YOU'VE HEARD THE SAYING "THE ONLY CONSTANT IS CHANGE." This seems especially true in the lives of Dave and Christa Krick of Advantage Cruise & Travel, which is affiliated with the Signature Travel Network. For the last 20 years, the husband and wife, who live in Danville, CA (near Oakland), have had to keep pace not just with the industry but also with each other.
Christa, a native of Germany, came to the U.S. to teach. She met Dave, an employee of IBM, at a mutual friend's party. Two years later, they were married.
Dave was often relocated on his job, to places like New York and Paris. "We loved that IBM moved us around," says Dave. "We thought it was great...a paid three-year vacation."
But it wasn't until Dave was transferred from Connecticut to California that Christa decided she would make a career out of travel. "I thought it was a nice time for me to start another career," she says, and so she went to school to become a travel agent, eventually joining Advantage Cruise & Travel.
Christa still retains clients from her first year as a travel agent; what's changed is that she's now a home-based agent with Advantage, which in 2005 shut its physical doors in order to streamline its business. That's how Dave, who has retired from IBM, got involved in the agency's day-to-day marketing operations and helping Christa plan trips.
"One of the things that has added to the demise of brick-and-mortar agencies is that the monthly cost of just opening the door became prohibitive," Dave says.
"The advent of the Internet and the e-ticket really enables the home-based agent," he notes, adding, "There's no question that Christa works longer hours than she did when she worked in the office." He continues: "The other thing is it's not as easy for [supplier sales] reps to find you."
The change in office location has caused a shift in Christa's client base. Instead of walk-ins, she now relies on a steady group of clients gained through referrals and marketing to buoy her business.
Christa started off booking Europe, mostly because that continent is what she knew best, but even that has changed. "Europe has become very expensive and people would like to travel to other places, so Asia now comes up a lot," she says.
The couple recently came back from a cruise on the Sapphire Princess, with stops in Hong Kong, Shanghai and other Asian cities. "It was wonderful and not nearly as expensive as a trip to Europe," Christa shares.
Dave sees other factors behind the growth in international travel beyond Europe. "A lot of people who have the time and the money have been to Europe a number of times, their kids have been in study-abroad programs, so now they're interested in going farther afield to Turkey, Australia, South America and Asia," he says. "We work with our clients and talk to and listen to them and give them suggestions, and all of sudden we'll have a group."
It's the evolution of a trip—from initial planning to assembling the whole package—that thrills Christa the most. "I love to do the FIT part of cruises," she says. "Some clients will do a pre- or post-cruise stay in Italy, some in Switzerland and others in Spain, and I just love putting it all together."
Just this past year, Dave and Christa took a group of nine people to France on a river cruise with Peter Deilmann Cruises that included a pre-cruise stay in Lyon and a post-trip to Paris.
Though she has managed groups of up to 60 people, she says finding something to entertain everyone can sometimes be a challenge. "Nine people will go in nine different directions," Christa says.
"Many of our folks are retired executives and they all want to be in charge," Dave adds with a chuckle.
The Kricks expect to book more river cruises in 2008, as that type of vacation has already caught on with many clients and continues to grow in popularity. "It's just a different experience," says Christa. "The staff remembers you by name and you don't need a boarding pass to get on or off, because they know if you belong or not."
Dave says he's seeing demands for river cruises in the Baltics and on the Rhine and Seine. "The Eastern European countries are opening up too, in cities like Prague and Budapest," he says. "Our next plan is to get a cruise organized to the eastern part of Europe that starts in Vienna and goes on to Bulgaria and Romania. It will be a very interesting cruise."
Through all their travels, each has discovered a favorite place—for Dave, it's France; for Christa, her native Germany. But they are united in their love of travel and love for one another. Unlike so much else in their lives, those won't change.
Advantage Cruise & Travel's web site (www.advantagetravel.com) describes its cruise, honeymoon and other vacation packages, with dedicated sections for Hawaii, Mexico and Alaska. The resources page has links to information about Access America, the company's travel insurance provider, currency conversion, travel advisories, U.S. passports and flight tracking.
Dave and Christa Krick
Agency: Advantage Cruise & Travel Headquarters: 46 Dartmouth Place, Danville, CA 94526 Affiliation: Signature Travel Network Annual sales volume: $2 million Phone: 925-736-4510 E-mail: [email protected]