RIDLEY TOWNSHIP — Few people who regularly travel up or down MacDade Boulevard through Woodlyn haven’t found themselves dreaming of escaping on a vacation after noticing the longstanding marquee outside of Tour ‘N Travel, advertising tempting trips to the Caribbean, Hawaii or Disney World.
Tour ‘N Travel, serving the travel needs of several generations of customers for over five decades, will close its doors on Jan. 31, when its owner retires.
“I couldn’t have chosen a better career or have been in any other business that I enjoyed more,” stated owner Debbie Liberatore, as she talked about her years operating Tour ‘N Travel. “Retiring from a profession that I have been passionate about for so long was not an easy decision to make. However, I believe it’s the right time for me to step back and enjoy the fruits of my labor.”
The family-owned and operated travel business has earned a widely-respected reputation for providing custom and quality vacation and trip planning for individuals, families, groups, sports teams and other organizations and corporate accounts.
They’ve sold pre-planned packages and individualized plans, and all combinations in between.
Liberatore worked at her parents’ travel agency since she was 16 years old and a student at Penncrest High School, went full time after graduating in 1975, and eventually took the reins as owner and operator.
The root of the business began in the late 1960s, when Evelyn Moreno and her late husband, John, traveled to California to visit Evelyn’s brother and his wife. While visiting, Evelyn’s sister-in-law, who owned a travel agency, told stories to the Morenos about her thriving travel business.
Both John and Evelyn were impressed and returned to Delaware County and decided to open their own agency.
The couple, who lived in Media with their five children, found a four-bedroom house on MacDade Boulevard in Ridley Township to renovate into the business, opening its doors to the public in 1969. John kept his job as a dog catcher.
He also served as president of the Transportation Workers Union of America Local 212 in Chester. The couple worked side-by-side to get the travel agency up and running, with only a few helpers. They expanded the office in 1977.
In 1996, John passed away and Evelyn continued to run the business that she had come to know and love.
However, in 2000, she decided to retire and Debbie, who had worked at the agency almost since the beginning, bought it and carried on the business that her parents had begun. Two of her older brothers dabbled in the business when they were younger, she said, but none of her siblings had the strong interest like her.
Tour ‘N Travel booked trips by plane, rail, boat, and more, catering to all customers’ particular travel needs. They also handled corporate accounts for businesses, including prominent ones like Cutco, MacDonald’s Corp. and Visual Communications.
After 54 years dedicated to Tour ‘N Travel, Liberatore is excited for her next chapter of life to begin. Her husband, Ron, who worked at Covanta, retired in 2021.
“Ron has always been supportive of me in business,” Debbie shared. “He cuts the grass, changes the marquee, keeps up with the maintenance of the building and more.”
The Liberatores, residents of Folsom, have been married for 43 years and have four daughters and eight grandchildren. They met at Tour ‘N Travel, when Ron, a senior at Ridley High School at the time, came in to book a trip to Hawaii for senior week in 1974.
The father of a buddy of Ron worked at an airline, so the two teenagers had an opportunity to get complimentary airfare.
Instead of opting for the traditional senior week at the shore like their classmates, Ron and his friend decided to go more tropical, but weren’t sure how to plan the details.
Ron stopped by Tour ‘N Travel for advice and Debbie helped him figure out the logistics of his Hawaiian trip. While perusing brochures on Hawaii, Ron asked Debbie out on a date, whispering quietly and nervously, so her family members in the office couldn’t hear.
The rest became history and they married in 1979. The couple laughed fondly at the memory, as they shared the story.
Roller coaster ride
Like most business owners, Debbie has weathered many ups and downs through the years, especially as the travel industry changed drastically with advances in technology.
“I had to constantly go to trainings and take classes to evolve with the changes in the travel industry,” Debbie, a former president of Ridley Township Business Association, shared. “In addition to keeping up with all the trends and changes, it was our faithful and dedicated clients who helped us to survive. I’ve always been so grateful for the relationships I’ve built with customers through the years.”
“I’m so proud of her,” Ron interjected. “Debbie kept the business open and her employees working through the aftermath of 9/11 and through the pandemic, both times when travel came almost to a complete halt. She kept things flowing through times when the economy was really tough. And she continually kept current with the changes that technology brought to the travel industry. I don’t know how she did it all and kept up with our girls’ schooling, cheerleading, softball and more. She put three of our daughters through college. She always put our family first. I am amazed by her every day.”
Debbie said that technology made the travel business more demanding, but it also helped it become more efficient.
She smiled as her husband and family reminisced of the days, before the industry computerized, when they’d have huge books filled with blank airline tickets on their desks. When booking transportation for customers, they’d have to call the airlines and check the availability of open seats. After confirming seats, they’d write the airline tickets by hand.
“We’ve come a long way, and thankfully, it’s a much quicker process now,” she said, smiling. “When people first got computers, they were hot to try and book their own trips without travel agencies. However, people soon realized that it’s much easier and more efficient to go through a travel agent who knows the business and the destinations, to book their trips.
“They don’t pay anything extra and they get a much better deal and outcome when they use someone who is knowledgeable and experienced to put their trip together. Fortunately, there will always be customers because people have always wanted and will always want to travel. The business has come full circle and most customers now realize the worth and value of an experienced travel agent. Business has bounced back and has been really good in recent years.”
Time flies; it’s time to fly
In a business handled mostly online these days, with agents working remotely from home offices, travel agencies with actual storefronts have become almost obsolete, Liberatore said. Tour ‘N Travel might be among one of the last ones standing in the area.
The mother and daughter said one of the most rewarding aspects of the business was getting customer feedback after trips. They pointed out the plethora of cards and notes that lined desks and other surfaces in the office.
“There’s nothing better than when our customers shared their memories with us about their wonderful trips after coming home,” Liberatore stated. “That was always very rewarding to us.”
The business afforded both Evelyn and Debbie, and their families, another perk.
They had the opportunity to travel all over the world on “familiarization trips,” to check out destinations, cruise lines, hotels and airlines, so they could confidently refer them to customers.
Debbie estimates that she has probably taken over 100 trips through her adult life. Between the mother and daughter, they’ve been all over the United States, Canada, Europe, North America, South America and the Caribbean and Polynesian Islands.
Although Evelyn, 91, is now happily living in Florida, and not zipping around the globe as frequently as she once was, the Liberatores are still itching to travel more.
“Owning a business is a lot like having a puppy,” Debbie said. “You are always tied to home and the responsibility is always on your shoulders. I am excited to finally have the freedom for us to travel, enjoy our grandchildren and start some hobbies.”
As she wraps up final details as a business owner, Liberatore, who owns the building, is unsure whether she will rent the space to another business or eventually sell the MacDade Boulevard property.
“I’m sad to see the business close, because she does such a beautiful job here, but I accept Debbie’s choice and I am happy for her to retire,” Evelyn said, as she looked lovingly and proudly at her daughter.
Debbie choked up several times as she looked through photos and talked about the years she spent working for the family business.
Debbie laughed, sharing a story about the time she was arrested at age 17 in Russia for taking a picture with a polaroid camera, which was thought to be some kind of black magic because there were no negatives to the photos. Evelyn chuckled about the time in her younger years when she got stuck on top of a camel in Egypt. The mother and daughter both had way more memories than they could ever catalogue in a book.
Ron Liberatore shared that, although he’s not positive, he thinks Tour ‘N Travel may well be one of the last, if not the last, family businesses on MacDade Boulevard that was continually owned by the same original family.
“I’ve totally enjoyed all the people that I’ve met here through the last 54 years, all the customers that my mother and I served,” she said. “I am grateful that I was able to take my family all over the world and for all the experience I gained here. Closing the storefront is bittersweet. But, I know it’s time.”
Agents that remain
Although the physical building and business itself is closing, the other travel agents operating at Tour ‘N Travel will continue independently to serve clients with their travel needs, but no longer under the Tour’ N Travel umbrella.
Liberatore said that Jackie Texter, who has worked at Tour ‘N Travel for 38 years, opened her own agency, Jackie Tour ‘N Travel LLC, and will continue to serve customers and assist them with all future travel plans and inquiries.
She can be reached at 610-534-9100 or [email protected]. Independent agents Patty Cullen, Mary Quinlan and Patty Samohod will also continue to assist people with their travel needs.
“As I wrap things up this week, I really want to thank all my customers for their loyalty to Tour ‘N Travel,” Liberatore expressed with sincerity. “There was never anything better than having the honor and privilege to create unique adventures and wonderful memories for people through travel.”
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