Klaus Billep
Klaus Billep

Travel agent Klaus Billep, known around the industry as "Mr. Travel," died on Jan. 28, at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica after a prolonged illness. He was 81.

Billep was the owner and president of Universal Travel System in Santa Monica and was known for operating tours to unusual destinations like Afghanistan, Rwanda and Iraq.

He was also the executive director and one of the founders of the Travelers' Century Club, a club for travelers who have been to more than 100 countries.

Billep was active in a number of industry organizations, including ASTA, Skal International and the Pacific Asia Travel Association. He held a number of positions with the organizations over the years, including president of the Southern California chapter of ASTA from 1985-1987.

Born in Duesseldorf, Germany, in 1937, Billep started his career as an agent for American Express. He worked his way up to management positions, eventually working in New York, Chicago and then California.

His friends in the industry recalled him fondly for his professionalism as an agent, deep knowledge of the industry and kind manner.

"He was a true pillar of our industry and will be sorely missed," said Steve Alexis, operations manager and COO for tour operator Mediterra DMC.

"Klaus was one of a kind," said Altour agent Susan Dushane, who remembered Billep and his sense of humor fondly.

Dushane met Billep when she was on the public relations committee for ASTA. He headed that committee.

"I don't remember a thing about what we did in committee, but afterwards it was always a fun time with Klaus," she said. "Once the group was waiting to go out to dinner and Klaus had us all wait while he called home to speak to his dog."

While Dushane said the two of them didn't always agree on everything, "I knew if I needed anything, I could count on Klaus, and there was always laughter."

Pamela Irwin, American Travel Bureau's vice president of sales and marketing and the president of SoCal ASTA, knew Billep for around 20 years.

"He was one of the most professional travel agents that I've ever known, and he was a wonderful gentleman," Irwin said.

"He really was Mr. Travel, and he was just an amazing man," she added. "I loved being around him, and every time I saw him, he was greeting me with a smile."

SoCal ASTA will honor Billep and the late Susan Tanzman /Travel-News/Travel-Agent-Issues/Susan-Tanzman-71-travel-agent-who-fought-for-agents at its Diamond Awards event in Beverly Hills on April 25.

Billep is survived by his wife, Stephanie Billep-Nakasone.

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