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Getting the job done: Travel agency owner Mark Gerling

Published: Sunday, May 26, 2013 at 5:30 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, May 25, 2013 at 3:26 p.m.

 

FLAGLER BEACH — Mark Gerling, owner of Gerling Travel Group in Flagler Beach, has been in the travel industry since 1995, but travel has been in his blood a lot longer than that.

"My father was a pilot so I grew up in a traveling family," said Gerling, who is also chairman of the Flagler Beach Chamber of Commerce. "Ultimately my love of traveling to Africa spurred my initial decision to open a travel business and run a full-service travel agency."

Gerling said having a brick-and-mortar business, as opposed to an online or home-based company, allows him to offer a higher level of customer service to his clients.

"It's a little bit more out in the open and to me, it gives the client a commitment that this guy is in it for the long run," he said.

Gerling said his extensive travels in his younger years help him with questions from clients about itineraries and destinations.

"Obviously to go to Africa you travel a long way, and I became a little more knowledgeable about the other locations and moved that into the business," he said.

Gerling recently sat down with The Daytona Beach News-Journal to talk about the travel industry and balancing business and community interests.

Flagler County's tourism development effort has made substantial progress over the past few years. But are county residents doing a lot of traveling to other places?

Yes. My main focus is to take people out of the county to international destinations around the world. I have seen an influx the last two years of customers coming to me for my travel consulting services where they can come in and look me in the eye and have a face-to-face conversation.

You do have the key cruising industry which is obviously big in this market because we have ports close. But I tend to focus my efforts more on Europe, Asia, Africa and South America, kind of a little more exotic locations.

In a recent report, the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta sees a bright outlook for travel in the region. What is your take on the future of the travel and tourism market?

I think the growth pattern is trending back northward, where we were pre-9/11.

The travel industry literally stopped in its tracks then and a lot of people went out of business.

If you look at the stock market right now it is fairly consistent and rising and people are spending money.

As a travel agent we also fear the natural disasters that can happen, like the devastating tornadoes in Oklahoma or tsunamis or volcanoes. And obviously in the world we live in with terrorism, that is also a big factor for us. If those acts of violence erupt, you'll see a spike in business declining.

In addition to running your business, you are also serving as chairman of the Flagler Beach Chamber of Commerce. How difficult is it to balance those obligations?

It's difficult. We run full steam here, not just the business, but a family with little kids. My wife and I are business partners side by side every day. And my civic duties don't stop at the chairmanship of the Flagler Beach Chamber. I am also on the board of Flagler Beach Rotary.

I am trying to reach out to more of the business owners in Flagler Beach and slowly bringing on new chamber members and showing them the value of being a member and being involved.

I'd rather be on the rail of the fast-moving circle with the friendships and relationships you establish.

It can be busy, but it's a lot of communication with my spouse and we try to make sure we do what we can to keep the business, but also be in the community and do other things because that is vital to the success of your business.

In this age of online travel sites and smartphone apps, why do people still need a travel agent?

Assurance. Really self-assurance. Having that face-to-face conversation and having someone to hand-hold through the process. A lot of clients don't have access to a computer or are not computer savvy. Also, it's a relationship business. Most of my clients come back trip after trip and we consider them our extended family here. They don't necessarily need me, but they enjoy the relationship and know there is somebody to call if something does come up instead of a website that may or may not be as helpful.

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