Obituary: Liberty Travel co-founder Gilbert Haroche

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From left, Gilbert Haroche, Mayflower Tours founder John Stachnik and Bruce Beckham of Tourism Cares at a Tourism Cares event in 2005.
From left, Gilbert Haroche, Mayflower Tours founder John Stachnik and Bruce Beckham of Tourism Cares at a Tourism Cares event in 2005.

Gilbert Haroche, who co-founded Liberty Travel with the late Fred Kassner, died on April 23 at the age of 87 in New York. Haroche had cancer, and died at Columbia University Medical Center.

Haroche and Kassner founded Liberty Travel in 1951, primarily selling travel to the Poconos in Pennsylvania, the Catskills in upstate New York, and Florida.

The travel agency soon expanded its destinations to Mexico, Bermuda, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas, then on to the rest of the Caribbean, Hawaii and Europe.

Haroche and Kassner were pioneers in making travel affordable for middle-class America. In 1961, they formed Keystone Tours, a wholesaler that was one of the first companies to sell vacation packages. Their innovations, such as negotiating bulk hotel rooms and advertising in newspapers, became industry standards. Kassner went on to run the wholesale side of the business, and Haroche ran the travel agency.

Keystone Tours today is Gogo Worldwide Vacations, and that wholesaler is still Liberty’s sister company, under the umbrella of Australian company Flight Centre Ltd., which bought both businesses in 2007. Haroche retired soon after the acquisition. Liberty Travel had 193 locations at the time.

Haroche was born in New York City. He attended New York University's former University Heights campus in the Bronx and studied electrical engineering. He served in the U.S. Navy in 1944. After the war, Haroche worked as a travel agent selling trips to the Catskills.

Haroche's son, Andre, said that Haroche's father discouraged him from going into the travel business because he felt it could not be lucrative. Haroche continued to sell travel with different partners until meeting Kassner and founding Liberty in 1951, Andre said.

Haroche is survived by his wife, Charlene; two sons, Andre and Maurice; a daughter, Marcella; and two children from a previous marriage, Bob and Kim.

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