As president of Morris Murdock LLC, Brian Hollien has witnessed drastic changes in the travel industry. From deregulation to online solutions, he’s taken the helm of his company and navigated choppy waters. Confident that there will always be a place for travel advisers, Hollien dispels some myths surrounding his industry. He talks with us about leading Morris Murdock into a new era.
How did you get started in the travel industry?
Hollien: In an accidental way … My plan was to go to law school. I had just earned my bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and was recently married. On the first day of my summer job, everyone was laid off because the employees had voted for a union. I had to tell my new wife I was unemployed. My chances of making it back to law school were out—there were limited opportunities for student loans back then—so I started looking for something to do. A few months earlier when we were planning our honeymoon, I had gone to a travel agency and looked through the books with all of the trips. I thought, “I could do that.” It didn’t take a lot of money, and I went to a travel school at night. When I finished, I found a job at an agency selling corporate travel.
Whatever happened to that law degree? Did you find your calling in travel instead?
What I’ve Learned
Lessons in Travel
From Brian Hollen
“I wouldn’t think of buying a home without the advice of a professional; we provide the same kind of service for travel.”
“As our lives become fuller, vacations aren’t just a luxury; they’re a necessity.”
“When you’re too old
to change, you should retire.”
Hollien: Yes. I found that I enjoyed the travel industry very much, and I wanted to learn more. My company had an outside CPA doing the accounting. I thought, “I could do that,” so I went to the owner and offered to do accounting in evenings. Next, I studied airline regulations and how sales are reported, and I went through that training. Then I learned the reservation system. I went on to the next thing and the next thing until I had done everything within the agency. Later, the agency was sold to a larger company, and I was made the manager of the new combined company. I’ve been involved with acquiring or merging over 20 other agencies and never changed companies. Since the day I walked in after graduating travel school, I’ve never left. It’s been 32 years.
How has the industry changed during your career?
Hollien: I’ve seen huge changes, from deregulation to online travel. Our business has had to adapt. Morris Murdock used to be a strong player in business travel, one of the 50 largest in the US. We sold that part of our business to American Express and narrowed our focus and sharpened our expertise. Now we concentrate on leisure travel and incentive travel for companies.
What are some misconceptions about your business?
Hollien: People think travel agencies are a dying industry. In fact, President Obama made an awkward comment, suggesting that a travel agent’s job has now been automated by the Internet. It’s not true. Our industry isn’t dying, but it has changed dramatically. If you are flying from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, you can do that online. But when you start looking at taking a honeymoon, celebrating a special anniversary, or booking a family trip, that’s different. Travel agents know the right questions to ask, and we can help you understand what you’re buying. The knowledge and expertise that a travel agent can provide is essential when you are going to an unfamiliar destination or planning an important trip.
Another misconception is that people think they pay a premium to use a travel agency. In reality, the cruise or the hotel you book on your own is, 99 percent of the time, the same rate we’re booking for you. And we can provide amenities that you can’t get on your own, such as shipboard credits or excursions, or breakfast at resorts or hotels.
How do you keep growing?
Hollien: Within our business, you can never stay the same. We see great opportunity for growth with incentive and leisure travel. The incentive division focuses on companies that provide trips to top employees or customers. Incentive travel generates more excitement than merchandise or cash rewards. Our leisure travel division helps create special travel experiences and memories that last a lifetime. We are a great resource.
What makes you a good leader?
Hollien: I’ve done most of the jobs within the company. I’ve known many of our employees for years and years. I’ve never woken up in the morning and not wanted to go to work. I feel bad for people who do. I feel like I’m a part of Morris Murdock. I’m a loyal guy. I have an obligation to this company and its employees to make sure we’re successful. When you’re president of a company, you’re responsible for peoples’ mortgages, car payments, and the education of their children. You can’t hold anything back.
What’s been your best trip?
Hollien: Oh, I’ve taken some marvelous trips. One of the places I love dearly is New Zealand. I love the land, the people, and the culture. It’s a welcoming country, and you can go from the beaches to the snow in a matter of hours. And there isn’t a language barrier. You should go!