The History of Fast Lane Travel, Inc.
In the beginning…
Fast Lane Travel, Inc. was founded in 1976 by Peter Sontag, our owner and current CEO, based on a serendipitous family dinner.
First some family background… Peter’s brother-in-law, a physician in upstate New York, decided to purchase a Porsche when he was a student in Basel, Switzerland and brought it back to the U.S. when he returned. In the early 1970s, several of his physician friends also owned Porsches and when they’d get together, he would brag about how he got to drive his Porsche the way it was designed to be driven: e.g., fast, when he lived in Europe. Of course, the other physicians were envious! They also discussed going to see the factory in Stuttgart that produced their Porsche “baby” – something that none of them had ever done.
Peter, who was born in Vienna, Austria, came to the U.S. at the age of 17 where he finished high school and college and ultimately earned a Masters degree in Finance from Columbia University. Fluent in both English and German, Peter was working in the travel industry in the early 70s and was a budding young entrepreneur. During Thanksgiving dinner in 1974, Peter’s brother-in-law suggested that since Peter spoke German and was in the travel industry, he should put a trip to Germany together for him and his Porsche-owning physician friends. He also insisted that Peter arrange an exclusive tour of the Porsche Factory for the group in Stuttgart.
Always the entrepreneur, Peter decided to embrace this challenge from his brother-in-law, even though he had no real knowledge of Porsches or Stuttgart at the time. After many phone calls to Germany, Peter went to Stuttgart on a pre-tour inspection and met with Frau Mall, Dr. Ferry Porsche’s private secretary, and the staff of the Porsche Travel Club. They welcomed his ideas and encouraged him to bring groups from the U.S. to visit the factory. After his experience at Porsche A.G., Peter developed a fun itinerary for the group of physicians to visit Germany and specifically Stuttgart where they toured the factory as promised.
The next year, the Porsche Club of America (PCA) approached Peter and requested that he design a tour for club members that would take them to Stuttgart to visit the factory. Earlier in the 60s, the PCA sponsored similar tours to Germany called “Treffen,” which is a German word loosely translated as getting together, but the logistics became overwhelming and the tours were discontinued. The PCA suggested that Peter design a tour to be promoted to all PCA regions and use “Treffen” as the name for the tour. And thus, Fast Lane Travel became the official Treffen tour provider for the Porsche Club of America, which it has been ever since.
While Peter always pursued other career avenues beyond Fast Lane Travel, he would still provide PCA with one or two Treffen tours each year. At one point in his career, Peter was the CEO of the third largest travel company in the U.S., with $2.5 billion in sales. He was also selected on four different occasions as the top executive in the travel industry. But time passes, and Peter finally decided to slow down – just a little. For the last six or seven years, Peter has been semi-retired from most of his other business ventures, but is still involved with Fast Lane Travel, Inc. He doesn’t play golf or go fishing, so he needed something to do and decided to expand Fast Lane Travel.
And then there was Thomas... One of the Porsche Travel Club guides in Germany that Peter became friends with over the years was Thomas Höferlin. In 2009, Peter invited Thomas to visit him in Florida during the cold winter months in Germany. While visiting, Peter took Thomas with him to a party that he had been invited to attend. At the party, Thomas met a lovely American woman, Paula, fell in love with her and subsequently moved to the U.S. and married her. And, of course, Thomas then became a full-time employee of Fast Lane Travel.
Next came Sven… Peter, always the entrepreneur, is a guest lecturer at the University of South Florida’s School of Business. As part of his lecture, Peter always relates the story of how he came to America as a poor immigrant, worked hard, studied smart and became a successful entrepreneur. Following one of his lectures at USF, a candidate for a Masters of Entrepreneurship in Applied Technologies (Sven Teuber) approached him. Sven was intrigued by Peter’s background and asked if Peter would consider mentoring him. Sven, who was born in German and raised in New Jersey, is fluent in both English and German. Peter offered him an internship at Fast Lane Travel which quickly became a full-time job. Peter named recently named Sven as President of Fast Lane Travel in mid-2016.
Catherine comes and goes… Catherine first worked for Peter in 1991 when both were living in the greater Washington DC area. Eight years later, they discovered that they both lived in the Tampa Bay area. Peter hired Catherine again, but unfortunately when the 9/11 tragedy occurred, Peter was the CEO of a travel company selling airline tickets. After a very short time, the company folded. Catherine then dabbled outside the travel industry for a while, but in 2003, she came back to Peter as the sole employee of Fast Lane Travel. When the market crashed in 2008, Catherine left again, but came back to Fast Lane Travel in 2015. Talk about a re-tread!
And Fast Lane Travel continues to grow. We’ve added Tessa, who handles our sales; Tasha, who is responsible for our finances; and Maria-Inez, who is Peter’s assistant and works hard to keep the rest of the staff organized. During our tours, we rely heavily on our part-time staff in Germany, especially Volker G., Volker S., Ilse, Johny, Hans, Marc, Hercules, Miro, and Sebastian. And here in the U.S., we depend on several consultants to augment our operations including Ben (IT), Joanne (graphics design), Marc (webmaster), and Ann (housekeeping).
For many years, our guests asked us if Fast Lane Travel could book their cruise or airplane tickets. Unfortunately, we could not. But several months ago, we established a new, full-service travel agency: Fast Lane Luxury Travel, LLC. Although the agency is new, the staff are all seasoned pros. Many of you have made your arrangements for flights through Bernice at Uniglobe Forest Lakes Travel based on our referrals. We’re happy to tell you that we purchased Forest Lakes Travel and Bernice (and the rest of the staff there) are now employees of Fast Lane Luxury Travel, LLC. We were also approached by another local travel agency who wanted to merge with us. That merger is now complete and we have a fantastic vacation travel staff who can design custom trips to anywhere in the world. As icing on the cake, Peter asked an old friend and former travel agency owner, Hector, to manage the new agency and he accepted. Give them a call for all your travel needs!
As our company continues to grow, we are even more dedicated to providing a 5-star experience for all our guests and finding new destinations to explore. We have now expanded our tours beyond Europe; we went to China in 2015, Cuba and Colorado in 2016, and have additional itineraries in the works for the future. Whenever a tour is completed, we request and receive lots of feedback from our guests. We greatly appreciate the feedback we get and carefully consider each suggestion. Many of our innovations are due to comments we receive from our guests in our quest to provide the “perfect” tour.
We feel so very privileged that many of our guests come back to tour with us again. It is probably the highest compliment we could receive. In fact, one couple has traveled with us 21 times! And as a result of our tours, over 4,000 PCA members have visited the PORSCHE Factory in Stuttgart. Even more impressive is the fact that over 500 of these PCA members reported to us that they bought a new PORSCHE once they returned home because of being on our tour. We should be getting a commission from PORSCHE!
We love what we do and hope that our passion is apparent to our guests. We welcome comments and suggestions… It’s our business to do pleasure.