WEST LIBERTY, W.Va., Feb. 27, 2020 — Business students enjoyed a chance to learn first hand from international travel leader Dr. Peter Sontag at 2 p.m. today in the R. Emmett Boyle Center.
Hosted by business student club Phi Beta Lambda, the presentation offered tips and advice from Sontag, who was inducted into the Alumni Wall of Honor in 1990. Also an honorary member of the WLU Foundation, he has endowed multiple scholarships for WLU students and is a member of the John P. McCullough Giving Society.
“We are thrilled to host one of the world’s top hospitality executives as our first executive speaker of Phi Beta Lamda,” said Hayden Blazer, graduate assistant in the Gary E. West College of Business and state advisor for the PBL.
Business student Isaac Herron, president of WLU’s chapter of PBL, introduced Sontag who resides in Clearwater, Fla. but was born in Austria.
Sontag grew up, as he describes it, “in the rubble of postwar Europe.” At the age of 14 he began working at a hotel in Vienna as a bellhop. He impressed one visitor so much that the American arranged for him to study abroad in Steubenville, Ohio.
Sontag arrived in the U.S. on July 4, 1960 and graduated two years later from high school. He then returned to Austria but came back to the United States in 1965 with “fourteen dollars in his pocket and a burning desire for an education.”
He enrolled at West Liberty and carried a full academic load while working as a steelworker at Weirton Steel.
After graduating Magna Cum Laude with a degree in marketing in 1969, he was admitted into the MBA program at Columbia University, completing this degree in 1971.
Following graduate school, he began working for global manufacturing giant ITT in New York. Following his time at ITT, he entered his most successful endeavor, travel.
He founded his own travel agency in 1975, which was acquired three years later by GELCO Corp. He worked at GELCO for 5 years, launching the first U.S. commercial retail travel distribution system.
When he left in 1982, the GELCO Travel Systems Division was profitable with $200 million in sales. During the 1970s, he also started an upscale side business, Fast Lane Travel, which he continues to operate. Now in its 45th year, Fast Line Travel specializes in high-end excursions through Europe in Porsche vehicles.
In 1983, he founded the firm of Sontag, Annis & Associates, which provided consultation to airlines, hotels and other Fortune 500 companies. The business was acquired by Citibank in 1987.
Sontag next founded US Travel in 1986. As chairman and CEO, he acquired 49 travel corporations in five years and generated $2.4 billion in sales.
In 1991, West Liberty awarded Sontag an honorary doctorate in recognition of his outstanding business achievements. Following the sale of US Travel in 1994, he worked as an independent business consultant.
In 1997 he was appointed chairman of THOR, a Colorado-based travel, telecommunications, outsourcing and publishing company. While at THOR he successfully negotiated a merger with TRIP.com. He worked as chairman of 800 Travel Systems from 1999-2002.
Sontag continues to operate Fast Lane Travel and continues to offer trips each year. He has hosted over 6,000 guests since 1976. The company recently entered an agreement with AAA as their exclusive provider of Porsche excursions in Europe.