For 44 years, the Araj family has operated Oasis Travel, adapting to everything from airline deregulation to the rise of Internet booking. Mary Araj attributes the company's enduring success to a loyal customer base and the family's deal-making savvy.
We recently caught up with Mary at Oasis Travel's office at 843 Irving St. to learn about an industry that has drastically changed over the past few decades.
How long have you been in business?
"We’ve been here [the Inner Sunset] since 1971. It was started by my husband, Suleiman, and my father-in-law, David Araj. It’s a family-run business. They used to have an office down on Sloat, but we’ve been here for the most part."
Where are you from originally?
"We are from the Middle East. Jerusalem."
What types of travel services do you provide?
"We’re a full-service travel agency. We do tours, cruises, vacation packages, bachelorette parties, destination weddings, and plain and simple airline tickets."
How have you managed to stay alive with the advent of Internet-based travel services?
"The thing is, the travel business is changing. In the '80s and '90s, we were the number one travel agency for all of Silicon Valley. We provide professional service, we try to get you the best for your money. We’re honest, we give good prices, and we have great customer service. It’s all word of mouth, we never advertise. We have loyal customers that have known us for years, and like us."
But how are you able to compete with the prices found on the Internet?
"Pretty much what you buy online is what we can offer you too. The prices are pretty much the same, especially with the tours and cruises. We help people with their problems, when you deal with the Internet, there’s no one to talk to. We’re here to help you. I’ll have people in the neighborhood come in on their way to work and say they want to go to Hawaii on these dates. When they come home, I’ll have it already set up. We don’t always charge a service fee or extras. Our prices are comparable to the Internet.
"For things like changes, it’s easier to deal with an agency than it is with those websites. All of those sites charge a fee, but they don’t put it in their invoice. At least when we charge, we’ll put it in the invoice."
What are some wild, elaborate trips you’ve planned?
"I had a lot of crazy ones. I’ve planned everything from honeymoons in Bora Bora, to entire Middle East tours, including The Nile. We’ve done safari tours, Europe packages. I don’t know, I just put myself in everyone’s shoes, get excited too, and take it from there. For example, if someone comes in with three kids, I have three kids too, and I know what it’s like to fly with them. You don’t want to go through 50 connections. You know, you just work with them."
Why do you think it’s important to travel?
"To see the world, the different cultures. There’s so much out there to see! I want to tell my kids to throw me in the ocean when I die, so I can go to all the places I’ve never been. I think the world is very interesting and we have so much to learn, there’s so much beauty to see! We have a lot here in San Francisco, but my god, traveling is amazing."
What do you enjoy most about your job?
"That I’m in a different part of the world each minute. I used to do this line of work before I met my husband. I like to see the smile on my customers when they have a fantastic vacation. It’s hard to vacation time, and it’s already hard enough to plan. I like to see their satisfaction when they get to go where they want to go. For example, I helped plan a very specific vacation to the Middle East, and I loved seeing my client's face when she came back having fulfilled her dream to do that."
So what do you think the future holds for the traditional travel agency?
"Let’s just say, thank God we’re still alive!"