When the 2012 New York Marathon was cancelled in November due to Tropical Storm Sandy, travel agent Stephen Price worked non-stop for the entire weekend, contacting more than 200 clients who had already travelled to the area for the event.
These days have been a blur,” he said from a makeshift office in his New York hotel room on race weekend, as he waited to hear from race organizers about reimbursement. “Once that decision is made I will know if I am going to lose my shirt or my company.”
Price modified reservations and arranged to bring his clients back to Canada. Then, in December, he heard that all his runners would be refunded for the race or offered free entrances to other events, while hotels reimbursed them for unused rooms.
“The future of my company was up in the air,” he says. “Now that I know I won’t lose the company, I am super stoked. I can now continue to take people around the world and share their dream with them.”
Price, 38, is the founder and owner of Dream Travel, an Edmonton-based travel agency that takes runners (and even non-runners) to exotic locations for marathon events. He helps clients with everything from hotel bookings to pre-race warm-ups, providing assistance from start to finish – literally.
“I run every event that I take people to,” says Price. “It shows people we walk the walk.”
Kerry Zub, 37, ran her first New York Marathon with Price in 2011, and says his help was invaluable. “I come from a town of eight or nine -thousand people,” says Kerry, who lives in Fort -Frances, Ont. “The New York Marathon had more people than I’d ever seen in my life.”
She says it was good having someone like Price on her side to help with the logistics and pre-race jitters. “He gets you where you need to be,” she says.
Price started running when he was 26 and, within a year, he lost 75 pounds, ran three marathons and decided to change his career.
He left a six-figure retail management job at Westfair Foods in 2002 and developed his own travel agency business. A year later, he started working part-time for the Running Room where he continues to coach new runners at the store-run clinics.
“I loved running and travelling so much,” says Price. “Why not start a business based on that?
“Many thought I was crazy. I actually changed my entire life.”
Price sold nearly all of his possessions and his house in Twin Brooks – worth roughly $250,000 at the time – then, left his marriage, all within two months of ending his career.
Price booked his very first trip to the Las Vegas Marathon in 2004. But flights out of Edmonton and Calgary were cancelled last-minute due to a major snowstorm. Luckily, the 50 people he booked took it all in stride. Price had just a few hours to rebook flights for the next day and change all the hotel bookings.
“It was quite the introduction into the business,” he says. “I – managed to get absolutely everyone to the race start, including myself, on time.” And, looking back, it almost acted like preparation for the New York Marathon.
Today, Dream Travel runs about 10 trips per year and has two employees – both marathon runners. Dream Travel tours have gone to Montreal, Las Vegas and New Orleans, and as far as Peru, Bermuda and Tanzania.
“I choose events based on the location and exciting things to do in the area,” says Price. For example, the Great Wall of China package includes a cruise on the Yangtze River. Another trip includes a marathon in Peru, and a hike to Machu Picchu.
While planning the trips is quite labour intensive – often taking up to a year – the New York Marathon took the longest. But many of his clients, like Linda MacMillan, save up for even longer. “My family cannot figure out why I must combine running with a holiday,” says the mother of two. “They just think I’m crazy and ask, ‘How many kilometres this time?'”
In 2007, she ran a marathon near Mount Kilimanjaro and on the Great Wall of China in 2008. She hopes to continue running in other exciting places with Price’s help.