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March 11, 2013

King Johnny

By Chris Boyle

Johnny Rohregger

Johnny Rohregger

ITB in Berlin is the largest travel fair in the world attracting over 170,000 trade and consumer visitors, including some 7,000 journalists, 11,000 exhibitors representing over 180 countries.

But for many veterans of the travel and tourism industry, the annual confab wouldn’t be complete without grabbing a few minutes to catch up with King Johnny.

After studying in hotel school and then travel and tourism in Austria, Johnny Rohregger went to work in 1968 for TUI, today one of the largest travel groups in the world. The would-be entrepreneur cut his teeth selling charter flights to Eastern European resorts and then South Africa and Thailand.

After marrying the secretary of a top TUI executive, Rohregger left in 1974 to launch his own company, Roreisen. Unlike the mass tourism that was the forte of TUI, the path to his throne was paved by helping the wealthy explore the world at a time 747s were making it possible for the masses to travel.

Believing that it’s better to see something once than to hear about it a hundred times, Rohregger saw his clientele grow as his first hand knowledge gave him an inside track. As the years passed his constant travel and networking expanded his rolodex, enabling him to use personal connections to ensure his clients got extra attention. As he traveled he met other wealthy travelers who were wooed by his knowledge of the places they wanted to go, and his client list grew from Germany, Switzerland and Austria to the rich and famous from around the world. General managers were used to getting calls from him to make sure the red carpet was out for his clients, and as he sent more and more big spenders, he went from being Johnny Rohregger to King Johnny.

When he travels he is met by CEOs, and recently the Tourism Minister of the Seychelles laid out a red carpet of flowers to welcome him when he landed. “King Johnny is one of a kind,” Says former Peninsula Hotels CEO, Onno Poortier.

Despite the internet and changes in the industry, the King told me if he was starting again he would do it again. He says the changes that drove many travel agents out of business haven’t phased him. The King knows many of the general managers of top hotels since when they started as trainees, and hotel company CEOs know the King since the time they were young General Managers.

While he still circuits the globe, King Johnny no longer has his own business but serves as a consultant. As his friends toast him at another ITB: “Long live King Johnny”.

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