Editor's Note: Since the original publication date, Worldview Travel has changed its name to Travel Edge and Ken Neibaur now manages the company’s La Jolla, CA office.
Transitioning to new ownership and a subsequent rebranding can be a daunting task for any travel agency manager, but consider the added challenge of moving to a new location and balancing a $2.7 million personal book of business while you’re at it.
That’s just what Ken Neibaur, director of business development and a luxury travel advisor at Worldview Travel’s new Menlo Park, CA, location, has handled over the past few months and then some. But to this observer, it appears as if he’s taken it all in his stride.
“I’m not one who normally sits on the sidelines while things happen,” says Neibaur. “Part of it is my own personality. I want to help and get involved and make things better.”
Dig a bit deeper and it all makes sense. Neibaur has been a travel advisor since 2004, but that was preceded by a 25-year career in marketing management for Internet, entertainment, and travel companies in Los Angeles and Silicon Valley. Along the way, he played an integral role in developing Continental’s OnePass and OnePass Elite programs and managed agency direct marketing for Hilton’s HHonors Leisure and Travel Agency programs. He also served in senior executive positions for the Internet Shopping Network (now InterActive Corp / IAC) and for Shopping.com / AltaVista.
Those were heady times indeed to be an executive in the blossoming online world and it’s clear Neibaur’s energy for multitasking and trying new things hasn’t subsided since then. He purposely left the business in 2001 at the age of 42 to take some time off. After brainstorming with a jetsetter friend he decided to go back to college full time to learn the specifics of the travel industry. He completed his studies in 18 months and was promptly hired by Mary Cardoza at Cardoza-Bungey Travel in Palo Alto, a major force in Silicon Valley’s travel agency arena.
It was a humble start for the former global executive. At first, he worked with the agency’s existing customers and developed his own clientele, tapping into his network from his previous career. But he immediately enjoyed being so hands-on, especially when a robust repeat and referral business kicked in from Silicon Valley and Bay Area executives and their families.
On Easter Island: Neibaur got his love of adventure travel from an early family roadtrip that went from Michigan to the West Coast.
“I went from sending thousands of people on trips through mass marketing to taking a person’s credit card and booking their trip personally, which is honestly much harder,” says Neibaur.
When Mary Cardoza became more involved with board responsibilities for Virtuoso, the agency’s consortium, she asked Neibaur to become the office manager and his responsibilities steadily grew, particularly after she passed away in 2009.
A Major Transformation
Fast forward: When Worldview Travel, which is based in Toronto and has an annual volume of $500 million, purchased the agency from the Cardoza family last year, it made sense for Neibaur to help with the transition and to oversee the office move in December to downtown Menlo Park, which is just a few miles from Palo Alto.
With all that, the Cardoza name went away and the agency, which has 17 advisors affiliated with it, became a full-fledged Worldview Travel office. The geographical change kept the business close to its existing market of affluent consumers. The offices for Facebook, Apple and Google, to name but a few, are still just minutes away, as are the bedroom communities of the executives who work there.
And while the cost of operations are as high as they were in Palo Alto (this is where the tech leaders of Silicon Valley live and play, after all), the Menlo Park vibe is much more local.
“We’re now in a cute downtown environment. It’s like an upscale Mayberry with little shops and restaurants,” says Neibaur of the new office, which is on the second floor of a commercial building. “From my window I can see my best client’s dentist’s office door.”
The strategy of moving to Menlo Park, or what Neibaur fondly calls “Clientville,” was to be centered in a locale where the community could drop in. “We wanted to make sure we kept in that immediate realm where we’re close to our customers and our customers know our address. Since we moved, I have been delightfully surprised by drop-ins from clients I had never even met,” he tells us.
That’s a switch from the norm. “In the Silicon Valley everyone is on e-mail or Facebook, so transactions happen digitally and the phone is usually silent,” says Neibaur. However, when we spoke, he was set to have clients come by for lunch who were about to take their first-ever safari trip and had a lot of questions. Neibaur and his team were also planning an open house for clients to welcome them to the agency’s new abode. “These days you hear more and more about agencies closing offices and going virtual. I think Worldview’s investment in brick and mortar is extremely admirable,” he says.
Settling into the Worldview family and enforcing the parent company’s strategies are next on his plate.
“We’re creating a new foundation for running a luxury business in Silicon Valley,” notes Neibaur, whose focus is now to ensure that the new buying power and technology Worldview brings to the table are being utilized and understood by the agents.
On safari: Neibaur (right) and his husband, Adam Mann, at Royal Malewane.
Of note is Worldview’s ADX platform, whose proprietary air, cruise and hotel booking tools are extremely user friendly.
“You’re booking commissionable air. You’re booking hotels and you’re getting the same inventory, but you don’t have to go through Sabre school, which I did,” explains Neibaur.
His tasks for the new year also include plans to expand the company’s presence in northern California. “We’re in recruitment mode. Worldview has a very strong growth plan and a lot of the growth is to be fueled by adding independent contractors,” he says.
Over the past year he’s added four new advisors, some who moved from other agencies and others who are new to the industry but have a lot of passion. They’re learning the business by participating in meetings, webinars and local trade events.
The agency’s current roster of advisors is well traveled with a tremendous amount of expertise, says Neibaur. “I learn from them every day. Most of our veteran advisors can, and do, book nearly any spot on the globe.”
He apparently has the same skills; as a luxury travel advisor, Neibaur brings in nearly $3 million in revenue a year. That makes him a top producer within the vast Worldview Travel network.
In fact, despite his managerial duties, Neibaur spends 75 percent of his time working directly on client trips. “I think, because of my background in helping organize companies and projects and corporate strategies, I’m able to still leave room for a majority of my time to be spent on my clients,” he says.
How it Happens
“Ken is an integral part of the Worldview Travel team because of his unique combination of skills,” says Cheryl Nicholson, executive vice president, leisure and loyalty for Worldview Travel. “He’s a luxury travel expert for his clients, providing superior advice that translates to outstanding sales results. We’re proud to have such a coveted industry leader managing our Menlo Park location.”
Neibaur’s broad scope of travel specialties includes bespoke FIT, multigenerational, resort, safari / eco-adventure, food and wine, luxury and expedition cruise, and LGBT travel.
A dedicated assistant, an office administrator and support from Worldview’s headquarters also make that possible.
“I have an assistant who does hotel bookings and itineraries and client inquiries and direct transfers and cars and drivers and gets the checks cut and the credit cards charged. For all those administrative things that take up an awful lot of a travel advisor’s time, I’ve got support dedicated to me.” He made that move about six years ago when he realized it was challenging to keep up with new business coming in and fulfilling existing clients’ requests.
“You reach a point where you can’t sell anymore because you’re too busy booking what you’ve sold,” he says, adding that having an assistant frees him to work on itineraries and with suppliers and to get out in the world a bit. “It really makes a big difference.”
It also enables him to sell “big” to his clientele, which is comprised of families and couples who work in the Internet and social media management, biotech, venture capital, medical and legal professions, as well as Stanford University’s academic circles.
Case in point: He just sent off clients on a four-month Silversea world cruise in a top suite, with numerous overland, private off-ship adventures to iconic places such as the Great Wall, Angkor Wat, Luxor, Taj Mahal and more.
Neibaur is shown at Masai Mara in Kenya.
A few years ago he planned a five-month global sabbatical for a young Silicon Valley family with three girls, whose experiences ranged from a Botswana camping safari to staying with locals in Mongolian yurts, to “self-drive” canal boating in France.
Neibaur makes it a point to go out and see the world, but balances his time carefully to handle his managerial duties. His personal travel highlights include African safaris planned by Big Five Tours and Trans Africa Safaris; Antarctica with Lindblad; Peru and Easter Island with Inkaterra, Belmond and Explora.
This obvious love of exploration derives from growing up in Upper Michigan’s Lake Superior country, where Neibaur developed a strong love for nature and wilderness.
“My parents took us exploring by camping from a very young age. When I was 7, we took an epic family road trip west to all the major national parks as well as Los Angeles, Disneyland and San Francisco,” recalls Neibaur. “That trip turned my whole family into lifelong explorers.” Later on, as a marketing executive, he traveled much of the world on business and developed a foundation of destination knowledge that serves him well to this day, he says.
There’s more: Neibaur is also the agency’s director of business development — which entails attracting and working with top clients, including institutional clients such as Stanford, for which Worldview handles the air for the alumni travel program. The agency has also just landed two corporate tech-business travel accounts; in those instances, Neibaur was involved with the conversations that took place at the beginning of the relationships. It’s a role he enjoys.
“Over time, I hope to be able to help with that even more as we get settled in,” he says.
The agency has been a member of Virtuoso for 30 years and remains so with Worldview Travel, which is one of the consortium’s top members.
“Virtuoso makes us part of a global travel community,” notes Neibaur, who has served on several of its committees and helped scout out new suppliers for the network. “There is always someone to turn to no matter what the destination or request. They provide agencies of all sizes with tools to learn, as well as amazing marketing resources,” he adds.
The Human Element
With so much on his plate, it doesn’t hurt that Neibaur is up early every day to communicate with travel partners in Africa and Europe. “It puts me in the right mindset for the day ahead,” he says. “I often get surprised replies when they realize it’s only 4:30 or 5 in the morning in California.”
By his own admission, Neibaur didn’t expect to love the “people” part of the business as much as he does when Mary Cardoza hired him in 2004.
“I actually thought I was getting into this to book trips,” admits Neibaur. “Now, I don’t do this because I like booking trips. I do this because I like to work with people and to have their travel go really well. I like them to be really happy. I didn’t count on how great it would be to become involved with families and to make friends with clients and be invited to their homes for the holidays. That completely surprised me.”
He also loves that the travel advisor community is one that shares with each other, and even better, doesn’t practice ageism, which keeps the future bright for all its members.
“This is a business that respects its elders more than any I can think of and I’m going to be that person. I’m still going to be doing this when I’m in my 70s,” says Neibaur. “Whether I’m managing or just selling, this is a business that people can grow old with and from a career standpoint, to me, that’s one of the best things about it.”
Jetsetting through South Africa: Neibaur uses his personal knowledge of the world to craft unique itineraries for his clients.
Looking ahead, Neibaur is also extremely optimistic about the future of Worldview Travel’s Menlo Park office for several reasons. There is the obvious growth in Silicon Valley with new housing and businesses in development and existing companies expanding.
He can also happily extend his focus beyond the tasks that kept him busy last year.The sale to Worldview has been executed, the move to Menlo Park complete, and the rebranding to the new agency name is done.
That frees him up a bit to try new things and to further develop those entrepreneurial skills he acquired in his previous career.
“I’m looking forward to building a foundation to expand the business in this area,” he says. “There’s such a large market of affluent travelers here that’s generally underserved by agents. There are so many new people to meet.”
He says that when new clients find out what a travel advisor can do for them they’re extremely surprised.
“A lot of them are like, ‘Oh, wow, I could have been doing this all along; where were you last year when we all went to Italy and we made a mess out of our own trip?’”
“This is really just a beginning for what we hope to grow in Silicon Valley,” continues Neibaur. “People tell me, ‘Oh, you must be so glad to be done. The move is all over with.’ I tell them, ‘Nope, we’ve just started.’”