Lang Signs Off After Fifty Years

"In those days we travelled to all corners of the world and never paid a cent. If flights were full, we got to sit up in the cockpit", recalls Simon Lang, after a prosperous fifty year career in the travel industry.

simon lang low resThe world has come a long way over the past 50 years. Rewind the clock to 1965 and cigarette advertising had just been banned from British television, the Vietnam War was well under way, and the civil rights movement was in full swing in the US. It also marked the beginning of a long and prosperous career in the travel industry for Simon Lang who took home his first pay packet with P&O Orient Lines in 1965. Lang, who is hanging up his boots later this month, has seen the industry evolve from the very beginning. And any career spanning five decades is worthy of reflection.

Lang’s foray into travel was like many others – far from seamless. With a Scottish father who was a decorated soldier, he dabbled in army matters in his formative years but found himself on a boat to Australia at the age of 19, making the 6.5 week boat trip from Southampton to Melbourne. Arriving with less than 20 pounds in his pocket, Lang soon landed a job with P&O Orient Lines after “pulling a few strings” with people in the right places. “I somehow got an interview with the top directors and got a letter one week later I had been accepted for the job. But to this day I don’t know what I had been hired to do,” he recalls.

Lang assisted with cruise berthing and even played the bagpipes to entertain customers during the boarding process. “We had a great time doing all sorts of jobs that don’t exist today. HR departments wouldn’t allow people to do today what we did back then,” he quips.

He later transferred to Queensland with P&O and went on to join Ansett’s overseas department several years later. He also moved to Ansett’s retail operation – Traveland – where he grew the brand’s franchise operation to include more than 80 outlets across the state.

Lang poured an impressive 28 years of service into Ansett and Traveland before the company went down in colossal fashion in 2001. But not ready to throw in the towel of his working life, he was soon picked up by Travellers Choice with the challenge of expanding the group’s network into Queensland – a role that he considers to be the “finest of his career”. “I can genuinely say I have left the best till last. It has been an absolute privilege to bring the company to Queensland,” he says.

Needless to say, the travel industry has come a long way since 1965 and the evolution of telephones, the internet and central reservations systems has transformed the landscape. As Lang recalls, the early years were a far cry from modern day travel. “We had a completely manual reservation system, long distance contact was done by telegrams, and the fastest way of communicating was by Telex,” he says. The largest aircraft was a 707, travel to London involved up to five stops, and airport security was also decades away.

But Lang says the game changed in the mid-70s with the rise of Boeing 747s which changed how people travelled and saw the introduction of cheaper mass transportation.

Travel agency chains also emerged in Australia which changed how consumers booked travel and opened the doors for more people to consider travel as a career. Lang says free travel perks also thinned out in the 70s, and the industry has become more complicated ever since.

“In those days we travelled to all corners of the world and never paid a cent. If flights were full, we got to sit up in the cock pit. For many years, things were so simple. It was an uncomplicated industry where we worked hard and played hard,” he says.

Reminiscing on the past, Lang says the evolution of the internet has completely transformed the travel industry and made working around the clock a hard reality. “Phones and emails have changed everything and there is now an expectation to respond immediately,” he says. But while the pace has changed, he says today’s opportunities are greater than the days of old.

“There is certainly a great future for travel agencies going forward. I know there’s been a lot of discussion about this, but there is a strong outlook ahead,” he says. However, much like the industry has changed over the past 50 years, he says more change is on the horizon: “Bricks and mortar outlets have to think outside of the box to survive and prosper. They need to come up with new ideas like group tours, and they need to go online. You have to develop your own client base, but you need to have some sort of plan going forward to get passengers to come to you other than the internet.”

Lang says agencies will continue to evolve, much like the industry has in the past. But for now, he’s turning his focus to helping his two sons build their news agency business into a successful online venture.

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