Selling travel in 'spirit of hope'

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life121508BarbaraTYREEIt is unorthodox, to be sure, but the owners of Tyree Travel in Old Bethpage, N.Y., are not in the business for profits.

That does not mean they don't care if there are any profits; they care very much because that money, every dime, is earmarked for charity.

This approach to the business is somewhat of a family tradition spanning more than three decades for the Tyree family on New York's Long Island.

Everything started with Barbara Tyree, a mother of eight who, in 1973, rescued Madonna Heights Services, an operation in Huntington, N.Y., that provides a range of social services for women and girls in need.

By 1977, after working at Madonna Heights as a volunteer for a few years, Tyree was ready for a change.

According to her daughter Jackie Kos, Barbara Tyree wanted to re-enter the work force, so Tyree's husband, who operates a successful construction business, suggested she make the move but donate all her income to Madonna Heights.

life121508JackieKOSTyree signed on as an outside sales agent for a local agency, then about five years later switched to Genial Travel in Old Bethpage. In 1987, she bought that agency and renamed it Tyree Travel.

She continued her practice of donating agency profits and any salary she might have taken; over time, the list of charities has grown.

When Tyree considered selling out and retiring in 1999, Kos left a job in finance to take over the agency. She joined the week of one of the airlines' commission cuts, in late 1999.

She said the staff of "amazing, hardworking, dedicated agents" pulled the agency through that and other tough times to follow, including 9/11.

Today, Tyree Travel is a single-location, $13 million operation co-owned by Tyree and Kos. It employs 14 and hosts 16 independent contractors. The business is divided about equally between corporate and leisure bookings, Kos said.

About a fifth of leisure sales is groups, some of it operated in cooperation with charities. When a charity is the sponsor of a group trip, the agency donates 20% of the package markup to that organization, Kos said.

Tyree has retired from the travel business but oversees distribution of profits to the family's charities. Kos and her sister Barbara Ross are active at the agency, and they are paid.

The agency is a full-service business that looks like a lot of its competitors. A member of Vacation.com, it participates in every targeted promotion offered by the group, Kos said.

Kos said the agency had never referred to its charitable activities when promoting services -- until after 9/11. Today, it advises clients or prospective clients in promotional materials that "Tyree Travel is committed to diverting the profits to charitable endeavors."

She credits a dedicated staff with success on the service side. Kos laughs at herself now when she thinks about the expectations she had when joining the agency nine years ago.

She said, "I had been king of the hill at my old job. I could do everything there. ... I thought I could serve every client [at Tyree Travel] myself."

With a little time, she realized the agency needs "unbelievably experienced people," which is why, Kos said, Tyree Travel sends staffers to "all the key destinations" so they can talk knowledgeably about hotel rooms, cruise ship cabins and the like.

When hiring staff, she said, "I don't expect anyone to be interested in charities, but it rubs off." For example, she said, one employee is a volunteer teacher with Kos at Madonna Heights. But "I never assume anyone has my feelings about charity. If you did that, you would lose your friends and colleagues."

She said a tougher business climate and zeroing out of airline commissions has meant the agency cannot give as much to charity as previously. In 1999, when she joined, Kos said, the agency was making a 12% profit on its revenues, but today that is about 6.8%. The agency has grown from $8 million in 1999 to today's $13 million, but that is not enough to produce the same amount of dollars.

Kos said she hoped that one day she could afford to give up her salary, as her mother had done. As it is, she said, she took a huge pay cut to preserve the agency's business-for-charity model.

Why? "The mission of Madonna Heights centers on providing a spirit of hope to the most vulnerable among us. That's huge, don't you think?"

Perfect Itinerary
Spiritual sites in Nepal and Bhutan

itin121508Jackie Kos, president of Tyree Travel in Old Bethpage, N.Y., created the following itinerary for a group trip to Asia, which took place in September.

Day 1: Fly from Newark to Delhi, India.

Day 2: Transfer from the Delhi airport to the Hotel Grand InterContinental.

Day 3: Tour Old and New Delhi. Sites include reminders of the Moghuls -- the Red Fort and Humayun's Tomb -- as well as the mile-long Chandni Chowk bazaar. Welcome dinner to follow.

Day 4: Excursion to Agra by train. See the Agra Fort and the Taj Mahal.

Day 5: Morning flight to Kathmandu, Nepal's capital, with transfer to Yak & Yeti Hotel. Afternoon sightseeing in Kathmandu city and at the Swayambhunath stupa.

Day 6: Morning visits to Bodhnath and Pashupatinath temples, followed by a visit to Patan City and a Tibetan handicrafts center.

Day 7: Drive about 45 minutes to Budhanilkantha village at about 4,750 feet above sea level to begin a trek with Sherpa guides of about five to six hours to the village of Shivapuri, at 8,400 feet above sea level.

Day 8: Trek downhill, about three hours, to Budhanilkantha for the return to the hotel. Spend the afternoon on an excursion to the towns of Dhulikhel and Bhaktpur.

Day 9: Morning flight to Paro, Bhutan, with transfer to the Uma Paro Resort. After lunch, Paro Valley sightseeing will include Bhutan's National Museum and the Rimpung Dzong, a fortresslike monastery and administrative center.

Day 10: Drive to Thimphu to spend the day in Bhutan's capital. Sightseeing will include the Memorial Chorten, the National Institute of Traditional Medicine, the Folk Heritage Museum (housed in a replica of a traditional farmhouse), the National Textile Museum (focused on Bhutan's living art of weaving) and the Thimphu weekend market. Return to Paro for overnight.

Day 11: Excursion to Taktsang Monastery, which sits on a mountainside 10,600 feet above sea level, and 2,950 feet over the valley floor. Drive to the starting point for a hike to get the best view of the monastery.

Day 12: Fly from Paro to Delhi and transfer to the Ashok Country Resort. Farewell dinner at the Great Kabob Factory at the Radisson Hotel and later head to the airport for the 11:45 p.m. departure to the U.S.

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