Parting with Travel Leaders Group, Loucks reflects on career

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Travel Leaders Group chief communications officer Steve Loucks left the company on May 19 after more than two decades in the industry.
Travel Leaders Group chief communications officer Steve Loucks left the company on May 19 after more than two decades in the industry. Photo Credit: Jamie Biesiada

During more than two decades in the travel industry, Steve Loucks has seen countless changes: airline commission cuts, the emergence and subsequent fear of OTAs, 9/11 and the Great Recession.

But through it all, the Travel Leaders Group executive has witnessed an industry that always adapted and evolved.

"I have never seen a more resilient group of people than the travel agency industry," he said recently.

Loucks was reflecting on his long career after deciding to leave Travel Leaders Group, a company he has been with long before it adopted that moniker.

Most recently its chief communications officer, Loucks has been with some iteration of the company for the past 18 years.

But his career began on a different track: politics.

Loucks grew up in a suburb of Milwaukee and attended Marquette University, double majoring in political science and history. After earning his degree, he went to work for a U.S. senator in Washington.

After four years, he decided to go home and serve his constituency. At 26, Loucks ran for a seat in the Wisconsin State Legislature and was elected, serving two terms.

"An interesting thread that I had both working for the U.S. senator as well as working as a state legislator was the fact that I was heavily involved in transportation issues," he said. "And the transportation issues had a lot to do with ... the airline industry. It really piqued my interest."

Loucks, who admits he has wanderlust, didn't travel much growing up. That changed once he finished college and started traveling on his own.

Then, in his last year as a legislator, he was invited on a congressional delegation tour to the former Yugoslavia, which was breaking up at the time as Croatia was under attack by Serbia.

"My eyes were just opened wide to refugee crises and the ravages of war ... and it had an impact on me unlike anything else that I've ever experienced," Loucks said. "You saw human suffering, you saw a human toll, and it made me realize that I wanted to do something for these people."

Loucks decided not to run for re-election and instead returned to Washington to work for the public relations firm that had put together the congressional delegation trip. There, he did work for the tourism ministry in Croatia, arranging his first press trip to that country and for the Rebuild Dubrovnik Fund.

His work brought him to ASTA's attention, and in 1994, Loucks joined its staff, serving as ASTA's director of public relations and communications for the next five years.

In 1998, he moved to Minneapolis to join the Carlson Companies as the head of public relations for Carlson Leisure Group. That arm would eventually become Travel Leaders Group in 2008, and it was where Loucks would spend almost two decades with a team he describes as united in its purpose.

"There are so many people behind the scenes within our organization that go unsung, but they have poured their lives into this organization because of their belief not only in each other, but also their belief in who they're doing it for -- and ultimately, it's all about all of our agents," Loucks said.

During his time with Travel Leaders Group, it has grown from a company that did $5 billion in annual sales to more than $22 billion thanks to both organic growth and acquisitions. Loucks is proud of his team's contribution to that.

His last day with Travel Leaders Group was May 19.

First up for Loucks now is to make a "clean break" and have time to disconnect.

"When you're doing public relations in the travel industry there are too many events that are happening that are well beyond your control, whether it's terror attacks or cruise ship mishaps or whatever the case may be," he said. "You're always drawn back into whatever it is that you need to do regardless of what kind of arbitrary vacation timeline you want to be on."

Loucks said his decision to leave Travel Leaders Group comes after the recent deaths of a number of close friends and relatives.

"It really makes you reflect on what is most important in life, and to me what's most important in life is the people in my life," he said. "I want to make sure that I'm giving them the best that I possibly can in the short term, and to me the best way to do that is to just have a clean break."

In the next few weeks, Loucks will focus on his parents, who will celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary next month.

In the future, Loucks didn't rule out a return to the industry. In fact, he said he's already received inquiries from organizations interested in working with him.

"I may be open to it in a couple of months," he said, "but for right now, I just want to decompress."

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