Sometimes you're thrown into an industry and realize WOW this is it!
From left to right: Kendal Sommers, (daughter) Priya, (son) Ben, (wife) Robina
To celebrate Travel Agent Appreciation, WheelsUpNetwork is interviewing incredible travel agents to highlight their amazing work. It’s a way for us to say ‘thank you’ for being part of the WheelsUp family.
Without any further ado, this week’s interview is with Kendal Sommers from Goshen, Indiana!
Interview: Kendal Sommers
Age: I’m 51 and proud of every grey hair I’ve earned.
3 Words that describe you: Curious, Creative, Easy-going (does that count as one word?)
What made you choose to pursue a career in travel?
To be honest: I was out of work and had a friend who enjoyed working as a corporate travel agent, so I thought I’d give it a try. I’ve never regretted it.
What has your journey in the travel industry been like?
My title is Chief Information Officer for Menno Travel here in Goshen.
In 1993, I started my first travel job as a corporate travel agent for Away Travel in Lake Oswego, Oregon.
In 1994, my wife and I moved to Goshen (where we had attended college), and I started with Menno Travel as a corporate agent. When I started here, we had computers with 386 processors (the precursor to the 486, which was the precursor to the Pentium, and so on), which basically means they had less “brainpower” than a Fitbit.
The computers were owned by the GDS (we used Apollo at the time) and were “leased” to us based on our segment productivity (sales of flight segments through the GDS). Though I didn’t have any formal computer training, I was interested.
So when questions came up about the computers or the GDS software, my managers asked me to figure it out. Over the next few years, the list of questions grew longer so they reduced my corporate booking role to half-time and had me do what we called “automation” work the other half-time.
I managed our quality control software, wrote GDS scripts, helped co-workers with GDS questions. After a few more years, we purchased our own computers and the list of questions and projects continued to grow.
The “automation” job became full-time (and was re-labeled Technology Manager). I didn’t want to lose touch with the booking side of things, so I did corporate booking as a backup when someone was sick or on vacation.
Technology only grew in importance as voice mail came on the scene (yes, that was a big deal) followed by email and websites and cell phones (which really were just phones) then smart phones and social media. Hence the evolution of the position title to CIO.
Your “5 Words or Less Challenge” entry was ‘Meeting Tibetan Monks in India!’ Can you tell us about your journey?
My wife is from India, so we journeyed there to visit some relatives in the south (Bengaluru) and then headed north for a week in the “hill station” city of Mussoorie. (When India was a British colony, “hill stations” were where the British went in the summer to get away from the heat.)
Mussoorie is in the foothills of the Himalayas, at an altitude of about 6600 feet. We hired a driver for the week. One afternoon Raja (our driver) took us on an afternoon tour through the country-side, eventually ending up at the Shedup Choephelling Buddhist temple (and, yes, I had to look up the name just now—there’s no way I would’ve remembered that!).
Near the temple was a tall hill with a long stony path up to the top. Over the path ran a dozen or so cables strung with thousands of handkerchief-size prayer flags. The little colorful squares were fluttering in the strong breeze.
The sun was shining, the sky was clear. It was a beautiful day. At the top of the hill was a stone terrace and a Buddhist altar with a statue of the Buddha.
The view from the hilltop was incredible. Below us was a magnificent valley surrounded by mountains rippling off in the distance. We noticed our driver, Raja, talking with a couple of robed Buddhist monks a few feet away.
Our driver, who never met a stranger, introduced us to his new friends. They offered to write a blessing for us to take with us. Raja had a black marker but no one had any paper. So my wife volunteered the bottom edge of her kurta that my daughter was wearing at the time.
They wrote a blessing along the hem in Tibetan calligraphy. Raja interpreted our thanks to them and with smiles on all sides, we descended from that lofty retreat. Even now, in the midst of a hectic, crowded day, if I take a second to recall those special moments in the sunny breeze on the hilltop, the stress just melts away.
That’s the amazing thing about travel. The trip may end, but you carry those experiences with you forever.
If you could give just one piece of advice to travelers, what would it be?
Be relaxed and gracious. Many other countries do not run on ‘American Time’. Go with the flow.
Tour bus broke down?
Use the time to take some pictures and talk to your fellow travelers, your tour guide or bus driver.
Waitress not understanding you?
Smile, point to the menu, do charades if needed. It’s all part of the fun of travel. Hakuna Matata!
What is your favorite part of your job (other than traveling of course)?
Helping clients, which used to be travelers, but these days my “clients” are my co-workers.
I love helping solve problems so my co-workers can spend less time fussing with (or at) computers and more time doing what they do best.
Thank you so much Kendal for taking the time to talk to us! It’s so important that we don’t just think about front-line agents, technology is so important especially with these new GDS systems in place.
Even as an information hub ourselves, we depend a lot on our folks in IT!