When Armed Forces Entertainment invited Chris Johnson on a six-month gig in South Korea, he knew he might catch a bug or two. But the one he caught was the travel bug — and he has never quite recovered from its symptoms.
Originally from Waco, Texas, Johnson spent 12 years traveling as a musician with a top-40 band before his stint entertaining the troops in South Korea. So when he decided it was time for a career change, he traded his drum sticks for a computer and took the leap into the travel industry.
Johnson began his travel career at CUC International in Arlington, Texas, honing his Sabre and sales skills. With a boyfriend (now his husband) in Los Angeles, though, he soon got tired of long-distance dating, and headed West to join him. He took a job in the travel department of a financial corporation, eventually moving up from handling quality control and paper tickets (remember those?) to making reservations and meeting with vendors.
In 2007, Johnson made the move to Corniche Travel; he loves working for a smaller, family-oriented company rather than a big corporation, and its great location in the middle of West Hollywood.
Nowadays, Johnson’s primary role is overseeing operations. But he has never quite given up the part he sees as the most fun, making reservations. “I love being able to help create fantastic, memorable travel experiences for both corporate and leisure clients,” he says. And indeed, he still racks up annual sales of about $750,000 for the $30-million agency.
Many of Johnson’s clients are from the entertainment industry, including celebrities, producers and PR companies, as well as universities, nonprofits, and hospitality and nutrition companies.
“It takes a little time to build a great rapport with your clients, but it’s the key to building a long-lasting relationship,” Johnson says. “I love to be able to provide the surprise of an unexpected amenity or upgrade. The most a vendor can say is no, so don’t be afraid to ask, but always ask nicely and respectfully. Your vendor relationships are priceless … never underestimate the value of a great relationship.”
In addition to his corporate duties, Johnson has always made it a point to keep up with his continuing education. “Our industry is ever evolving and there is always something to learn,” he says, and always a new destination to visit and revisit. Next up on his agenda is the Signature annual conference in Las Vegas.
He’s also always on the lookout for up-and-coming destinations to suggest to his clients. His most recent trip was to Lisbon, which he visited for the first time. “I can’t wait to go back and further explore,” he says. “Lisbon is an amazingly walkable city and the metro is very reliable and easy to navigate. The Corinthia Lisboa is an absolute gem. Extremely comfortable rooms, great F&B outlets, a wonderful Executive Club, and the service is absolutely outstanding. If you haven’t been, add Lisbon to your bucket list.”
When not busy selling travel, Johnson still loves to tap into his musical roots, checking out the local music scene at home and abroad. In L.A., of course, “one of the best things is the live music.”
But these days, instead of carrying an instrument, “I always carry a business card,” he says. “Everyone has a want or need to travel.”