A Brief Professional Biography:
For more than forty years I have worked in the tourism industry as a travel agency owner, as an industry consultant, and as CEO of a multi-national tour operator based in Thailand, where I lived for nearly twenty-one years. In 2019 I relocated to Siem Reap, the trendy little town in Western Cambodia near Angkor Wat.
Before I moved to Asia I owned or was a partner in three retail travel agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area, including a corporate agency in the TransAmerica Pyramid building. Our clients included major law firms as well as British Petroleum Alaska Exploration. We also took care of entertainers on tour, and the major cults of the day including EST, and Lifespring. We sent the members of the Peoples Temple congregation to Guyana (one way).
Fate eventually lead me an another direction and I decided to use my experience to help others in the industry. My consulting practice was born in San Francisco round 30 years ago. My intended focus was on management and marketing. Eventually, however, it became opening new travel agencies. In the early days I promoted my services with a half-day seminar called So You Want To Be a Travel Agent, which I presented about 30 times in the Western U.S. the first year, and also sold on audio cassettes. A year later it expanded to a full day and became How To Open Your Own Travel Agency. I gave about about 70 presentations a year for three years across the United States. The seminar was also sold on video and became a very profitable book. Ultimately, I helped to open more new travel agencies in the United States than any other consultant or franchise. I also did some "real" problem-solving consulting, including mediating partner disputes, branding, marketing, assisting with acquisitions and mergers, expert testimony, appraisals, and personnel issues.
I moved to Asia 1998. Why? It's a complicated story. I had founded an AIDS fundraising organization in San Francisco that made money by selling "used" orchid plants in huge outdoor sales in the Bay Area and South Florida. I was president the organization for ten years. We had a commercial greenhouse and more than 5o volunteers. Large quantities of plants came from donors in Asia, particularly Thailand. I came here to find HIV programs that needed funding and learned that most needed more than money. After I began to put my consulting skills to work it became apparent that my destiny was to live and work in Asia. Besides, I got tired of the commute from San Francisco anyway.
For nearly twenty-one years I was a partner in and eventually CEO of Purple Dragon Ltd, which was originally founded as Utopia Tours, Asia's gay travel pioneers. We were Asia's oldest (20 years as of August 2018) and largest (offering 10 countries, eight of which have our own people on the ground) tour company specializing in LGBTQ guests. We are 100% internet and have been since the beginning, which makes us pioneers in that respect as well. More than a third of our guests have traveled with us at least three times. The record is a couple in San Francisco who will make their 29th trip us in March 2019.
Over more than two decades I have gained plenty of experience not only with living and working in the countries we offer, but LGBT customers, senior citizens, people who are obscenely wealthy, specialty groups, shore excursions, Bhutan, and much more. Our clientele has included people who have achieved notoriety and require discretion, privacy and security--politicians, entertainers, people in film and TV, major players in real estate developers, medicine, law, the military, and the church. We have also produced major MICE projects in Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. Our largest MICE client was Ogilvy & Mather Advertising. We also sold honeymoons and medical tourism products.
I closed our Bangkok office in April 2019. I was getting pretty tired of Thailand. After 20.5 years and considering Thailand's ongoing social and political instability, it was time. I now live in Siem Reap, in Western Cambodia.
* A marketing guru friend insisted I use this snappy headline. My practice is not restricted to LGBTQ travel. I can help with mainstream travel issues, online marketing, and some aspectects of SEO and social media.
If you have read this far you probably know that I write. I do not have as much time as I would like to write, but my food and travel stories have been published major newspapers and magazines in the U.S. and Asia. I am also the author of eight books: 101 Things You Can Do With California Cling Peaches, (written under contract), Travel Agency Bookkeeping Made Simple (with Mary Miller-Marshall, A Personal & Operations Manual for Travel Agencies (with Alexander Anolik), Profitable Direct Mail for Travel Agencies, A Guide to Travel Agency Automation, A Complete Guide to Travel Agency Video (with Jon Schulberg), How To Open Your Own Travel Agency, and The Men of Vietnam, the first gay guidebook to Vietnam. I cannot promise that I will not write any more. When I have both time and a good reason, I also write a blog with a cult-status following.
If you feel that you can benefit from my experience I may be able to help you.
In addition to nuts and bolts issues, I am particularly interested in helping companies that want to become relevant to LGBTQ+ consumers. If you are a tour company and think you can capture the gay market by slapping a gay label on a otherwise-mainstream tour, you are not going to be successful. We've all figured out that some tour operators are taking this kind of meaningless shortcut, but i can help.
If you are a hotel, I can give you an assessment of what you need to do to make your property more gay-friendly, and help you discover how to reach this market segment.
If you are in the wedding business, looking for creative help with an employee group, or plan to shoot segments for a TV show or film, I have experience providing logistical advice and support.
Because I have been involved in internet development for more than 30 years I do quite a bit web-relate work, including new websites, SEO, and evaluations of existing websites.
I am grateful to have been invited to present a master class at the first Proud Experiences, a global LGBTQ tourism conference in London in June 2018, produced by Reed Expositions. Asia is not fully appreciated yet as a gay tourism destination, partly because most travel consultants do not yet have the experience or confidence to sell it. I intend to develop an online training program that will give travel-sellers the resources to confidently guide customers who want to visit our part of the world.
My consulting activities are not completely LGBTQ-focused. In the end, my work with clients becomes nut-and-bolt issues that every kind of tourism business has to contend with.
Other Things To Be Proud Of
In 1988 I founded OrchidMania (mentioned above) and served as its president for ten years. We raised hundreds of thousands of (1980s) dollars to support HIV programs that were not able to or did not how to quality for mainstream funding. Thousands of lives were impacted by the generosity of our volunteers and people on three continents who donated plants for our sales.
In 2005 I was founding co-chairman if the first Bangkok Pride, and served as its co-president for two years. Personally, I have been involved in other forms of gay community-building, in Thailand, Vietnam and Bhutan.
For the last 15 years I have been an avid tomato grower, and introduced heirloom tomatoes to Southeast Asia. My adopted son and I now have a commercial farm in Cambodia. Tomatoes hrtr are truly ghastly, and we are making a lot of chefs (including two Michelin-starred chefs) and tomato-starved expats in Thailand and Cambodia very happy. It has been a huge success from the very beginning and I finally get to eat decent tomatoes myself. More: www.Hot-Tomato.com.
Along with our staff in Bhutan, we founded Plastic Free Bhutan, a group of people in the tourism industry who want to bring an end to plastic pollution in this pristine Himalayan Kingdom. Purple Dragon Ltd. actively supports the work of Plastic Free Cambodia. We encourage our customers to take refillable water bottles with them when they travel, and to take their non-organic trash home with them for recycling.
My move to Cambodia produced three new websites: SiemReapRentals.com, which will be a one-stop online housing resource for newcomers and retirees, BangkokToSiemReap.taxi, for low-cost transportation and relocation services, and my biggest project and home: VillaKhursani.com
QX Magazine in the U.K. wrote about me in August 2017: http://www.qxmagazine.com/2017/07/orchids-oriental-exploration/. After years of therapy I now live orchid-free.
I am here to help. If my experience can benefit you, whether it be through consulting, writing or speaking, I look forward to hearing from you: [email protected]