by Harvey Chipkin
Chris McGinnis is a man who realizes that to get the career you want, you have to do two things well: package yourself and be persistent.
That’s the pattern of McGinnis’s varied resume as a corporate executive, television personality, author and consultant. Currently, San Francisco-based McGinnis is editor of Expedia Travel TrendWatch, a public speaker and columnist.
Like many who ended up in travel, McGinnis started off on a very different path. A native of Atlanta, he studied international business at the University of Colorado; he then attended the American Graduate School of International Management (known as “Thunderbird”) in Phoenix because, said Chris, “I thought I’d do diplomacy or international business.”
While he had hoped to work for an airline or hotel, said McGinnis, “I never found my way into one of those so went to work for Sea-Land, the shipping company. They sent me to Puerto Rico where I learned Spanish and about Spanish cultures; I was there for nine months and fell in love with the place.”
But Sea-Land was a global company and transferred McGinnis to New York, which he did not take to. He left the company and “moved myself back to Puerto Rico.” There he ended up getting a job with a management consulting company, thus learning that business.
As a consultant, said McGinnis, “I would be flying out of the island every Sunday and come home on Friday –. I was flying all the time. This was the mid-1980’s and frequent flyer programs were just getting started; business travel was not yet its own category and there were no business travel experts.
“I became an expert on airline routing; I would read the Official Airline Guide (a phonebook-sized tome) before I went to sleep, I became the expert on travel at my company.”
In his actual job, said McGinnis, “I did a lot of training and came up with a training program on how employees could become better business travelers. Nobody was doing that. We thought people were quitting our company because they hated to travel so much.“
McGinnis handled many questions about frequent flyer programs and offered tips about things like “getting upgraded by charming the gate agent at the airport.”
With that experience, McGinnis was sent on a big business trip – to Australia, where he worked consulting at a copper mine for a year.
While the pay was significant, says McGinnis, “I was getting tired of the consulting industry. All the money I made in Australia allowed me to go back to Atlanta and start my own business.”
That business was the Travel Skills Group. McGinnis explains, “I took the idea that I had at our company and sold it to other companies. They would let me come in and teach people how to travel; all of a sudden, these young people would be in careers demanding travel and they had to learn how to make the most of it.”
McGinnis’ pitch resonated with many companies and, as he says, “Even then I was good at public relations. I was written up in USA Today, the Wall Street Journal and others. I started getting calls from media asking me to comment on business travel.”
After getting many calls from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, McGinnis decided it would be a good idea to work there. “I talked my way into a doing a column for them; it was the first travel column in a business section,” said McGinnis; “only USA Today was covering business travel at that point.”
McGinnis ended up writing that column for ten years and it became extremely popular in Atlanta. Also, it got McGinnis into travel writing and away from consulting and training. “I found I really loved it,” says McGinnis; “I started writing a column for Entrepreneur Magazine and special sections for Fortune.
“The whole media thing blossomed,” says McGinnis; “Since I was in Atlanta, CNN Headquarters, I started pounding on CNN’s door and had to push really hard. It had been the same at the newspaper because I had no journalism credentials.”
But CNN, which was regularly calling McGinnis for interviews because of his column, finally hired him in 1995 as a business travel consultant. He recalls, “I did a business travel minute sponsored by American Airlines; I did that for four years and it was my entrée into CNN.”
McGinnis left CNN and, from 1998-2000, he did similar work for the Weather Channel. After September 11, CNN hired him back as a travel consultant, doing pieces every day. “It was grueling,” he said, “and I did that for a year until travel got back to normal. They switched me back to an occasional piece and then finally I left in 2004.”
It was time for another big change. Says McGinnis, “I had always wanted to live out west. I started thinking of all the abilities I had developed from covering travel and being on TV and thought I should be able to take this package and bring it to somebody.”
McGinnis brought that package of skills to no less a company than Expedia, which hired him to be editor of Expedia Travel TrendWatch, a new quarterly report on consumer travel trends, insight and tips, as well as to be a public voice for the online travel company.
Through all these changes, says McGinnis, “I always considered myself an entrepreneur. These things don’t just happen. You have to have staying power and keep going back to plead your case. Once they realize you’re not a flash in the pan and you know what you’re talking about, you have a good shot.”
A big boost for McGinnis, he says, is having written two books: the first “202 Tips Even the Best Business Traveler Might Not Know” and the second “The Unofficial Business Traveler Pocket Guide.” He says, “Once you can say you’re an author it puts you on a pedestal. I’m able to go to somebody have a signed copy of the books (which, combined sold more than 50,000 copies.)
None of his positions was easy to get, says McGinnis, sometimes taking a year of trying — even writing sample articles or making other efforts to prove his worth.
Aside from Expedia, says McGinnis, he also does marketplace research for a bank, helping analysts make decisions on the financial positions of travel-related companies.
He has maintained some of his earlier businesses. He maintains the Travelskills.com site and has a newsletter called The Ticket that carries advertising.
McGinnis is happy with his choice of living in San Francisco, saying, “It’s a wonderful place to live – and from a travel point of view, there are a lot of airlines, a cool airport and a vibrant hotel scene.”
In the end, says McGinnis, he is living where he wants and doing something he loves because, “I saw opportunities and took them. You have to see things and get there before everybody else does.”