Get the tale driving Birmingham’s century-previous travel company –


There are couple issues in Birmingham older than Brownell Journey.

Vulcan wasn’t sculpted until finally the 1904 Entire world Reasonable. The historic Lyric Theatre wasn’t crafted until finally 1914, and across the road, the Alabama Theatre wouldn’t be crafted for a different 13 yrs immediately after. Even Sloss Furnaces, a firm mainly credited with revolutionary the city’s development, only preceded Brownell by seven yrs. In simple fact, the city alone is only sixteen yrs Brownell’s senior. So how did America’s oldest leisure travel company discover alone in Birmingham, Alabama?

The tale begins in 1887, when Walter A. Brownell, a professor of geology, took ten of his good friends and colleagues across the Atlantic to Europe. Properly in advance of the
popularization of electric power and professional air travel, the group journeyed to Switzerland by candlelight on a steam ship referred to as the S.S. Devonia.

The vacation was effective and soon Walter observed himself with additional travel lovers than he could approach excursions for. He recruited fellow professors (commonly of romance languages) and their wives to direct excursions, primarily turning out to be the very first Brownell travel consultants.

At the flip of the century, Walter’s son Dr. George Brownell and his spouse Jennie took over the firm, which has ongoing to send American travelers to towns across the world for the previous one hundred thirty yrs, even by WWI and WWII. As these types of, the firm has pretty the history, with a prosperity of tales and fun details. One particular of the most weird: George Brownell’s son, George Jr., worked as a spy during WWII. He made use of his placement with the firm, as effectively as his fluency in Spanish and French, to fly under the radar during international travel and add to counterintelligence during the war.

Meanwhile, George Sr.’s spouse, Jennie, helped to operate the business, and by 1931 she and George Jr. took over the firm completely, which had given that moved to Tuscaloosa where George Sr. was a professor of French and Spanish at The University of Alabama. Her support in coordinating internet marketing strategies for the
firm began the prolonged legacy of female talent at Brownell. Nowadays, approximately
ninety p.c of their travel advisors and coordinators are gals.

A Minimize Higher than

In the one hundred thirty yrs given that the very first unofficial Brownell vacation, a lot has changed–the overall economy, the world-wide weather, the way we travel, to identify a couple. To succeed in a world where fewer than 12 p.c of travel businesses proven in advance of 1970 survived, the firm had to adapt.

To do so, Brownell’s vice president of internet marketing and development Haisley Smith states, the firm overcame a few significant obstacles: commission cuts from airlines, the recognition of the online, and the terrorist attacks of 9/eleven. To cure the very first, the firm switched to a rate-centered design, where travel advisors charge a rate for their companies fairly than operate on commission. Then, to contend with the hoard of do-it-on your own travel websites (Priceline, Travelocity, and all launched in 1997), Brownell honed in on its companies, vowing to offer you only custom-made, 1-of-a-form excursions to its clientele. Last but not least, when people grew hesitant to travel immediately after 9/eleven, the firm double downed on its shopper-advisor associations.

“Any time panic and uncertainly enter into the equation, you want a useful resource you can believe in,” Smith states. “We place procedures into area so we were not just a simply call middle, so you crafted a romance with your travel advisor.”

Revolutionizing the position of the common travel agent was the very first step in developing travel activities as opposed to any on the market–and the very first step in
revolutionizing the travel industry. Brownell consultants not only are specialists in travel, they are specialists in consumer support, correct professionals in the artwork of planning the great vacation–in substantial part for the reason that they have been there.

“At any provided minute, we have up to thirty travel advisors someplace in the world vetting hotels, floor operators, activities, resorts,” Smith states. In new months, a group of advisors invested four months in undiscovered India. Far more just returned from Java, Indonesia. But it really is not just remote islands and faraway lands that the firm vets–they typically revisit popularaccommodations to refresh their information.

“We are frequently heading back again to the tried and correct,” Smith states. “These
historic functions have been close to as prolonged as Brownell and we go back again to make absolutely sure they are still up to snuff.”

Brownell advisors undergo an substantial vetting course of action in purchase to join the elite group. Unbiased travel contractors can implement to join the Brownell spouse and children, but only 3 p.c of applicants make the lower. Those decide on couple complete a 12-thirty day period curriculum that includes finding out the ins and outs of the firm by acquiring a 1-yr internet marketing approach, attending vendor trainings, and finishing month-to-month assignments and conference calls.

Brownell’s present group of 85 advisors includes a selection of professionals from college professors and lawyers to previous Fortune 500 executives and 1 White Household press secretary. And the design is shelling out off. In its class of company, Brownell ranks in the major 5 for profits, with the the very least total of people. Compared to the industry common of $sixty,000, Brownell advisors bring in effectively over $125,000 for every yr.

In brief, Brownell upped the ante, making absolutely sure they supplied the very best excursions, planned by the very best advisors. They presently were on the industry’s brief listing of leaders, and immediately after merging with Abeta Journey in Cellular in 2001 and Sterling Journey in Atlanta in 2004, they dominated the southeast market.

Encounter Far more

Yet another detail that sets Brownell aside: they can acquire you everywhere. It really is
unachievable to pinpoint the number of towns Brownell travelers have visited, but all seven continents are additional than accounted for. Even excursions into Outer Space are in play, pending Richard Branson’s forthcoming Virgin Galactic professional rocket. Brownell was tapped to promote seats on the new venture back again in 2006.

At Brownell, you will find no drop-down menu of pre-packaged excursions to pick from, although their web page does break places into groups: Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Caribbean, Central and South The united states, Egypt and Center East, Europe, Mexico, North The united states, and South Pacific and Australia. Inside each and every of all those significant groups there are a dozen additional unique nations around the world and parts, each and every of which at the very least 1 Brownell advisor specializes in. Interest-oriented excursions consist of journey travel, snorkeling, ballooning, arts, foodstuff and wine, faith, educate, spa, and cultural.

Purchasers are matched with advisors centered on curiosity and desired destination location, and from there, the magic begins. Each individual depth from flights and hotels to pursuits and floor transportation is taken treatment of. Whether the vacation is a brief weekend getaway or a yearlong world tour, just about anything is achievable. Quite a few clientele who approach yearlong excursions are people with college-age children, so Brownell functions with the mom and dad to arrange tutors or acquire curriculums they can complete from where ever they are.

Smith states although it really is effortless to think 1 may possibly be overscheduled and exhausted on a vacation planned by a travel advisor, that could not be additional from the reality of a Brownell vacation.

“In actuality, clientele overschedule themselves,” she states. “We have to force them not to overschedule. Alternatively, we create scenarios and situations where they can have exploration and discovery on their possess in a harmless, meaningful way.”

That discovery is at the helm of Brownell’s trademarked Find out Far more course of action. By way of it, Smith states, advisors emphasis on the “why” driving each individual vacation. Why does a spouse and children want to travel to, for illustration, Bali? Why now? And why with this group of people?

“That receives to the root and the psychographic variables that support us to approach the great vacation,” she states.

One particular of the greatest developments in travel luxury in new yrs has all the things to do with the “why.” Multi-era heritage excursions send people to each individual corner of the world.

“With DNA tests now, people determine out where they are from and they want to go accurately where they are from,” Smith states. “But what is actually at that route of that
drive is traveling alongside one another as a spouse and children to create spouse and children legacies.”

Lately-retired baby boomers make up a substantial part of heritage travelers who want custom-made excursions. “They want the un-Googleable,” Smith states. Yet another significant shopper group, millennials, are similar. “They have this deep drive to investigate and immerse themselves in society, and that’s what we offer–not the cookie cutter.” Brownell functions with hundreds of floor associates in towns close to the world to create genuine, insider activities that give travelers a correct flavor of nearby society, from cuisine to customs.

But what is actually correct of all Brownell travelers, no make a difference their age, Smith states, is that they keep on being stunned and humbled by suffering from new places and
cultures. They are not your common state collector. They are interested in finding out about and exposing their children to new cultures. And as soon as they master about a society, they come to be invested in it–so significantly so that they want to support out.

“People today want to be equipped to give back again, volunteer, and get involved in the nearby communities where they are heading,” Smith states.

To support travelers make this drive a reality, Brownell vets philanthropic floor associates to create volunteer prospects. One particular multi-generational Birmingham
spouse and children preferred to support gals and children in Kenyan tribes. Brownell partnered with a nearby charity in Kenya to offer 50 photo voltaic-charging iPads loaded with Swahili and English curriculums for teachers to use in faculties there. The spouse and children even made good friends with a Kenyan woman who afterwards visited them in the States. Yet another Birmingham spouse and children traveling to Kenya achieved a nearby information who advised them that his village did not have entry to clean up drinking water. The spouse and children ended up donating drinking water filtration programs and wells that now offer clean up consuming drinking water to about a fifty percent dozen villages.


Brownell has been all over the world–and all over the city. Because shifting to
Birmingham in 1946, the firm has been headquarted downtown, in five Factors, in Mountain Brook, and in its present location at The Summit.

Inside the stylish Birmingham place of work, common trinkets from much off lands, from handmade Venetian Carnival masks to Mexican maracas, comingle with a wall of iPads exhibiting diverse Brownell travel places, from the ancient Egyptian pyramids to the remote tundra of Antarctica. A soldier from the Terracotta Army stands in front of a modern wall-sized photograph of a deluxe, tropical resort pool. The distinction concerning the two–previous and new–echoes the firm’s balance concerning protecting century-previous traditions and forging into unchartered lands, both figuratively and actually.

The firm has a prolonged legacy of accomplishment in Birmingham and the southeast. Mainly because they never prospect for new clientele, typically Brownell’s Birmingham travelers are 3rd and fourth era clientele from their people. Birmingham clientele believe in Brownell, which can make them some of the nation’s most adventurous travelers. Smith states the firm’s other markets, even in bigger towns like Philadelphia or Charlotte, are driving Birmingham in terms of movement close to the world.

“Birmingham travelers are significantly additional intrepid than the rest of the world and that can make them some of our beloved clientele,” she states. “They are not all younger, but they are ready to go.”

Mainly because of Brownell, Birmingham also has inadvertently come to be a hub for all those in the travel industry across the world. Each individual week, two to a few travel suppliers go to the Birmingham place of work. For most of them, it really is their very first time in Alabama often it really is their very first time in the state.

On a new go to with a lover from Peru, the firm’s executive vice president, Meg McGriff North, had everybody over to her dwelling for empanadas. The group had these types of a superior time reducing up and telling tales, that they forgot to gradual roast the meat, Peruvian design and style. To make up for their mistake, they
substituted barbecue from Skip Myra’s.

And that’s how it goes at Brownell. Sure, they have an eye for depth, but area is usually left for a little out-of-the-box fun. Associations–concerning advisors and clientele, advisors and international associates, clientele and their people–are at the main of the firm.

“No person would do this occupation if it were not for the deep expenditure in these associations with the clientele,” Smiths states. “Each individual vacation indicates a thing to us. This is not a transactional company we’re truly invested.”

As part of Brownell, each and every of its travelers are privy to the “Brownell touch,” which indicates they’re going to usually have a gift (a bottle of wine or maybe a box of candies) waiting for them on arrival. Or their rooms may possibly be decorated with framed photographs of their spouse and children customers and pets. Or the soundtrack to a play they just observed may possibly be enjoying in their area immediately after the display.

On a larger sized scale, Brownell travelers typically get upgrades and no cost breakfast at any of Brownell’s additional than ten,000 resort associates close to the world. Most importantly, they get the value of possessing 1 of the country’s biggest travel powerhouses driving them. They get peace of intellect.

Above the yrs, Brownell has planned excursions and supplied protection for tens of hundreds of travelers. They have also tried on a number of mottos. “There and Back Because 1887.” “Journey Past Your Expectations.” “Find out Far more.” Nowadays, all still keep correct. As do the words and phrases of George Brownell Jr. during his 1958 speech to the Birmingham Rotary Club, “We live in hectic moments in a hectic world,” he said. “Journey by knowledge is the passport to peace.”


To approach your next vacation with Brownell or master additional about the firm, go to

–Pics by Major Colbert and courtesy of Brownell

This tale appears in Birmingham magazine’s May well 2017 difficulty. Subscribe currently!

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