Austin's only black travel storefront owner opens up

Crystal Dyer: Blacks operate less than 1% of travel storefronts nationwide

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By Bonni McKeown

Last September, Crystal Dyer opened Gone Again Travel and Tours at 5940 W. Chicago Ave., the first black-owned storefront travel agency in years on the West Side of Chicago. Dyer brought 18 years of retail and wholesale tourism experience to her business. 

She began pursuing her dream in 1999, taking out a city license as a home-based agent and completing studies at the Harper College travel academy in Palatine. She retired from AT&T in 2004. She started learning the secrets of corporate travel in 2007 while working in retail at Delta Airlines, ONE Travel and GOGO Vacations. 

Dyer had moved to Chicago while working with AT&T, but moved back here in 2013, after her grandson, Devin Dyer, was fatally shot on March 6, 2012, at a neighborhood party—five days after his 18th birthday. Dyer returned here with a burning desire to help her family and the young people of Austin. 

Besides the travel agency, Dyer launched Chicago Austin Youth Travel Adventures, Inc. The nonprofit arranges trips for inner-city young people to explore history, cultures, and technology, making them aware of new career options in tourism. Dyer recently spoke about her passion for travel and how she got into the business. 

 

On growing up

I grew up in the Washington Park Homes high-rise housing project on 62nd Street. In Catholic school the nuns encouraged us to investigate stories in the Bible and in the world, and I loved research, especially ancient history. 

My parents took us to the Museum of Science and Industry and the Museum of Natural History.  I went to Malcolm X College after high school. I raised my sons in Austin, where I started the travel business from my house.  I always wanted to go to those places I read about.  I got it in my mind: I can have a business to help other people do the same. 

 

On the travel agency business

Storefront travel agencies declined after 9/11 and online booking became available, but once I opened my storefront, I had an overwhelming response from the community. My tag line is "Stress less, travel more," and the clients let me handle the particulars.  

I have clients that never had traveled but now go somewhere three or four times a year. My agency now has the top certification in IATA — International Airline Travel Agents network. IATA ratings depend on the number of dollars in bookings. I grossed $350,000 in 12 months.

Giving exactly what my clients are looking for and what is important to them is my utmost priority. Some packages include special tours as well as transportation and hotels. I get to go on travel agency research trips and uncover destinations clients may never have heard of. 

 

The advantages of hiring a travel agent

I educate individuals and groups about the advantages of planning ahead and pre-paying. You can put money in a "vacation layaway" account with us for up to a year and must pay it off completely before you travel. That way, when you check out of the hotel, the desk people say, "it was a pleasure to have you" without asking you for money! 

Working in Fortune 500 travel companies, I saw that only a handful of black people would call those agents, while my peers in other cultures were always going somewhere. That was just how they were raised—to want to travel.  

I researched the industry and found African Americans spend millions of dollars but are underrepresented in TV and magazine travel ads, and operate less than 1 percent of travel storefronts in the U.S. In our culture there's fear of the unknown. Should I go there? Will it be safe?  The world is wide open, it's beautiful and people just need a little help.

DISCLAIMER: The writer, Bonni McKeown, does part time clerical work for Dyer.   

CONTACT: bonni@barrelhousebonni.com

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