New chapter for Penny Pitou Travel


The Laconia Daily Sun

Published: 07-15-2023 11:00 AM

LACONIA — A change in location for Penny Pitou Travel to an office across the street is coinciding with the retirement of its namesake.

Longtime Executive Vice President Kim Terrio, who bought the agency from Penny Pitou two years ago, spoke to The Daily Sun about how the move is helping her team rebuild momentum after the coronavirus pandemic, and Pitou described why 2023, on the eve of her 85th birthday, was the right year to hang it up.

After retiring from her ski racing career, Pitou purchased the travel agency — then called Lakes Travel — in 1974, and Terrio came aboard about a year later.

“I always knew I wanted to travel a lot,” Terrio said. “But I was too short to be a flight attendant.” Pursuing travel agent work from the get-go, “I loved it immediately — I still do,” she said.

By the mid-1980s, Pitou and Terrio had developed their partnership. Pitou never had a taste for office work, and developed a rigorous schedule guiding hiking and skiing in Europe. Terrio, who earned her degree from a travel school in Pennsylvania, was a motivated and passionate leader of a team she described as “absolutely incredible women.”

“We had a chat one time and she said, ‘Why don’t we each do what we’re really good at? You’re really good at running group trips ... and I run the office very well and like to do it,’” Pitou recalled. “And I said, ‘That sounds perfect.’”

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Pitou sold the agency to Terrio in 2021, and other than no longer offering her guided trips, very little about how the business functions has changed, Terrio said.

“I thought it was only fair for her to own the agency since she’s been there for so many years — and she was actually running it anyway,” Pitou said.

As Pitou had begun to downshift toward retirement, leading her last Austrian ski trip last winter, Terrio got a chance to actualize her long-held hope to move the agency into a smaller space.

The corner building, owned by Pitou, housed the agency since she bought it in 1974.

“This had long been too large a space for us,” Terrio said in an interview, gesturing around the two-floor, 4,000-square-foot, triangular space. During the interview, she removed a few final belongings — framed diplomas that left their shadows on the wall’s beige paint.

Though keen for a more suitable space, Terrio was not anxious to move far: she and her team are very fond of the business community on Canal Street and proud of the growing revitalization energy in the neighborhood, she said.

“How do you graciously bow out of that?” she said, especially given that the agency has been a fixture of the neighborhood for nearly a half-century.

Serendipitously, as Terrio put it, a smaller space opened up across the street this spring. It would allow the agency to enter a period of “rebirth” in more suitable quarters while remaining part of the downtown business community. She jumped at the opportunity.

By the end of May, Pitou had sold the corner building. The agency was settled into its new offices across Canal Street by the beginning of July.

New owner Patrick Clausen, whose family long owned and operated Proctor’s Lakehouse Cottages on Weirs Boulevard, said the old building is a “home run” with its location, unique and many-windowed layout and parking options. While any potential tenants are welcome, he said he’s hopeful the space could bring additional dining downtown and attract a “high-quality, high-class tenant who will be there for the long term.”

The new space, according to Terrio, opens a new chapter for her team in what is proving to be a testy period for the industry.

In the few years before the onset of the pandemic, “we were flying high,” Terrio said. Her client base was stable and vibrant, her staff was both growing and solid, and her suppliers were well-resourced and well-organized.

To develop robust yet smooth-running itineraries, travel agents rely on networks of connections. These connections, as Terrio described, get a client into the Vatican early in the morning.

Those networks were shattered by the pandemic and still have not fully recovered, she said.

While airlines and hotels were able to rebound quickly and nimbly, not all facets of the tourism industry worldwide could.

“We think all the way down,” Terrio said. When most people think about recovery in the industry after pandemic shutdowns, they’re “not thinking about the guide in Napoli who hasn’t worked in three years.”

From the moment coronavirus restrictions set in, her team was absorbed by postponing and rescheduling — and rescheduling and rescheduling — for their clients. The last of those COVID trips, she said, have just wrapped up and Terrio said that “things are starting to get fun again.”

The pandemic was not the first time the travel industry has been fundamentally upended, and it was not the first time the agency’s boat had been rocked.

It comes with the territory, Terrio said, and she’s excited about starting a new chapter.

At its high-water mark of having five offices across the state, the agency is now consolidated in the Laconia office. That had always been its flagship, Terrio said, and with a commitment to remaining agile while maintaining their core team and standards, they are doing “more business than ever using a fraction of the resources.”

After resuming her guided trips after pandemic lockdowns, Pitou decided last year, after more than 40 years, that it was time to retire.

“I wanted to stop when I was on top,” she said. “I had thought to do one more trip, but with me, you know, one more means next year and then one more, one more, one more until I’m 95.”

Remaining an active skier and hiker, both in New Hampshire and across the globe, she’s already booked more than half a dozen trips, including one to watch her granddaughter, Zoe Zimmermann, compete on the World Cup skiing circuit in Europe this winter.

There’s a saying, Pitou recalled, about people who are busier in retirement than when they were working.

“That’s what’s happening to me.”

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