A “perfect storm.” That’s how Tim Krenzien, president of Paul Klein Travel in Chicago, describes today’s flourishing affluent travel climate. He’s referring to the fact that consumers are seeking the services of a travel advisor these days and seem outright eager to spend money on luxury trips. “We’ve seen a huge uptick in the high-net-worth and ultra-high-net-worth 25- to 50-year-old travelers seeking our expertise, skills and connections,” says Krenzien. Then there’s the youth wave entering the travel advisor industry.
“The luxury travel business is once again perceived as a career opportunity; we’re being approached by talented young people eager to enter the business and develop a career,” says Krenzien. Mature professionals are also approaching the agency, drawn to the job itself as well as the lifestyle it affords.
Krenzien and his team are more than well suited for these converging dynamics. Paul Klein Travel has been a carriage-trade agency catering to Chicago’s luxury travel scene since 1945, when it launched with a focus on international travel. It’s also a founding member of the luxury travel consortia, Virtuoso, and that goes way back in the day when it was called Allied Travel International.
Juergen Krenzien, Tim’s father, bought the agency in 1967 after emigrating from Germany. Over several decades, he maintained its legacy by providing over-the-top vacations for members of some of Chicago’s most prominent families. (“Since 1945; excellence, knowledge and sophistication have been our hallmarks,” says the agency’s website).
Tim joined the business in his late 20s after training with Hyatt; he subsequently purchased the agency from his dad in 1998 and has kept it running in the same bespoke manner as his father. That comes as no surprise, as Tim’s earliest memories include wearing white shorts and a blue blazer aboard the Queen Mary as a young boy and playing barefoot with the lizards on the beaches at Caneel Bay and Little Dix Bay. He recalls when it seemed there were Pan Am planes on every international runway and he reports having very fond memories of the “seemingly giant opulent suites at Claridge’s and The Ritz in Paris.” All this, combined with annual childhood summers visiting his aunt and uncle from Wuppertal, Germany, and driving through Europe in their motorhome, made the younger Krenzien a true luxury traveler, before the phrase became stylish.
And while he’s a hands-on owner, managing the travel agency, which brings in $19 million in revenue a year, Krenzien is very much a hands-on luxury travel advisor as well. Read the agency’s Yelp reviews and you’ll find clients delighted with his concern and care. “I was recommended to Paul Klein Travel by a good friend while I was struggling to book my honeymoon,” says one reviewer. “I worked with Tim and he was great...when I initially reached out via phone, he spent a considerable amount of time getting to know my fiancée and I so that the trip could be catered to our liking. In short, Tim organized one of the most memorable trips of our lives. Not a single detail was overlooked. His insight and knowledge into the region was unparalleled and his status at the hotels meant we were upgraded every time. If you are looking to book a special trip, look no further.”
Glowing words, but that’s not a one-off occurrence. Ask Krenzien which trips have been the most challenging and unique, and he cites those he’s planned for a family with two teenage boys, the younger is a quadriplegic. “The family is incredibly close and takes three to four major trips annually,” says Krenzien “The challenge is finding suitable three-bedroom accommodations on land and at sea, vehicles and guides, and shipping luggage to the destinations.”
He and his team have accomplished this in many places, including Africa, the South Pacific, Asia, South America and all over Europe. The most recent trip was in December, with two weeks at sea from Singapore to Hong Kong; a trek to Ireland in June is also in the works, which will include two weeks at sea from Dublin to Reykjavik followed by a land program in Iceland.
The payoff? “Imagining the joy and wonder of a wheelchair-bound boy abroad. It’s heart-warming stuff!” says Krenzien.
Paul Klein Travel books other rewarding vacations for clients, some of them definitely over the top in budget and style. They’ve got two clients booked to go to space on Virgin Galactic; they also work with a couple that’s keen on collecting countries. So far they’ve amassed passport stamps to Benin, Togo, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. Another couple celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary by visiting Victoria Falls, observing the Great Migration at the Singita camps in Tanzania and following it all with a week in the Seychelles. Yet another trekked Mount Rinjani and went diving in Lombok, Bali, Torajaland and Hong Kong. A recent honeymoon for another started in Dubai, then included a stay at the desert camp at Al Maha. Two weeks in the Maldives rounded out the itinerary.
A complex itinerary for a family purposely avoided the more traditional routes in China and instead included Yunnan Provence and Tibet.
To get truly customized experiences for its clients, Paul Klein’s team works within the Virtuoso network to access suppliers; the team also works on its own to source good destination management companies. Krenzien says he’s had good luck at PURE finding some less-known, high-quality, hands-on DMCs who might not have had the marketing dollars to attend ILTM or mount sales missions to the United States.
“One of the things that we do when we travel is to actively source new vendors on all levels, particularly in the car and driver business, that’s a complicated one,” says Krenzien.
A Family Affair
The exotic is clearly not unusual for Paul Klein clients, but Krenzien stresses that “ultra-luxe grand European adventures with sumptuous suites, private boats and private aircraft” are actually de facto for the agency.
Making all this happen is a team comprised of seven inside advisors, three independent contractors and three support staff who are enabled to make the magic work and to fix things when they go wrong.
“We’ve always felt that everyone who works here is an adult,” says Krenzien. “They have a lot of autonomy to run their book of business as they see fit, knowing what our core values are and what our core culture is, so if something goes wrong in the trip they have the autonomy to make it go right.”
Everyone is truly engaged at the agency as well, he says, noting that the environment is an open one with everyone asking questions of each other, seeking opinions about vendors and destinations.
“I think that’s one of the real true strengths of our office, that depth of knowledge where everyone is just comfortable literally interrupting someone, by saying, ‘Hey, I need help!’” says Krenzien.
Paul Klein Travel’s family environment is further driven by the fact that some advisors have been there for decades.
“Russell Wagenaar joined Paul Klein Travel in 1977 and is a lifetime integral member of our team; logging several hundred thousand air miles annually,” says Krenzien. “I’ve known him my entire adult life.”
It doesn’t end there. Ewa Duranovic has been with the agency for 18 years and is a high-producing advisor; she has been working with the agency since leaving Poland. John Chaffin came to the agency out of the banking industry and has been a luxury travel advisor there since 1995. Caroline Chandra started with the agency in the mid-90s, moved to New York and returned to Chicago and Paul Klein Travel as an independent contractor.
“So yes, it feels like a team. We really try to have a high quality of work life in terms of when people need to take personal time for family reasons or health reasons or travel reasons or whatever it may be, we highly encourage that. Fortunately, the loyalty comes back,” he says.
There’s also a youth wave at the agency. Krenzien’s eldest daughter, Nicole Ellison, joined Paul Klein Travel in June 2012 at the age of 28 with a lifetime of travel experiences. Active in Hyatt Young Travel Professionals, Millennials in Travel and Young Travel Professionals, she tends to steer toward adventure travel.
Speaking with Krenzien, it’s clear he still misses the heart and soul of the agency, his father, Juergen, who was extremely beloved and respected in the luxury travel industry. He was also known as an intrepid world traveler filled with wanderlust, up until the day he passed away on June 18, 2014 of a sudden heart attack at the age of 85.
“He was my mentor. He was my best friend. He was my business partner,” says Krenzien, who said his father lived a completely full life up to the very last minute. Still, it was an extremely tough loss, although in so many ways, Juergen Krenzien lives on, particularly in the manner his clients are still cared for.
“I just did a Christmas trip for customers whose honeymoon was planned by my father in the ’60s,” says Krenzien. “I do travel for their children and their grandchildren. We just did one trip with all of them together, that was really kind of amazing.”
With an astute eye to the future, Krenzien is adding to his team of travel advisors and says he’s approached every few weeks by qualified people looking to get into the business, most of them coming from different career paths. A recent hire with a master’s degree is extremely creative when it comes to document production, he notes. A new independent contractor is a former client who was a financial advisor who sold her practice and wanted to travel. Her strengths are that she has a book of business, knows how to make a close and understands that the travel industry is all about relationships, says Krenzien.
Of those younger travelers between the ages of 25 and 45 who are now seeking the services of travel advisors, Krenzien says they tend to be more engaged and even more loyal than Baby Boomers in terms of wanting a relationship.
“I find that really fascinating because for a while it was the complete opposite,” says Krenzien. “That younger age set was all about, ‘I can do it all myself.’ But now we’re seeing that the high-net-worth portion of that group is actively engaged.” Krenzien says he’s heard the same trend from those in financial management. “They’re telling me, ‘Tim, we’re seeing the same thing. They’re happy to pay the management fee to have their finances managed appropriately.’”
These new clients are calling for an appointment to come in to the agency’s 19th-floor offices at One North La Salle Street in Chicago (the agency has never been storefront). They’re finding out about the agency via referral and web search. What’s the draw? Krenzien says word is out about the complimentary breakfasts, upgrades and food-and-beverage credits available to high-producing agencies through programs such as Belmond’s Bellini Club and Ritz-Carlton’s STARS.
That’s a bonus on top of the VIP treatment clients get because of Paul Klein Travel’s insider access to the executives at many, many hotels. That, in turn, complements the bounty of knowledge its well-traveled veteran team of agents can deliver. As an example, at some hotels there isn’t that much of a difference between oceanview and oceanfront rooms, except for the $600 a night premium you’ll pay for the oceanfront.
As busy as he is keeping the business growing, it could be said Krenzien has the same wanderlust his father possessed. Although he’s clearly an experienced world traveler, he’s still ticking destinations off his bucket list. Coming up is a trip to Cuba with just a small circle of friends.
It will be his first visit and one he’s anticipating greatly.
Where else would this savvy world traveler like to go?
“I have not gone gorilla trekking yet,” Krenzien tells Luxury Travel Advisor. “I’ve been to almost every other Himalayan Kingdom, but not Ladakh and I want to get up there as well.”
Travel will always be a priority, but Krenzien loves selling travel and says if he had to choose, he’d select that over managing an agency. That’s what makes him face each new day with a smile on his face.
“I can’t wait to wake up in the morning and go to work,” he says. “Each day is different and filled with fascinating people, challenges, great rewards, and the ever-present promise of future travels and adventures.”
The overall luxury landscape elates him as well. “I am extremely optimistic about the luxury travel business,” he says. “There’s enormous opportunity for skilled, well-traveled advisors with a degree of sophistication. Truly experienced travelers are seeking advisors who, to quote my father, ‘have been there and done that;’ with whom they can develop a long-term relationship and who can provide the in depth and meaningful experiences that the sophisticated traveler desires.” Bottom line? “The demographics are strongly in our favor,” says Krenzien.
Paul Klein Travel
President: Timothy J. Krenzien
Vice President: Russell A. Wagenaar
Vice President: Nicole M. Ellison
Headquarters: Chicago, IL
Team: Seven inside advisors, three independent contractors, three support staff
Annual Revenue: $19 million
Affiliations: Virtuoso, Belmond Bellini Club, Four Seasons Preferred Partner, Luxury Privileges, Ritz-Carlton STARS
Advisory Board Positions: Current: Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts. Past: Luxury Collection, Rosewood, Virtuoso Member Advisory Board