Port’s Biever Travel stillcharting journeys despite surge in online options
For the past 40 years, the staff at Biever Travel in Port Washington has taken people’s vacation fun very seriously.
Even in an age of online travel sites like Kayak and Orbitz, that commitment has paid off in long-lasting relationships with customers.
“This business has really changed over the past 40 years,” said Jim Biever, whose father Vernon founded the business in 1975.
There is a direct correlation between the travel agency and the Biever family’s more high profile passion — photography. More specifically, photographing the Green Bay Packers.
“At the time, my dad was doing a lot of traveling with the Packers and got to know a lot of the airline representatives pretty well. They noted there were no travel agents in Port and thought a business like ours could do pretty well,” Biever said.
“Today, it is something for a business to be around for four years, but 40 years is really special.”
Biever said his connection with the agency dates back to his days as a student at Port Washington High School.
“In those days, everything was done on cards and paper. We would print out the tickets, and it was my job to hand-deliver them around town,” he said.
Out-of-town customers would have their tickets sent in packets via UPS or another delivery service.
In today’s world of paperless travel, Biever said, everything is handled digitally.
Ticketing is not the only aspect of the travel trade that has been altered by the far-reaching power of the Internet.
“We are competing with the world now. Some people really enjoy spending 30 or 40 hours online planning all the details of a trip,” Biever said.
“Other people like to come in, spend an hour with us and know everything about their vacation is taken care of.”
For the do-it-yourself types, Biever noted that airline tickets are handled through three global booking services, so prices are generally pretty predictable.
“Where a travel agent comes in handy is through the personal relationships they build with the cruise companies and hotel staffs,” he said.
Those relationships are formed when agents take scouting trips to any number of exotic locations.
“The best way for agents to know what to recommend to customers is by going to the locations themselves, spend a night at the hotel or on the cruise ship,” Biever said.
The agency reaps the benefit of experienced travel agents. Three of its five staff members have been with Biever Travel for 17 years or longer.
Veteran travel agent Sarah Spielvogel said her favorite “work assignment” was an Alaskan cruise, while Megan Andersen said she was partial to trips to the Caribbean and Europe.
Biever said he still enjoys seeing what the world has to offer.
“I look forward to pretty much any trip that is more than 50 miles away,” he said.
His favorite journey, Biever said, was a photo safari he took last year to Africa.
“It wasn’t really something that was on my bucket list, but my friends convinced me to come along. It was life-changing,” he said.
“We got to spend a lot of time surrounded by nature, but would stay at five-star accommodations.”
Biever said today’s clients tend to be very knowledgeable when they contact the agency about firming up travel plans.
“For a lot of people, they are looking at bucket list destinations and know every detail they want included,” he said.
“The challenge for the agent is to make that dream come true.”
Since the agency opened, attitudes about travel have changed dramatically.
“There was a time when taking a big trip overseas was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” Biever said.
“Today, it has gotten to the point where people plan a big trip every year. Once you spend a week on a tropical beach and your friends tell you it is below zero back home, it gets to be something you want to keep doing.”
Variety is something that keeps the travel business interesting.
“Every day, you never know if someone is going to come in and ask you to help book a trip to Cleveland or around the world,” Biever said.
Biever said he is still amazed at how his dual jobs as Packers team photographer and travel agent interact.
“It happens all the time. I’ll be on the sidelines at a Packer game and someone will ask for advice about a trip they are planning to take,” Biever said.
Whether it is at an NFL game or back in Port, he said, a business axiom comes into play.
“If you don’t do a good job, word gets around,” Biever said.
THE STAFF AT Biever Travel in Port Washington eagerly share their passion for travel with customers. Travel agents (from left) Megan Andersen, Jim Biever and Sarah Spielvogel are celebrating the agency’s 40th anniversary this year. Photo by Mark Jaeger