GOSHEN — Menno Travel’s Doug Risser is retiring after more than 40 years in the travel business, but that won’t stop him from seeing the world.
Fresh out of college, Risser started working at Menno Travel in 1972 as a travel agent booking airline tickets. Eight years later, he was promoted to manager, and by 1995, he became one of the owners along with Geof Landis.
“This job has afforded me opportunities that I would never have been able to do without it,” he said.
Risser has traveled to at least 70 countries around the globe, and by the end of this year, he plans to add a few more to the list, including Bulgaria, Romania and Malaysia. Some of his favorite trips have been in Latin America, and he hopes to one day visit New Zealand and Australia, a region he has not explored yet.
Risser said he has seen the travel business transform over the past four decades. Travel agencies no longer mainly book plane tickets, he said. Instead, the business focuses on counseling and helping people plan complex trips around the world.
“People are spending a lot of money on travel, and the whole baby boomer generation is driving a large part of that,” he said. “People are retiring healthier and wealthier than ever before with an interest in travel.”
Of course, Risser said, the business has had ups and downs.
“I think about how it compares to the stock market,” he said. “Gradually, things go up and every so often the floor will drop out, and that happened three or four times over the last 15 or 20 years.”
One memorable downward shift was immediately following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.
“Transportation shut down,” Risser said. “People were afraid to travel. The economy tanked. That was a very scary time.”
At that point, Menno Travel had offices in Elkhart and Goshen, and in October 2001, the company consolidated.
The economy plummeted in 2008, making for another tough period. Fewer people had extra money to travel, and Risser said “for a while, there was even guilt associated with travel.”
“Even though some people could afford to travel, they didn’t because there was a perception of feeling bad about taking this luxury trip when other people are hurting,” he said.
But no matter how hard the business was hit, Menno Travel bounced back.
“One thing I’m proud of is that I’ve been manager since 1980, and I was here for about eight years before that, and we never had a year where we didn’t make a profit,” Risser said. “I think that’s pretty astounding.”
Menno Travel office manager Dorothy Shirk said she will miss having Risser around the travel agency, but Shirk will keep in touch. The two started working together 28 years ago when Shirk was hired to be Risser’s administrative assistant.
“He’s very hands-on in the travel world, so it was always great to be working with him,” Shirk said. “He was basically my mentor when I was hired on. It’s bittersweet that he’s leaving because he has done so much for so many of us, like giving a chance to a lot of people like me who didn’t have experience. I started pretty much out of college, and he was so good at seeing potential in people to be loyal employees.”
Risser owns the building that houses Menno Travel on Main Street in downtown Goshen and rents office suites on the second floor in a space called The Exchange. Risser said he plans to continue traveling and may even do some travel arranging for people as an independent agent.
Follow Elkhart Truth reporter Angelle Barbazon on Twitter at @tweetangelle.