LAFAYETTE, Ind. — When Speaker’s Travel & Lion and the Lamb Journeys opened int West Lafayette in 1986 the town housed a total of six travel agencies. Lafayette had 13, according to Tom Speaker, founder and former president of the company. Now, he said, Speaker’s is one of only a handful of surviving agencies in the Greater Lafayette Area.
Before the advent of online travel booking, Jon Speaker, Tom Speaker’s son and company president, said major revenue came from the sale of airline tickets. By the advent of the internet era, however, this was no longer the case. Before online booking was widely available, Jon Speaker said the agency sold between forty and fifty tickets a week.
“We probably don’t do 40 to 50 a month now. We had to diversify,” Jon Speaker said.
And Speaker’s set about doing just that, ensuring that it not only survived the downturn of the travel agency era, but thrived.
In addition to offering individual booking services, Speaker’s developed custom tour packages and incentive travel packages. These packages are crafted for customers, businesses or agencies, who want to sell the package.
The custom tour packages Speaker’s offers vary widely, but it specializes in developing religious pilgrimage tours, often developed for a church or religious organization, an idea pioneered by Rosemary Speaker, Tom Speaker’s wife.
Jon Speaker said it is mostly Catholic churches and groups that are interested in these tours. Crafting an itinerary for these tours is an involved process and usually requires travel abroad to arrange special events and site visits. Tom Speaker said unlike other agencies Speaker’s doesn’t farm out oversees operations but organizes every leg of the journey from start to finish.
For a religious pilgrimage tour, Jon Speaker said, often times the participants want to hold Mass every morning, and he coordinates with churches at destinations to make this happen. Jon Speaker said he’s arranged Masses in places like The Vatican and St. Paul’s Cathedral.
“For a lot of these people these are life changing torus. They come back and they’re uplifted,” Jon Speaker said.
The agency also arranges travel for Purdue University professors who might have a complicated travel itinerary and for other non-religious groups. Tom Speaker said his favorite tour to organize was for a Bell Choir out of Milwaukee.
“They wanted to perform in the major cathedrals of Central Europe,” Tom Speaker said.
And with the help of the agency, they did. They had good turnout too, Tom Speaker added.
Tom and Jon Speaker both attribute the success of the business to the creative tours they deliver as well as the dedication and hard work of their staff, like Jill Eberle and Ron Wilson, who have been with the company for 20 years.
Tom Speaker said the he is thrilled with the way his son developed and grew the business since assuming control in 2006. “He is a better business person,” Tom Speaker said, adding that he and his wife enjoy the more creative aspects of the travel business.
Working together as a family proved a rewarding experience for both father and son, although, Tom Speaker said, reversing roles with his son sometimes feels strange.
“When we started our business I had Jon clean the windows and restrooms and deliver airline tickets,” Tom Speaker said. “Now I clean the restroom and deliver tickets.”
Call J&C reporter Emma Ea Ambrose at 765-431-1192. Follow her on Twitter: @emma_ea_ambrose.
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