You park at the airport, snap a photo of your spot number. You roll your suitcase down one moving walkway, then another and another; Otis Redding’s voice glides alongside you. Having printed your ticket at the office, you stroll right up to the security checkpoint. At which point you realize: no driver’s license. Your flight is in 55 minutes — you’ll never make it back in time if you leave to retrieve the license. And the next flight to the city where you have an important meeting this afternoon? Oversold. What do you do?
If you booked the flight yourself, well, you are out of luck — no matter how good a deal you thought you unearthed. If you have Jennifer Kruchten and her team at Travelennium on call, you’ll be booked on that oversold flight, with ample time for a (delighted, no doubt) colleague to run the license to the airport. Your meeting will go off with nary a hitch.
The travel industry has changed in big, sweeping ways since 1989, when Kruchten started working at Travelennium (which was then Omega Travel — the company was renamed in 1999). And the pace of change has only accelerated. Of course the matter of the internet comes up early in a conversation with Kruchten. With so many aggregators online offering enticing discounts, how does a travel agency stay viable? By embracing change. Kruchten’s team of agents encourage people to research fares online — but to call them when it’s time to book. In an industry whose pricing and logic can feel opaque, Travelennium offers clarity and simplicity.
In 2001, when Kruchten took ownership of Travelennium, there were 37,000 travel agencies in the United States. Today, there are only 7,000. That’s the backdrop to Kruchten’s success, which continues to grow: By August of this year, Travelennium had equaled its 2016 full-year earnings.
Her parents had always encouraged Kruchten and her siblings to travel. “You get to learn different cultures, different ways of life,” she says.
And she always has had a head for numbers: After three years of college, at Transylvania University in Kentucky, she had accumulated enough credits to graduate with a major in business, minor in finance. (She stayed on for the senior year anyway — because experiences matter.)
Kruchten explored all aspects of the business — how to keep the trains running on time, if you will — over her first decade with the company. From accounting to group meetings to leisure travel, she had learned the routes.
And then came a sudden rush of arrivals. She and her husband Lance were entertaining the notion of buying a business. Meanwhile, the owners of Travelennium were growing older, thinking of selling. It was just after 9/11 and changes in the travel industry were underway. Not to mention, Kruchten had twins at home who were only a year old (they’re now seniors at Christian Brothers High School).
But her father had always told her, “If you can ever own a business and take care of people, you should.” He was a physician, and believed there to be no greater satisfaction than taking care of people — one method being to employ them.
In October of 2001, she bought the company. “I’m thinking to myself,” she recalls, “oh my stars, what have I done?” One thing she had done: gone from co-worker to owner. A transition that could have proved challenging has been rewarding instead. Krutchen says she “would never ask anyone to do anything that I myself wouldn’t do.” The tight-knit company of about 20, many of whom have worked together for decades, watch out for each other.
The team continues to seek new opportunities, too, to add to their wealth of experience. In 2008, Travelennium moved into the East Memphis building they now occupy, a converted residence on Colonial Road. The space — welcoming and warm; Kruchten’s office is in what would have been the parlor — has made possible new offerings.
They’re open Saturday mornings, and after work on Thursdays, when clients can enjoy a drink and a bite while nibbling on new trip ideas. Those preparing for Paris can stop by for a weekly evening French class, vocabulary and conjugation lessons loosened with a few sips of wine — sips that make slipping into a new accent a bit less mortifying.
“We want the entire trip to be a good memory — we want it to be effervescent,” says Krutchen.
In addition to personal travel — honeymoons and family adventures — Travelennium also works with a roster of corporate clients on meetings and conferences. For one large corporate group, whose biannual, 8,000-person conferences they arrange, the team is already negotiating contracts for meetings in 2023.
When businesses use the agency for their ongoing travel needs, Krutchen points out, it’s easier to keep an eye on overall expenditures and to be sure that companies can locate all their travelers. “If there is, god forbid, an international or domestic incident, companies need to know where their people are, how to communicate with them and get them back safely.” Another way of taking care of people.
To Krutchen, success is to be shared. A few hours after our chat, she’s planning to speak with a class at St. Mary’s about the travel industry, and about “how they themselves can become CEOs of companies — it empowers the young women to see that hey, they can do it, too.”