etween the airlines cutting
commissions and putting the kibosh on offshore ticketing schemes,
it seems as though it's getting tougher to earn a living as a
travel agent. No wonder many agents these days are singing the
Except for maybe Mark Murie. He prefers singing to composer
Maurice Durufle's "Requiem," and not because he's blue.
"It is fun. It is really enjoyable to me," said Murie, who
believes having fun is just as important, and actually maybe even
more important, than work.
But make no mistake about it, Murie is constantly working.
Country Travel in Bismarck, N.D., and recently acquired another
agency, Preferred Travel in Minot, a city just a couple of hours'
drive away. Murie also markets customized tours to the inbound
And if that's not enough to keep him busy, he serves as ASTA
chapter president for the Upper Midwest, which encompasses North
Dakota and Minnesota.
Like many agents, Murie believes it's tougher to be a travel
agent these days.
"Every time we turn around, we get another kick in the head,"
Murie said. "Frankly, while there are a lot of positives in the
travel industry, there have been a lot of negatives, too. So you
need something else that is positive in your life."
And that's why Murie, a trained tenor, sings. Along with
gardening and early-morning exercise, singing is part of Murie's
unofficial stress-management program. So, he seems to sing just
about every chance he gets.
He sings and sometimes conducts his church choir. He also
belongs to a singing group that performs at weddings and other
special events, and he participates in a second choir called
Masterworks, which brings us back to Durufle's "Requiem."
In several weeks, Masterworks will stage a public performance of
the "Requiem," which Murie said is a complicated work.
The part Murie is learning requires singing 30 minutes of verse
in Latin. "This is not something you talk in everyday," Murie said.
"It is extremely challenging music."
That's why Murie is constantly practicing it, including
listening to a music CD of "Requiem" while commuting from his home
to his two agencies. It isn't easy, but that's what Murie loves
"I've been involved in music all of my life," said Murie, who
also plays piano. "It is a challenge, but it is something you can
master. You are the one in control. You are the one learning it.
You can take all the good feelings from having accomplished
Not so in the travel industry. "In the industry, you can do
everything you want to do things right, but there are so many
things that affect your performance, like if the flight is canceled
or the hotel has a problem," he said.
But "singing and exercising are in your control. No one else can
screw it up." And on top of all that, Murie said, it is a break
from the daily grind of running an agency.
"Life shouldn't be all serious, and I am way more a cutup than
serious," Murie said. "In my next life, I'm going to be a band
-- Michael Milligan
A primer on getting a life
ey, you think you're stressed?
Try working as a reporter on a weekly travel newspaper. It's all
deadlines, deadlines, deadlines. There's always someone to
interview or a press conference to cover. Not to mention the
editors breathing down your neck, wanting to know "when are you
going to finish that Agent Life piece?"
So what's the point of this thinly disguised rant masquerading
as the lead to this story? Well, the point is this: We are all
But, according to Allen Elkin, more of us could benefit from
following Mark Murie's example.
And Elkin should know. Aside from having a Ph.D. in
psychology, he has written the book on controlling stress. Actually
a couple of books, including the now classic "Stress Management for
"There really is more pressure these days," said Elkin, who
founded the Stress Management and Counseling Center in New York 20
years ago. "The economics are dicey. People are worried about how
they will retire, whether they will be laid off and the [faster]
pace of life."
But when it comes to managing or reducing stress, Elkin said,
"There is no magic bullet."
"You have to put together a [stress management] package that
includes everything," he said, "from learning how to relax your
body and quiet your mind to getting a life."
To start, Elkin said, "Grab a piece of paper and put together a
list of things you find enjoyable and satisfying."
Too stressed to do that? OK, then check out Elkin's list:
• Hobbies, activities, exercise. For instance, play more of your
favorite sport. Or simply go walking.
• Make time for the little things. "Get up a little earlier in
the morning, have a coffee and read a newspaper. At lunch, take a
walk around the block," Elkin said.
• Try aromatherapy. Candles and scented oils are fine, but Elkin
also suggested, "strange as it sounds," tossing "a little of your
favorite perfume or cologne in your wastebasket" near your
• Check your office ergonomics. "You want to make sure you have
the right chair. It is very important that you are not straining
your hands when you are using a keyboard."
•Eat well. "Your body, in order to help cope with stress, has to
be taken care of," Elkin said.
• Get sleep. "Seventy-million Americans don't get enough sleep.
Getting sleep is probably one of the most important things you can
do for yourself," Elkin said.
• Spend time with friends and family.
• Get organized. "If you look at your desk and you can't find
that tuna sandwich you had a month ago, you are in real trouble,"
Elkin said. "When you are organized, it helps reduce stress."
Marc My Words
Back On Track
ou want to get into the travel
business? You must be nuts!
OK, I admit it. On occasion I've had that thought. You've
probably had that thought, too. And almost surely, you've heard
someone else hand out that warning. There's a crisis of faith in
our industry, and it's troubling.
matter what happens, one thing is sure: People always will want to
travel. And they'll need caring, enthusiastic people to help them
do it -- people like us.
There may be no better time than now to rededicate ourselves to
our careers, our customers and our industry. How to do it?
• Get in touch with your "inner travel-child." Remember how
excited you were when you landed your first travel-related job? For
me, it was the thrill of being a tour manager for the first time,
taking a group to the New York World's Fair for a day, at 17 years
old, no less. I often replay that memory, and almost always it
inspires me. And every now and then I call or visit the person who
gave me that job, Jim Penler, just to acknowledge that wonderfully
reckless faith he placed in me.
• Admit the reason you got into this industry: To travel more
and better and to help others do the same. Had I not stumbled into
travel, I'd probably still be living in Fall River, Mass., thinking
that a trip to Boston was exotic. Instead, I've visited the
pyramids, sailed Venice's canals, elevatored up the Eiffel Tower
and ambled through the ruins of Rome. Had I not gone into our
business, I might still have "done" all these things anyway, but at
once, in Las Vegas.
• Find a role model. Right now I've got two: Justus Ghormley, an
Iatan geo-trainer who so loves destinations that he sometimes
delivers his seminars in a pith helmet, and Kay Boles, a meeting
planner in West Los Angeles College's travel department, who's
convinced her class that her career should be theirs. It's hard to
be jaded around people like that.
• Offer to speak to students at a local travel school. You'll
get as much out of it as they will. You also may be surprised how
many career-changers are in the room, people who say, in effect,
"I've made money; now, I want to nourish my soul." We can learn
from that attitude.
Sometimes we make money, sometimes we don't, but always we
should remind ourselves of the experiences we've had because of
travel, and of the wondrous memories that almost surely are to
Marc Mancini is a professor of travel at West Los Angeles