and the Ben Ezra Synagogue. Continue to the Salahdin Citadel, Mohamad Ali Mosque and the streets of Khan el Khalili Bazaar.

Day 6: Transfer to Cairo's airport for an Egypt Air flight to Luxor, where you will be met by a Ya'lla Tours representative. Sightseeing will include the Karnak Temple, the largest place of worship ever built. Within the complex, the Hypostyle Hall is a forest of giant pillars covering an area larger than the entire Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris. Also, visit the Temple of Luxor. Transfer to your hotel, the Steigenberger Nile Palace (formerly a Le Meridien), a five-star property in the heart of the tourist district on the banks of the Nile.

Day 7: Transfer to your Nile cruise ship, the 65-cabin Nile Dolphin. After breakfast onboard, cross to the west bank of the Nile to visit the Valley of the Kings, a vast city of the dead where the tombs of 62 pharaohs have been discovered. The tombs were carved deep into the desert rock, richly decorated and filled with treasures for the afterlife of the pharaohs. Visit the Temple of Queen Hatshepsut, monument to the only female pharaoh. Stop at the Colossi of Memnon, two 66-foot, 1,000-ton statues of Amenhotep III. Return to the Nile Dolphin for lunch, dinner and overnight accommodations onboard.

Day 8: Sail for Edfu.

Day 9: In Edfu, set out by horse-drawn carriage to visit the Temple of Horus, the most perfectly preserved of all the Nile temples. Sail to Kom Ombo. Visit the Temple of Sobek, the crocodile-headed god of fertility. Sail to Aswan.

Day 10: In Aswan, tour the Aswan High Dam. Proceed to the granite quarries that supplied ancient Egyptians with most of the hard stone used to build pyramids and temples. The quarries still hold the Unfinished Obelisk, which would have weighed more than 1,100 tons and would have been the world's largest piece of stone ever handled.

Continue by motorboat to the Temple of Philae on the island of Agilka. In the afternoon, sail around Elephantine Island on a felucca, a traditional Egyptian sailboat. Elephantine Island is the largest of the Aswan-area islands and is the site of some of the oldest remains in Egypt, with artifacts dating to predynastic periods.

Sail around Kitchener Island (also known as Lord Kitchener's Botanical Garden). Herbert Kitchener imported plants from around the world to create his famous garden. From the river you have a nice view of the Aga Khan Mausoleum, a pink-granite structure built in the late 1950s. Return to Aswan.

Day 11: Transfer to Aswan's airport for a flight to Abu Simbel. Visit the temples that were built over a 25-year span. The entire complex of temples was moved to its present location 90 feet above the old site to protect it from the rising water of the Nile when the Aswan Dam was built in the early 1960s. Fly back to Aswan and on to Cairo. Transfer to your hotel, the Sofitel el Gezirah. Enjoy a farewell dinner in view of the illuminated Giza pyramids.

Day 12: Transfer to the airport for the Lufthansa flight to Frankfurt. Check into your hotel and fly to Portland the next day.


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