After 10 years, I still have the
I had recently sold
a company I started, Weissmann Reports, to the owners of Travel
Weekly and had agreed to stay onboard for a couple more
subscriptions to all the trade publications. When my subscription
to Travel Trade was up for renewal a few months after the sale, I
filled out the renewal card and sent it in with a check for
It returned to me a
week later in a hand-addressed envelope, a note paper-clipped to it
from Travel Trade's editor and publisher, Joel Abels: "Sorry.
You're with the enemy now."
I had known Joel
for about 10 years at that point, and I had to chuckle. It was
Joel Abels --
champion of retail travel agents, innovative publisher, shrewd
businessman, award-winning columnist -- died on Jan. 25, and the
industry is much poorer for his passing.
The importance of
relationships in building businesses has been appreciated for as
long as there has been commerce, but Joel understood that
importance in ways that few others ever do. He understood that it
meant more than glad-handing, more than repeating back to a
customer what the customer wants to hear, more than simply trying
to keep everyone happy. He understood relationships in the full
dimension of that word.
Joel wrote for his
audience of travel agent readers in a way that let them know he
clearly understood their businesses and what was important to
suppliers equally well. I recall once when, before I sold my
company, I had taken a booth at a Travel Trade Cruise-a-Thon and,
during a lull in traffic, Joel came over to talk. We surveyed the
room. Virtually every cruise line had a very large stand, and a
number of associations and consortia had a significant
"Look around," Joel
said. "Everyone here, everyone, built their business with my
He was also trying
to sell me advertising at the time, and I took the pitch to be
somewhat hyperbolic. It would be some time before I understood that
what he said was not an exaggeration.
I think the truth
finally hit home when I saw Joel take a seat in the front row at
the christening of the Queen Mary 2, alongside Carnival Corp.
Chairman Micky Arison, Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip. (I
believe it was the front row. It was hard to tell for sure from up
in the nosebleed section where I and the other trade journalists
I understood it
when cruise line executives would tell me about creative deals Joel
had put together for them.
I understood it
this past week when Joel's passing seemed to be the sole topic of
conversation in the industry. There was a void, and people
comforted themselves by talking about what was suddenly
Most in the
industry knew Joel from the perspective of a reader or advertiser;
I knew him from both perspectives, and additionally as a
He was the best
type of competitor, one from whom you can learn. I understood that
his return of my check was first and foremost a statement of
loyalty to his publication
director of sales, unaware of Joel's earlier note, later that year
tried to take a booth at Cruise-a-Thon. He, too, was told by Joel
that our money was no longer welcome.
The line between
principle and hard-headedness is a thin one. It's easy to stand on
principle when only $10 is at stake, but the refusal of a fee from
a legitimate vendor for a trade show booth may be unprecedented in
this industry. For Joel, it was a matter of integrity, and I
Joel's devotion to
his publication seemed limitless. When I say "publication," I
really mean his readers and advertisers. People who knew him well
have told me that he and his wife, Lenore, had opportunities to
sell Travel Trade on a few occasions, but it's apparent to anyone
who has read that publication that Joel's very life was defined by
his relationships to his family, his readers, his industry friends
and, of course, his cats.
I suspect that Joel
Abels would not have been whole without Travel Trade.
And I know that the
industry is now incomplete without Joel Abels.