Travel guru prepares to take off

John Campbell, of Campbell's World Travel, is moving to his home office in New Plymouth, after 35 years in Stratford.
John Campbell, of Campbell's World Travel, is moving to his home office in New Plymouth, after 35 years in Stratford.

When John Campbell first started in the travel business 45 years ago, the most popular trip was back to "Mother England" by ship, a six-week journey.

Today, the favourites include Australia, the Pacific islands, Bali and China.

The owner of Campbell's World Travel is shutting up his shop after 35 years in Broadway, Stratford, and shifting to his home office in New Plymouth.

Campbell is used to change in his line of work.

He has seen travel affected by the wars in Kuwait and Egypt, the SARS outbreak in China, mad cow disease in Britain, the Chernobyl disaster and the September 11 terrorist attack.

One of his tour groups was in the air en route to Vancouver when the World Trade Centre was hit and their plane had to be grounded.

The introduction of the jet airliners, the development of electronic ticketing and personal in-flight entertainment systems are among the significant advances he has witnessed.

Campbell said he cannot get over the changes in China he has seen over the years.

He recalled a trip with a group of travel agents where a tourist activity offered was visiting a firing range where they fired live bullets.

"I got the high score.

"For a prize I was given a green cap with a red star."

China's streets these days were full of young people wearing Gucci and talking on an iPhone in Mandarin in one ear, and a Samsung in English in the other, he said.

Campbell was first offered a job as junior consultant in April 1968 by Fred Nolan for Newton King Travel, and had worked his way to manager in Stratford by 1973.

But in 1977, his company car was taken away and he was compensated $750 instead of the $2000 it cost to run a car for a year.

It was then Campbell thought "stuff this", and took out a loan from the bank to open his own shop.

Returning to the modern era, the rise of the internet and travellers taking to Google for information rather than visiting their local travel agent was hurting business, he said.

"It's changing and challenging."

People often came in for free information and then went home to book online, which was irritating, he said.

But there would always be a place for personalised service, he said.

Campbell has specialised in escorted tours for the last 25 years, taking groups on specially-tailored adventures through the old Soviet Union, South East Asia and this year down the Baja Peninsula and through the Panama Canal to Miami.

He said Taranaki travellers tended to be more interested in land-based tours that involved seeing different agricultural practices.

"They get sick of going through churches and cathedrals, they're not into that."

Campbell was drawn to travel through his love of meeting people and talking to people. "I talk too much," he said.

To young Kiwis he recommends "getting off their chuff" and going on an OE.

"You find hidden talents you didn't know you had, you get in situations where you have to improvise and come back with such important knowledge."

He has joined national firm the Travel Brokers and will become an independent consulting travel broker effective from April 1, 2013.

For his clients it will be business as usual, with his existing 0800 number remaining in place for people to arrange to meet him.

Taranaki Daily News