As a child, Joel Ostrov’s favourite book was the Official Airline Guide. Today, he runs one of the largest travel agencies in Canada. A meeting with a man of remarkable vision.
A flight with his family from Montreal to Miami was all it took for 10-year-old Joel Ostrov to discover his passion, and future vocation. “I just fell in love…with airplanes, airports, and travel!” As a child, he spent countless hours with his nose in the imposing airline guide, planning imaginary trips around the world, and eventually becoming a master at organizing family vacations.
A CAREER TAKES FLIGHT
Born in Montreal to Jewish immigrants (his father had emigrated from Russia), Ostrov received his B.A. in Economics from McGill University and soon after got a job with a travel agency. In January 1977, with a $5,000 loan from his father, he and a friend started their own agency, Partners in Travel, in the basement of the Ostrov family home. Within a few months, the agency had its own storefront in Ville Saint-Laurent.
Business was good, and the company built a loyal customer base. But this reality swiftly changed in the 1990s, when major carriers decided to limit, and ultimately eliminate, travel agency commissions. “In order to survive, we needed to pool our resources and become a major player,” says Ostrov. So, Partners in Travel joined with two other agencies in Quebec, and another two in Toronto to create Vision 2000 Travel Group (since renamed Vision Travel Solutions).
By cutting out the travel agency middlemen, airlines hoped to lower prices and increase passenger traffic. They also invested heavily in technology, and, in the face of an expanding travel market share, ended up seriously neglecting customer service (to the benefit of Ostrov’s agency!). Indeed, Ostrov is quick to state that his business success is based on the quality of customer service, attention to detail, and a competitive pricing strategy.
Ostrov’s success is also due to his ability early on to identify the tremendous potential of the corporate travel market. Long before the evolution of international relations and market globalization, Ostrov and his partner, true visionaries, decided to develop their niche, with many thanks to their fathers’ business contact, among other things.
Today, approximately 20% of the company’s business stems from high-end personal and leisure travel. The bulk of their sales however is generated by the business travel they handle for major corporations like CN, Telus, Quebecor, Aldo, and Metro.
This means that Vision Travel Solutions’ main competition is big international agencies like Amex, Carlson, and HRG, which have offices around the world. “But,” says Joel Ostrov, “our solutions are much more personalized. We also offer our business clients flexible programs. For example, we can provide a simple online solut ion that allows employees to book their own travel, with access to a specialized travel agent for more complex arrangements.” Ostrov recognizes that part of his company’s success is due to his dedicated employees, with whom he shares a love of human relations and personalized service.
Under the leadership of Joel Ostrov, CEO Arend Roos, and COO Brian Robertson, Vision Travel Solutions has become the largest travel agency in Canada, with sales netting $640 million, $230 million of which is generated in Quebec alone. But Ostrov has even bigger dreams, and is working on a business plan that foresees sales hitting $1 billion within five years. As for new technology, Vision Travel Solutions has its own app, and Ostrov is personally active on Twitter. He is already considering the new challenges of mobile technology, and hopes that new tools will convince future generations of the value of individually tailored service. With offices from Montreal to Victoria, partnerships and agreements with US agencies, and future inroads in Europe, the business is likely to keep a steady wind in its sails.
HOW THE TRAVEL AGENT TRAVELS
Aside from his business, what else strikes Joel Ostrov’s fancy? He has been married for 38 years to a wonderful woman, and is the proud father of a son who is pursuing his own dreams. His love for travel remains a constant. The proof: an impressive collection of more than 150 model airplanes, which he displays proudly. Not particularly a homebody, Ostrov enjoys vacationing abroad, and always makes a point of spending time at the hotel spa, wherever he may be. And while there are still interesting countries he has yet to visit, like Singapore and Thailand, he admits that his favourite vacation spot is undoubtedly the Côte d’Azur.