By Dr. Vishnu Bisram
Jim Bacchus Travel Agency will be long remembered for extraordinary service to Guyanese Americans. The owner – Jim Bacchus – passed away last month.
Jim was a business proprietor who owned two travel agencies in Guyana and one in Howard Beach, Queens that served the needs of the large West Indian community in the New York area. Jim Bacchus was well respected in the travel industry. Many knew the name perhaps more than any other agency. He, the individual, had a stamp on his agency and on Guyanese New Yorkers. The Guyanese and West Indian American travel industry is poorer with his death and the Guyanese travel public has lost a good man.
Jim, as he was popularly called, was a salesperson, a marketer, a promoter of his product, an accountant, a secretary, and a customer service rep all wrapped into one. He had high standards for sales service and was a professional in every sense of the word. He was excited and passionate about his service and never disappointed. People knew him very well for exceptional service and maintained their loyalty to that agency for decades. Every client of his spoke well of the man.
Jim Bacchus put in some forty years in the business in New York providing a vital service to Guyanese and other West Indians at a time when there were hardly any Guyanese or West Indian travel agencies in New York. He had detailed knowledge of destinations and was savvy about exclusive travel deals. People of all ethnicities did business with Jim Bacchus, and he patronized all communities with which he did business. He produced huge volumes of sales for BWIA (later CAL), Guyana Airways (that was not reliable), Universal, North American, Delta, and others and received appropriate recognitions, citations, and awards from them. Agents of these carriers would regularly visit it on strategies to boost sales and his commission revenues and thanking him for the business.
Jim Bacchus was among the earliest Guyanese travel agencies in America. Kali’s (Jamaica, Queens, NY) and Somwaru’s (Richmond Hill) started perhaps around the same time. And there was also Someday Travel and Ibis, both of Richmond Hill, that were owned by Trinidadian businessmen that employed Guyanese staff and that competed for Guyanese and other West Indian travelers. The industry had started to become competitive in the late 1980s with rising agencies that had to share commissions with outside sale agents.
I learn about Jim Bacchus Travel in the community newspapers in the mid 1980s when he took advertisements promoting his business. I used to write for several community papers from the late 1970s (Guyana Update, Caribbean Expo Awake, Guyana Graphic, Caribbean Contact NY, Prime News that later became Caribbean Daylight, among others at the time) and Jim Bacchus supported some of the papers. Guyanese and other Caribbean nationals looked forward for the publications and patronized that travel business, among others.
He knew of me through my writings and found time for interactions when I first phoned him and later visited his office. He wanted to meet me in person for my courageous writings on Guyana and the diaspora in America and for being among the New York pioneers of the struggle for the restoration of democracy in the homeland. I visited the Howard Beach office a few times and called him on the phone and had exchanges about politics in Guyana. He saluted myself and others who dedicated so much energy, resources, and time in that worthwhile struggle to make Guyana a better place. He recognized that only a few had the kind of commitment exemplified by the handful of freedom fighters that took up the Guyana cause in the diaspora.
Because of the nature of his business and not wanting to alienate his clients, he did not dabble publicly in politics or made his political views known. But he spoke in confidence with me and knew he could trust me about his views. He poked fun at corrupt Guyanese politicians. He condemned electoral fraud and the authoritarian regime of 1960s thru 1992. He respected Dr. Jagan and his wife for their honesty but not their ideology that brought so much destruction to Guyana. He was most disappointed with politicians especially those who championed socialism or communism and bankrupted the economy. He cheered Jagan for moving towards market economics after his return to office in 1992. Jim recognized, as did many of us, it was the tussle over power and communist ideology that wrecked the country and drove people like Jim, myself and hundreds of thousands of other Guyanese to migrate to America and other countries.
In New York, Jim took great care to build his travel clientele. He had the expertise in the industry. He knew the airlines, hotel accommodations, and cruises to recommend to patrons. Jim sold air tickets to Trinidad, Jamaica, and other destinations including vacation packages and cruises. He offered personalized recommendations and trip ideas to clients. He custom tailored trips. He booked and managed incredible travel experiences for clients. He grew his business and was at one time the leading travel agency in New York for Caribbean nationals.
I saw Jim at several holiday events and travel promotions in Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island. He was invited to some rare and exclusive events, including one where Butch Stewart (of Sandals and Air Jamaica) was honored, at which I was invited among a few media persons. (Butch was present at several NY promotions for his airline and Sandals.) And attendees would have their business cards raffled for prizes. I recall Jim’s agency winning trips and prizes (He was also a feature at BWIA and CAL events in Queens and Manhattan). I was invited to several trip promotions to Jamaica. I knew Jim’s agents went on trips but I don’t remember if he was on any of several trips with me to Jamaica in the late 1980s and early 1990s that was organized for media personnel and travel agents by the Jamaica Tourist Board with flights arranged by Air Jamaica.
Jim was a down to earth person, a gentleman, simple, humorous, jovial, jolly, cheerful, and helpful on virtually any matter. He loved interaction when time permitted. He engaged his clients. He enjoyed his work that he took seriously. He connected with people. One could not meet a nicer person. He was also a man of integrity. He was up front and honest. He did not cheat clients. He was an advocate of clients and like other agents hated the huge penalty fees for date change. He was also visibly upset when clients lost money from charters to Guyana that went out of business.
He did his best to get reservations confirmed when it was difficult to get seats during peak seasons like the summer and holiday periods.
During the late 1990s, with the invention of the internet and airlines allowing people to purchase tickets directly online from carriers or mega agencies that offered discounts, Jim accepted that the corporate travel industry was changing and that commissions on sales of tickets would decline. He recognized that the traditional travel agency would lose business and commissions and forced to close shops. Indeed, almost all airlines, save BWIA (CAL) and later NA, ended or reduced commissions. And his agency like others lost revenues. But he persevered attending to clients needs with less income. And although revenues were declining, he remained supportive of community media and events although not as much as in the 1980s and 1990s.
The Guyanese and West Indian community would want to thank him for the years of dedicated service in a business for which there was not much money to be earned. But he remained committed to serving people and loved his interaction with clients. The traveling public would miss his nice, warm, charming smile and laughter, his mannerisms, his good-humored nature, and his expertise in the travel business.