Entrepreneur Gloria Bohan isn't slowing down

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Gloria Bohan with Windstar president John Delaney in January 2018. Bohan was godmother of the Star Legend.

On Dec. 12, 1970, Gloria and Dan Bohan were married at St. Patrick's Cathedral on a snowy, picture-perfect day in New York. They held their reception on the Cunard Line's Queen Elizabeth 2 before the purser upgraded them to a suite for their honeymoon cruise.

It was a cruise that shaped the rest of their lives.

Gloria Bohan caught the cruise bug, which led her to the travel industry. She founded a small agency in 1972 with one employee, and over the years it grew into the powerhouse Omega World Travel, No. 16 on Travel Weekly's 2018 Power List with $1.41 billion in sales in 2017 and more than 500 employees. She is the highest-ranking female president and CEO on the Power List.

Gloria Bohan grew Omega World Travel from a retail storefront location to a powerhouse with $1.41 billion in 2017 sales.
Gloria Bohan grew Omega World Travel from a retail storefront location to a powerhouse with $1.41 billion in 2017 sales.

"I started very, very small, never really setting any kind of business strategy on being a big agency or a mega agency," Bohan said recently. "But when you get involved with something, what I found out is that you just keep working at it, keep looking for opportunities. And it's the same thing today. It hasn't changed. You keep looking for opportunities."

Bohan grew up in Brooklyn, where she saw cruise ships pass by nearly every day from the windows of her high school in the Bay Ridge neighborhood. 

It was a natural leap to honeymoon on a cruise. After shopping around, she and Dan booked a small cabin on the QE2 and held their 100-person reception onboard. Afterward, they visited the ship's purser -- in their full wedding regalia -- and asked if there might be an upgrade available.

"He kind of had a twinkle in his eye, and sure enough he said, 'Yes, but on one condition: that you put your gown on again on Tuesday, because that's when we're taking pictures for our newsletter, and I'd like to feature you.'" 

They obliged. The new couple enjoyed a beautiful suite, and the purser won loyal customers.

After their honeymoon, the Bohans returned to real life. Gloria taught junior high school in Washington, D.C., while Dan studied for his master's degree and entered the real estate field. 

Gloria and Dan Bohan at their wedding reception onboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1970.
Gloria and Dan Bohan at their wedding reception onboard the Queen Elizabeth 2 in 1970.

Meanwhile, Gloria wanted to get back on the QE2. The couple saved and sailed on the ship for their first anniversary. There was a different purser, and the Bohans weren't staying in a suite this time, but Gloria noticed a group of people who were.

She described them as "a little bit loud, and they were having too much fun." She found out they were travel agents, and she was a bit jealous of their accommodations.

"Dan looked at me, and he said, 'Yeah, you know, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Why don't you do something about it, like maybe start a business?'" she recalled.

After that cruise, the Bohans were living in Fredericksburg, Va. Gloria researched how to get into travel and eventually opened an agency in a small office she shared with Dan and his real estate business.

She started small but networked efficiently. Supplier representatives started visiting. In time, she found another small agency for sale. They had a listing in the Yellow Pages, "golden in those days," so she jumped. From there, she started to open new offices and differentiated herself in a few ways: Her offices were open outside of normal business hours, when others were closed, and Omega delivered airline tickets.

Omega's first office, in Fredericksburg, Va.
Omega's first office, in Fredericksburg, Va.

"You have to look at things in a common-sense way -- what kind of service would you like to see?" she said.

In the late 1970s, Omega started using computers, which created efficiencies at just the time that Bohan started to get deeper into business travel. In 1979, along with four other agencies, she formed a consortium, Travel Trust Associates (today known as Radius, to which Omega no longer belongs).

Also around that time, she started an innovative, 24-hour hotline for travelers.

"That was kind of where you started to think bigger and started to get more traction, more recognition for corporate accounts," Bohan said.

By 1980, she had four offices in the Washington area. Dan started to get more involved in the business, and in a big win, Omega was successful in bidding for significant government travel business.

It was a busy time, but Bohan was glad to have her husband working alongside her.

"He was, to me, like a breath of fresh air in my life," she said. "He was very lively and took chances. ... And he was a lot of fun."

A USA Today special section on business travel in 1990 featured Bohan.
A USA Today special section on business travel in 1990 featured Bohan.

Since the early days of computers, Bohan has valued technology and invested heavily in the space. She said that reporting technology, in particular, has been key to the agency's success.

Cruise-selling technology has also been important. Bohan introduced Cruise.com in 1998.

"We always loved cruises, and we saw that the market was getting very, very crowded when it came to the internet for air, car and hotel," Bohan said.

The site is now one of the highest-volume online cruise sellers. 

In 2004, tragedy struck when Dan went into the hospital for a heart operation but suffered brain damage. There was always hope, Bohan said, but he died in 2010. She credits her friends and colleagues with helping her through that difficult time. One of the ways he is remembered today is through the Dan and Gloria Bohan Foundation.

"My husband and I always felt that we wanted to give back to the industry, and we learned how great it was to be able to have our own business and how happy it made us and fulfilled us," Bohan said. 

The nonprofit fosters entrepreneurship by offering scholarships to business schools. It also supports research into traumatic brain injury and sponsors ASTA's Entrepreneur of the Year award. 

Going forward, Bohan is emphasizing technology at Omega, which now owns its own technology company, TravTech. Bohan said she has a number of new ideas, especially in the cruising space. 

Omega is also investing in IATA's New Distribution Capability to gain better access to airline content, and the agency is making inroads with artificial intelligence technology.

Gloria Bohan featured in a 1989 issue of Travel Weekly.
Gloria Bohan featured in a 1989 issue of Travel Weekly.

For Bohan, it's about adapting and staying ahead of the curve. She is the recipient of multiple awards and accolades both within and outside the travel industry, and fittingly, she has been named the godmother of several ships. Her list of accomplishments is long, but she isn't done with travel yet.

"I get asked all the time when am I retiring," Bohan said. "It's just not something I'm happy about discussing, because I don't really think it's the right thing. I still have a lot of things I want to do, particularly in cruises and technology for the travel industry, and I think that we have a lot of really good ideas. Not that other people don't have good ideas, but I think we have a lot to offer our customers. If we didn't, we shouldn't be around, right?"

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