Still Going Strong 12-2-2003

Revel Travel Service marks 70 years in business

By: Lisa Jennings

If Jack Revel had to pick a theme for his travel agency’s 70th birthday, it would be “Survivor.”

When Revel’s father, Sam Revel, started the Revel Travel Service in 1933, the “office” was simply a desk in the lobby of a Hollywood hotel.

Now Revel Travel is the agency of the stars with bustling offices in Beverly Hills and 60 employees.

Jack, now president, doesn’t want the names of his celebrity clients published, but they include A-list musicians and actresses. He will admit that Michael Jackson was a client for 20 years, but, he said, “I gave him up. It just got too crazy.”

Jack also developed TravCom, back-office accounting and agency management software, which is now in its fourth generation and is used in travel agencies in 18 countries.

At 63, Jack loves to talk about his agency’s history, often referring to notes his father jotted down. Sam was still active in the agency until about two weeks before he died in 1996. “We were planning his 90th birthday,” said Jack.

This year the agency celebrated its anniversary Nov. 14 the birth date of Jack’s father, Sam, who was born in England and lived in France for several years working in hotels before he landed in California.

He came to Hollywood with his brother, Harry Revel, who was a composer for the film industry. Harry wrote hits for Shirley Temple and Bing Crosby, and is known for songs like “Paris in the Spring.”

With experience as a concierge for glamorous hotels in Nice and Monte Carlo, Sam decided to set up shop as a travel agent in the lobby of the once-renowned Christie Hotel.

Travel was simpler then. Before the advent of air travel, it was mostly booking train or boat tickets.

The agency had three phone lines connecting to the Union Pacific, Southern Pacific, and the Santa Fe rail lines. Getting a ticket involved picking up the phone whoever answered first got the booking.

In 1939, Sam met his wife, Sara Revel. He was handling in-bound reservations for a hotel, and she was visiting from Chicago. Sara later worked with him in the business for 40 years. She died in 1986.

World War II brought a halt to international travel. Sam, who couldn’t serve because of a medical condition, was one of few agents still operating. He got by, though, selling tours of movie stars’ homes, car rentals, and resort vacations to Palm Springs and Catalina.

Sam became a charter member of ASTA and served as president of Southern California chapter in 1948. He organized the first regional conference at Yosemite Lodge that year.

After the war, trans-Atlantic travel came back and Sam developed a large clientele of affluent travelers in the entertainment industry, which enabled him to open his own Hollywood office.

In 1954, the first flight from California to Israel was launched. It was a two-day trip by prop plane, with an overnight in New York, but it enabled Sam to expand his focus on travel to Israel.

Later, Jack said his father was instrumental in bringing cruise ships to California.

“It used to be the only ships that came here were round-the-world,” Jack said. “If you wanted to go to the Caribbean you had to fly to New York.”

By the 1960s, when Jack joined his father in the business, cruise travel was a major emphasis, and it still is.

Jack’s brother, Paul Revel, also worked in the family business for 11 years before he opened his own agency, The Travel Station in Encino, Calif., in 1975.

So far, none of Jack’s or Paul’s children are planning a career in travel.

And while Jack says today’s travel industry is tough, Revel Travel Service is doing well because it specializes in a market that isn’t likely to “go direct,” said Jack.

“People in the entertainment industry rely on travel agents,” he said.

Agents in his line of work have a high burnout rate. His clients are prone to wake “at the crack of lunch,” want restaurant reservations for after midnight, and call at 3 a.m. to cancel plane tickets for 90 people 24 hours before a flight.

But that’s what travel agents are for.

And Jack notes that 2004 looks like it will bring an upturn in business, with the potential pent-up demand by consumers finally being realized by agents.

“People want to travel, it’s just that there was a lot of apprehension with terrorism and the economy,” Jack said. “Consumers also have a misconception that they can buy cheaper on the Internet.”

But, he said: “People who want to plan trips and specialize travel will always have a need for a travel agent.”