by Charles Horner
In the mid 1980s, I was enrolled in a travel agency school for entrepreneurs who wanted to operate their own travel agency. We got valuable information on the geography of the world. And we were trained on educating our clients to deal with idiosyncrasies and cultural habits of other cultures around the world. Some of the information gleaned from those classes has stuck with me to this day, especially on how to treat other people… no matter what they look like.
This period of time was also when many people in the United States dressed shabbily as a form of rebellion, not from necessity. One of our instructors, “Barbara”, owned a travel agency. She related the story of three scraggly-looking kids who’d come in one day. As was the custom in this part of one of the more affluent areas of Dallas, if you didn’t look like you belonged, you were shunned. Or the police were called to remove you from the premises without consideration as to why you were there in the first place.
One of Barbara’s travel agents turned up her nose at the unkempt kids, ready to call the police and have them removed. The employee dismissed them as bothersome troublemakers, unworthy of her valuable time.
Barbara, however, greeted them kindly, inquired as to their travel plans and suggested different travel options. They spent over two hours going over different ideas. Even though they looked like they didn’t have a dime between them, she gave them every courtesy, as if they were the most important customers that had walked into her agency that month.
They wound up booking (literally) around the world itineraries with lavish accommodations. As she booked their flights, hotels, cruises, and excursions, the surnames they gave didn’t sound familiar to her. But she went through all the motions, as if they were real travel customers planning a lengthy vacation.
When it got down to how the trip would be paid for, the oldest produced an exclusive American Express card. Barbara recognized the name on the card as belonging to one of the wealthiest families in Dallas. She quizzed them as to the different name on the card. They explained that they used their mother’s family name so they could travel safely, and not be targets for terrorists or kidnappers. A quick phone call confirmed their story.
After all transactions were completed and confirmed, they thanked her and said that hers was the fifth agency they’d visited that week, and because she didn’t treat them like they looked, she got their business. She made over $25,000 in commissions on their bookings alone.
One lesson Barbara imparted to us that day in class was that prejudice isn’t just about race and gender. She said: “No matter how somebody is dressed, or how unkempt they look, everyone deserves respect and kindness. Don’t treat anybody poorly — they just might pay for your new car.”