On solid ground in Santa Cruz, Calif.
By Laura Del Rosso
sions, the agency closed
a number of satellite
Santa Cruz Travel is a
survivor: a traditional,
full-service, brick-and-mortar agency whose
roots in its namesake
California beach town
run deep. The agency is celebrating its 45th anniversary this year, a
significant milestone because the
business weathered not only the
industry’s ups and downs but also
a natural disaster: the 1989 Loma
offices and switched its
mix to 80% leisure and
Travel from his
The agency still han-
dles travel for departments at the University
of California, Santa Cruz;
the county and city of
Santa Cruz; and a local
community college, but
most of its business is
Hawaii, cruise and FITs.
Jeanne Epping, who opened Santa
Cruz Travel in 1964, is well known in the
industry for her long association with
ASTA, serving as president in 1996-97.
In 1998, she turned over the agency reins
to her son, Scott Pinheiro. Epping enjoys
her semiretirement, keeping a hand in the
business by handling travel for a couple
of groups each year.
For Pinheiro, the agency has been a second home since childhood. He recalls doing his homework there after school. Then,
through his high school’s work-study program, he would spend a couple of hours at
“The day I got my driver’s license, my
first duty was to come back to the office
and deliver tickets,” he said.
Pinheiro went away to attend the University of Nevada, Reno, where he was a member of the ski team.
PHO TO B Y FRANCO VOG T
Then, in 1989, the
agency faced its biggest
challenge: the earthquake that devastated
downtown Santa Cruz.
The agency building was
He expected to stay in travel: With his
mother active in the industry and his stepfather, the late Dick Epping, a sales rep for
National Airlines and later Holland Amer-ica/Westours, there was talk of little else
around the dinner table.
In the 1990s, as Epping got busier with
ASTA duties, she needed a
manager for the agency and
asked Pinheiro to join her.
It was the beginning of
many changes for Santa
Cruz Travel. When Pinheiro returned from
Reno, the agency’s business was largely corporate and university, with just 20% leisure.
With the elimination of airline commis-
Fortunately, no one
was hurt. The shaken
staff moved to temporary quarters four blocks
away as city leaders planned the reconstruction of downtown.
“We thought we’d be there six weeks or
so, but it took us four-and-a-half years to
rebuild,” said Pinheiro. “The community
opened its arms, and we found a place to
rent nearby.” The agency paid “a pittance”
for rent, he said.
The agency used a loan
from the Federal Emergency
Management Agency to rebuild the office at the same
location. It was one of the first Santa Cruz
businesses to reopen in a new downtown
that today is bustling with restaurants, ca-fes and shops that draw university students,
tourists and beachgoers.
The agency is one of only a handful in
Santa Cruz. Of the two dozen or so brick-and-mortar agencies that thrived in town
20 years ago, most have closed.
However, Pinheiro is bullish on the future for full-service agencies. “We have
undertaken some cuts this year with our
agents working a few less hours. But we’re
staying busy, and we’ve been marketing the
heck out of our client base.”
He’s optimistic that young people who
have grown up using the Internet will use
the services of traditional agencies. The
proof is at his office, where university students enter each day to buy travel.
“They like the convenience and the
face-to-face meeting,” he said. “You’ve got
to be able to compete, and we can do that
He’s followed in his mother’s footsteps
and become active in the industry. He’s
been president of Westa, a West Coast consortium. The agency funnels almost all its
leisure travel to the preferred operators of
the member-owned group.
Pinheiro also serves as Northern California ASTA chapter president, as chapter
representative to the ASTA board of directors and chairs the ASTA Foundation. “It’s
too early to say” whether he will also seek
a national position,” he said. For now, he’s
giving the chapter role another go and running for a second term.
“Say what you will about the travel agency industry, but I’m living it and it’s profitable,” he said.
“It’s not easy,” he continued. “My mother
told me it’s a nickel-and-dime business.
When you get that commission check and,
even if it’s only $2.83 from a one-night stay
at an airport hotel, it doesn’t matter. Take it
to the bank. Watch those nickels and dimes.
“In the end, we’re successful because we
have a solid place in the community and
are doing the right things by our clients.”
Cruising the Norwegian coast
Scott Pinheiro of Santa Cruz Travel, Santa
Cruz, Calif., created the following Northern
European itinerary for a family of seven. A
21-day Regent Seven Seas cruise of the Baltic
Sea is the centerpiece.
in the evening.
Days 4 to 25: For the next few days the
ship sails along the Norwegian coast.
Port calls and shore excursions are scheduled at Hellesylt, Geiranger, Trondheim,
Day 1: Arrival at London Heathrow Airport and private transfer to Le Meridien
Piccadilly at London’s Piccadilly Circus
for a two-night stay.
Day 2: Morning pickup for a private London tour followed by time for rest, exploring and shopping.
Trondheim, Norway, is
among the port calls
during a 21-day sailing.
Svartisen, Gravdal, Honningsvag (with a
tour to the North Cape, where cliffs rise
1,000 feet above the Arctic Ocean), Tromso, Alesund, Hjorundfjord, Flam (with a
daylong railway excursion), Gudvangen,
Bergen, Nevlunghamn and Oslo, where
the ship docks for two days.
Then, leaving Norwegian waters, the
Voyager sails to Copenhagen; Visby, Sweden; Tallinn, Estonia; St. Petersburg, Russia (a three-day stay that includes a private day trip for the family to Moscow by
air); and Helsinki, Finland.
Day 3: Private transfer to Heathrow for
the flight to Copenhagen, Denmark.
Upon arrival in Copenhagen, transfer to
the Regent Seven Seas Voyager, a 700-pas-
senger, all-suite, all-balcony cruise ship.
Group members are met by their personal
butlers, who will assist with luggage and
settle them into suites. The cruise departs
T W PHO TO B Y NADINE GOD WIN
Day 26: Arrive and disembark in Stockholm, Sweden, where the cruise ends.
Enjoy a full-day, private tour of the city.
The group later will be dropped off at the
Radisson SAS Strand, a waterfront hotel.
Day 27: Private transfer to the Stockholm
airport for the flight to London, connecting with the flight home.