From selling rail passes and plane tickets to fellow students during his college days to running a successful agency with a growing presence on YouTube today, Danny Genung, CEO of Harr Travel in Redlands, Calif., has come a long way.
While the coronavirus pandemic has largely paused leisure travel, Harr Travel recently experienced some of its best months historically in April, May and June, helped in large part by its YouTube following of more than 24,000 subscribers who signed up since its launch last year.
About two years ago, Genung met Taylor Haenny, now Harr's director of marketing and media, at a coffee shop. They started traveling together. After witnessing Genung lead groups, Haenny encouraged him to get into video production.
"This is stuff people want to hear and know, and there's really not anything out there that is really well done, with great audio, steady camera, really high-quality 4K pictures and truly in-depth," Genung said.
Based on Harr's subscriber count, which is growing by several hundred every week, Haenny was right.
Harr's YouTube channel is populated mostly with cruise-related content, including quick videos on promotions and news as well as more in-depth ship tour videos, like the 51-minute-long tour of the Norwegian Escape. That video, posted only a month ago, has 14,000 views.
Travel advisors have told Genung they find his videos useful for personal training and to share with clients, but the videos have also resonated with the traveling public. During the pandemic, the channel has provided a way for Genung to stay connected, to both his clients and consumers who love cruising so much that they'll watch a 51-minute ship inspection.
Many of those viewers have turned into clients -- including ones who had previously booked cruises directly or online and had to deal with long wait times for refunds or rebookings when cruises were canceled.
"We're solving a problem for people who didn't know they had a problem before the pandemic started," Genung said.
It's paying off, too: Cruise sales were up 25% year over year in April and 50% in May and June.
Genung does receive payment from YouTube for advertisements played on his channel, but it's a small amount. The focus of the channel, he said, is to convert viewers into clients.
Harr Travel was started by Genung's grandfather, Bob Harr. Harr worked for the vacuum company Kirby for 60 years. The agency dates back to 1981, when Harr began planning incentive travel for Kirby. From there, he expanded into meeting planning as well as some leisure travel.
When he was young, Genung often traveled with his grandparents thanks to his grandfather's work at Harr. But once he started college, his grandfather fell ill and closed the agency.
During college, Genung studied abroad in Salzburg, Austria, and the travel bug bit him. He decided to revive Harr Travel, selling rail passes and plane tickets to students.
He branched out into cruises and groups, leading his first group on a spring break cruise when he was still in college. He received Master Cruise Counselor designation with CLIA when he was 20.
When he graduated, Genung and his wife, Kristen, spent two years working as substitute teachers and traveling on the side. Genung continued to sell travel to enable the couple's personal travel.
Over the years, he got further enmeshed into the industry. He worked as a middle school history teacher but spent his free time learning more about the travel business, and he served as a two-term president for ASTA's Southern California chapter. He also started leading groups of middle school students on trips to Europe and Central America.
Five years ago, Genung and his wife found out they were expecting a baby, and she came down with an ultimatum: Pick one job.
I jumped into the travel business with both feet," Genung said. "I hired my first staff member and then hired another and grew very traditionally."
Like many agencies, Harr's bookings for future travel aren't necessarily producing much cash flow in the short term. But Genung is hopeful about travel's future and the place travel advisors will have on the other side of the crisis.
The pandemic, he said, "is showing the value of a travel advisor in a way unlike anything since Sept. 11. Most of the people I'm dealing with have never spoken to a travel advisor before. They really don't understand. But this has forced so many people to reconsider how they book travel and why they book as they have. For us, it's been a really positive thing."