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While Travel Agencies struggle across the nation, All Aboard Travel suc­ceeds. Thomas Novelly | Col­legian

At first glance, All Aboard Travel Agency looks like a casualty of the times — a small, unsus­pecting shop trying to survive in the era of AirBnb and Trav­e­locity. But things aren’t always what they seem.

“When people see our building they’re often sur­prised,” All Aboard Travel owner Christina Boyer said. “They often say ‘Wow. There’s a travel agent in town? I had no idea.’”

The store­fronts at All Aboard Travel Agency paint a dif­ferent picture than one would expect.
Thomas Novelly | Col­legian

Passers-by fre­quently walk past All Aboard Travel’s two display windows without noticing them. The first one show­cases a col­lection of Mickey Mouse and Star Wars fig­urines — far too small to fill the window — to advertise trips to Disney World. The other adver­tises Col­orado, com­plete with a set of second-hand skis, fake snow, and a Charlie Brown-esque Christmas tree.

The store­fronts at All Aboard Travel Agency paint a dif­ferent picture than one would expect.
Thomas Novelly | Col­legian

Beyond the window, small desk spaces are scat­tered about to acco­modate the business’s five employees.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Sta­tistics projects the hiring of travel agents will decline by 12 percent from 2014 to 2024. That sta­tistic, however, doesn’t apply to All Aboard Travel.

“We have been rising every year, which is extremely nice and very rare for some people,” Boyer said. “But we’ve been pleased with that. We even had to expand and hire another person this year.”

According to Boyer, All Aboard Travel’s sales increased by 21 percent from 2014 to 2015 and an addi­tional 12 percent from 2015 to 2016. Boyer said her secret to success comes from cap­turing mul­tiple, unique revenue streams. Having clients all over the nation is one example.

“Cus­tomer service, diversity, and niche markets are the keys to sur­viving as a travel agent in a world of internet travel,” Boyer said. “That’s the one thing that All Aboard Travel does dif­fer­ently.”

Christina Boyer, left, and Heather McNew, right, sit at their desks in the All Aboard Travel office in downtown Hillsdale. Thomas Novelly | Col­legian

From day trips to Detroit, to cus­tomizing an entire around the world excursion for one ambi­tious cus­tomer caught by wan­derlust, Boyer said they do it all.
While the majority of All Aboard Travel’s revenue comes from clients located in Hillsdale and neigh­boring counties, they also have a major involvement with Hillsdale College — along with other schools — helping them plan their numerous study abroad trips every year including the annual Col­le­giate Scholars trip and their Europe trips for prospective stu­dents.  

“Every trip is dif­ferent. Our escorted trips are cus­tomized to fit the group,” Boyer said. “The core vacation is planned for them, and all the par­tic­ulars are taken care of by us. That’s some­thing that can’t always happen with internet bookings.”

More and more people are going to the internet to plan their next vacation. According to a 2015 survey from Tri­pAd­visor, nearly 50 percent of Amer­icans book and plan their trips with a smart phone. Boyer said that while booking online is con­ve­nient, it can be mis­leading.

“Many people think that the internet is the cheapest way to buy things. That’s not true,” Boyer said. “Eighty percent of people who buy some­thing online, are buying from an online travel agent. And they don’t even know it.”

Boyer said the expertise of her staff is what sep­a­rates All Aboard Travel from every other website and app on the market. Of the five agents in the store, four of them travel exten­sively to research the best spots and values for their cus­tomers. Boyer herself is no stranger to the world, and said that is what moti­vated her to get involved with the business in the first place.

Boyer traveled fre­quently as a child and had the chance to study and travel abroad in college. In 1994, she approached Al Philipp, pre­vious owner of All Aboard Travel, and began working for him.

“She’s honest, reliable, and comes to work every single day,” Philipp said. “She learned the business quick and knows how to connect with people. I knew she was going to be suc­cessful.”

In 2001, Boyer bought the business from Philipp, and just six years later bought the 10 S Howell St. building, the latest of its four Howell St. loca­tions.

All Aboard also sells luggage and travel acces­sories to add to their revenue streams.
Thomas Novelly | Col­legian

Philipp said a mixture of things lead to All Aboard Travel’s success, pri­marily the per­sonal con­nection employees have with their clients’ trips but also the unique envi­ronment of Hillsdale.

“You have to expe­rience every single thing you sell for yourself. If you don’t know your product, you won’t be suc­cessful,” Philipp said. “All Aboard also doesn’t have any com­pe­tition in the nearby area, and we have very small overhead cost.”

Philipp, a native of Austria, still works for All Aboard Travel, spe­cial­izing pri­marily in immersive European trips for school groups and indi­viduals. He has traveled to every country in Europe at least once now. He said he enjoys planning out and cus­tomizing trips for cus­tomers, but knows that it can be a potential risk to future business if it goes wrong.

“If you screw up in the travel agency business, it’s a big deal. Your cus­tomer can’t get that pre­cious vacation time back. That’s a lot of trust,” Philipp said.

But Philipp — the husband of Dean of Women Dianne Philipp — hasn’t made any mis­takes so far, according to Pro­fessor of History Tom Conner. Conner said he has con­tracted with All Aboard Travel and Al Philipp for more than 20 trips in the last 25 years for his study abroad pro­grams.

All Aboard offers travels all across the globe and even day-trips to Toledo and Chicago.
Thomas Novelly | Col­legian

“Their reli­a­bility and attention to detail is exquisite, and their expe­rience is amazing — cer­tainly unri­valed in this area,” Conner said. “They are excep­tionally good at the nuts and bolts of their pro­fession, but also with the intan­gibles.”

Spending just 30 minutes in All Aboard Travel’s office makes Conner’s obser­va­tions clear. On one day last week, Boyer said she received more than a dozen phone calls and more than 30 emails regarding bookings and follow-ups all before noon.

“I’m very proud of our agency and what we’re doing,” Boyer said. “There’s actually been an increase in the last few years of the travel agency becoming more pro­fes­sional. Brick and mortar is some­thing you’re going to see more than just the online presence.”

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Thomas Novelly
Collegian Editor-in-Chief, Thomas Novelly was born in Novi, Michigan, but was raised in Franklin, Tennessee, making him a self-proclaimed "Yankee gone South." Thomas began writing for The Collegian as a sophomore, and since has served as a reporter, columnist, and Assistant City News Editor. He has also worked for two major publications, interning at the Washington Free Beacon in D.C. and The Tennessean in Nashville. His work has been seen in National publications such as CBS News, National Review Online, Stars And Stripes, and USA Today. Follow him on Twitter @TomNovelly.