They were rather astonished that a travel agent in a one-man
office could produce so much business." This is Barry Hyatt, proprietor of
Air and Marine Travel in Brewster, NY, talking about being recognized as JDB
Hotels' top seller last year, although he modestly adds, "Doing a lot of
business with JDB doesn't say anything about me; it says a lot about JDB."
Maybe so, but that doesn't mean Hyatt hasn't earned his accolades. It was relatively hard to track down Hyatt for this interview, whose number is unlisted, despite having been in the travel business for 47 years. His answering machine greeting politely explains why: He is not in a position to accept new clients. "When you aspire for years to succeed in garnering clients, you reach the point when you've got more than you can handle," he says.
How did Hyatt achieve such an enviable position? Well, much like Hyatt himself, he professes his method is a little unorthodox. "I don't promote," he says. His philosophy regarding his job as a travel agent is one he also applies to his volunteer work with hospice patients. "People ask me, 'What do you do as a hospice volunteer?' and I say, 'Well, actually, I don't do anything at all.'"
Hyatt explains that when he visits patients, he does so with no agenda or axe to grind; instead he is simply there. "The doctors, the nurses—they're all telling them what to do," he says. "I step back and put them in the pilot seat. You just listen to them and they talk about their life as if it had happened to somebody else and it is simply profound."
Hyatt says this mode of thinking has everything to do with how he became so successful as an agent. "Yesterday, today and tomorrow are all one," he says. "If this is true, and I do believe it is, if tomorrow already exists, then the client's trip already exists and you realize that you don't have to do anything."
If this sounds a little Freudian to you—well, that's because it is. As Hyatt points out, Freud theorized that dreams are subconscious wishes to be interpreted. "Each of us is the dreamer of the dream," he says. "My function is merely to be the dream reader."
And so, when he meets with a client, he simply lets them talk and says his client's dream trip materializes from that. "When people come back and tell me that they had a wonderful trip, I say, 'That's very kind of you, but I didn't do anything,'" Hyatt says.
That doesn't mean he helps clients plan unaccompanied excursions in the depth of the Amazon rainforest. "On occasion I'll say to people very candidly that I don't think a trip is a very good idea," he says. "I have a responsibility, as does every travel agent, not to sell anything. Your job is to manifest it."
As a result, much of his business is referrals. "I've never met 3 to 5 percent of my clients; they only know me over the telephone or through e-mails," he says. Many of these clients are longstanding from his early days of booking groups.
"I used to take people skiing and instead of handling them like groups, I handled them like individuals," he says. "On one trip to the Canadian Rockies, there was a fellow on the trip who said, 'Barry, you really don't need to come along, everything works so smoothly.' My first reaction was to think what an insult, but then I realized it was compliment. If you do something good enough, you make it look easy."