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
"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.