Travel Agent's Reddit AMA Breaks the Internet
PHOTO: It's thumbs up for travel agent Steve Shulem and his son, Spencer, shown here zip-lining at Angkor Wat, after his post achieved top rankings on Reddit. (Courtesy of Steven Shulem)
Luxury travel agent Steve Shulem was on the front page of the Internet.
That’s what Reddit calls itself, and Shulem unexpectedly found himself leading one of the hottest threads on the website popular with millions of millennials.
“I didn’t even know what Reddit was 24 hours ago,” Shulem said with a laugh. (It’s the ninth most-visited website in the U.S. with something like 174 million users.)
Shulem, president of Strictly Vacations in Santa Barbara, Calif., applied for Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything” column, in which celebrities or people with interesting jobs or expertise invite viewers to post queries or make comments. It’s also known as "AMA” because the posts traditionally invite users to "ask me anything." (President Barack Obama did it, and others scheduled to do so this week include actor Josh Gad and Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla Motors.)
Shulem’s post starts: “IamA President of a successful travel agency for 25 years. My Son told me you guys may have some travel related questions! AMA!”
Within 12 hours, his post garnered almost 800 questions and comments, moving into the No. 1 “Ask Me Anything” spot and even achieving the No. 10 ranking on Reddit’s front page for a time. By early afternoon Jan. 5, there were 915 questions and comments.
Shulem’s own Strictly Vacations website got more than 4,000 hits during that time, and 99 percent were from new visitors. He also received an email from a potential client this morning asking about a luxury Crystal Cruise in Asia.
“This is crazy,” Shulem said. “I was thinking maybe I’d get two questions but it turned into this huge thing. I can’t even keep up with all these questions.”
Shulem and his 19-year-old technology entrepreneur son, Spencer, were jetlagged last night after a Crystal cruise in Asia and trying to stay awake until their normal bedtimes on the West Coast.
“Spencer said ‘dad, you should post something on Reddit,’ and I was like, 'What is it?'” Shulem said. “He wrote it for me and I modified it. He asked, ‘should I press enter?’ and I said, ‘um, OK.’ Within minutes all these questions started coming along. … I was up till 2 a.m. answering questions.”
You can probably guess what the very first question was: “Why should I hire a travel agent instead of using the Internet and booking stuff myself?” It started a lively thread of comments on the pros and cons of consulting a travel agent and veered off at times into general travel questions.
“Some of these questions are fantastic,” Shulem said. “The best ones are people asking ‘should I become a travel agent?’ and ‘what are the advantages of using a travel agent?’ But I’m trying to keep it toward the luxury end. There are some budget travel questions, like ‘I want to go to Europe for a month but I only have $1,200,’ and I really can’t help them.”
At one point, he recommended G Adventures, saying the tour operator offers “super cool trips” for all budgets and that “we get nothing but rave reviews” about the company. That apparently sent droves of people to the G Adventures website and may have even shut it down.
“Thanks to your plug we just gave the website its reddit hug of death. Website down haha,” read a subsequent post.
Son Spencer was somewhat surprised by the post’s top ranking, but said it makes sense in that travel is always a popular topic on Reddit.
“I was pretty surprised, but it wasn’t unreasonable,” Spencer said. “I’d never seen any travel IAmA on there, and there are always pictures of people traveling on Reddit.
“I think if my dad worked at Expedia, it wouldn’t have gotten so popular. Because he’s a high-end travel agent and works with five-star hotels and $10,000 trip minimums, I feel like he is something that people have never seen or talked to before. The first 10 questions were seriously ‘why do I need a travel agent and what do you guys do?’ The younger generation doesn’t know what a travel agent is. Talk to any 20-year-old and they’re like ‘they still exist?’ ”
Making it to Reddit’s front page is almost as exciting as being on the cover of Life magazine was back in the day.
“It’s very much like being on the cover of a magazine, but for 12 hours,” Spencer said. “If you check back in 2-4 hours you might not even see his post. But if you go to the AMAs, it might stay for a week. But it’s very short-lived. It’s the Internet — new things come in all the time.”
Still, it’s impressive to draw that kind of attention from millennials — as well as people of means, based on Shulem’s Crystal Cruises query — both for himself and the travel agent community.
“It’s exciting,” Spencer said. “It’s nice to have people care about the industry and show interest.”
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