The company was founded by Mike and Susie Fitzgerald and was incorporated in the spring of 1969 as Fish & Game Frontiers, Inc. The corporation was capitalized with private funds from Mike, Susie, and Mike's father, Ed Fitzgerald.
Natives of Columbus, Ohio, and graduates of Ohio State University, the Fitzgeralds discovered Pittsburgh through assignment here by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1967. Mike was completing his military obligation during the time of the Vietnam War as a dental officer after a hospital internship year in Boston. By then he was not enchanted with the prospect of a career in dentistry and was stimulated by the possibility of beginning a business that reflected their enjoyment of the outdoors and travel. Mike and Susie were particularly encouraged by the late Dr. Roger Latham, who was outdoor editor of the Pittsburgh Press and this area's leading outdoors figure. His support, his perspective and his encouragement were instrumental in our direction during the formative years.
The property at 305 Logan Road is the first one Mike and Susie looked at after deciding to settle in the Pittsburgh area. They saw it on a Saturday and bought it on Monday, feeling that it provided an ideal living and working environment, using a former guest house/garage as the original primary office. They began as a two-person team plus one secretary, one typewriter, one telephone line, and new engraved stationery that looked just right for any lawyer's office.
Mike's first exploratory trip was in 1970 to Panama, Ecuador and Colombia. From the beginning they recognized the necessity of familiarization travel to develop perspective and credibility. Much of the early costs related to getting out into the world for this purpose. Trips to Iran, Iceland, Northwest Territories and eastern provinces of Canada followed, and they made their first of many trips to Africa in November 1971. They soon recognized the need to become specialized with emphasis on pioneering unique destinations. Early opportunities included involvement in Icelandic salmon fishing, which was virtually unknown in the early '70s, and photographic safaris to southern Africa, an area which had been neglected in favor of East Africa.
From 1972-76, Frontiers sent over 1,500 people on flying safaris of superb quality throughout southern Africa. During that period, Frontiers operated African travel for every prestigious national affinity organization that was involved in fund-raising travel - the American Museum of Natural History, the National Wildlife Federation, the Audubon Society, the Board of the San Diego Zoo, and many others.
By 1976, political problems in southern Africa were acute and it was necessary to begin to withdraw from that area. This led to returning to our initial concept of emphasizing bird shooting and light-tackle fishing. In 1976 we introduced the driven shoots of Denmark; Iceland was becoming well established as was dove shooting in Colombia and fishing at Boca Paila and Alaska. After being in business about seven years, our word-of-mouth referral dynamics were improving, and by the late '70s our association with the Orvis Company was generating significant new business. For many years we worked closely with Orvis, providing them with travel benefits, which they found valuable for their staff people, and recommending Orvis products to our clients in return for the opportunity to publicize our services in the Orvis News.
Along the way we established the name of Frontiers International Travel as an affiliated DBA name to separate our general and affinity organization travel from the more "gamey" Fish and Game identity. Over the years our name evolved to an easy-to-remember contraction - Frontiers. We prefer the use of this name as a general rule. The 1980s were a period of uninterrupted growth and we focused on what we do best. We discovered Christmas Island in 1981 and new fishing and shooting programs were building in Argentina, New Zealand, and throughout Europe. Our Elegant Journeys department was established in 1983 and we received the inaugural Specialty Travel Agent of the Year award from Andrew Harper's Hideaway Report in 1986.
We first accessed the Alta River in Norway in 1986 and we were earning our reputation as the best in our business. With the addition of capable people, supported by automation to handle our growing sales volume, our sales and revenues doubled twice in the '80s. In 1982 we established a pension and profit-sharing plan for our employees and introduced other important benefits along the way.
Bird shooting and light-tackle fishing generated about 85 percent of our revenue, but high-quality general travel, air fare commissions, and special-interest travel (like our Smithsonian expeditions to Africa and India) were also an integral part. By 1987 our sales volume reached $10 million, a new milestone. Our children, Mollie and Mike, literally grew up in this business. They joined Frontiers full time, in 1985 and 1987 respectively, after graduating from Duke University. In 1987 Mollie and Mike replaced Ed Fitzgerald as part owners of Frontiers.
The '90s provided a favorable economic environment in the marketplace which further solidified a foundation for controlled growth. Atlantic salmon fishing became well established in Russia with the discovery of the Ponoi River in 1990, shooting in Europe expanded, and South American operations grew rapidly throughout that continent. The surge of popularity in fly fishing continued and for some years we sponsored ESPN's popular television program, called "Fly Fishing the World." We also had a relationship with L.L.Bean for several years, and we now have an Authorized Agent Network of over 250 sub-agents that include fly shops, other outdoor agents and general travel companies.
In 1993 we established a London office under the direction of Tarquin Millington-Drake. Officially known as Frontiers International Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Frontiers International. UK's primary function is for sales and marketing of Frontiers' programs to U.K. and European residents. They have maintained a continuous program of growth since their inception.
By 1995 our sales had grown to $20 million a year and, needing more space, we leased another building in Warrendale. Concurrent with the establishment of that office, we undertook a substantial computer-upgrade program, which $400,000 later continues to the present time. We experienced enhanced productivity as a result.
In November 2000, the majority of our employees moved into a brand-new 15,290-square-foot office complex at Treesdale, only five minutes from our original location, which we still utilize. The land and buildings were purchased rather than leased.
With sales volume exceeding $30 million and processing approximately 7,000 travelers annually, 1998 through the first half of 2001 were record years for Frontiers. Then the tragic events of September 11, 2001, occurred and the ramifications up through the Gulf War severely impacted the travel business. Nevertheless, we held our own throughout this period and our outlook remained one of optimism and anticipation.
In 2001, we entered into a management and marketing agreement with Shackleton International, a well-financed U.K. entity, which was in the process of acquiring new properties throughout the world with emphasis on fishing. At that time, they owned or had substantial ownership interests in Lake Rotoroa Lodge in New Zealand, the Mangrove Cay Club on Andros Island, the Ponoi River on Russia's Kola Peninsula, the lease for Laxa i Kjos in southwestern Iceland, and the Alphonse Island Resort and fishing rights in the Seychelles.In 2003, we entered into a true merger with Shackleton, giving us a vertically integrated business with synergies which served us well. Each company traded as independent entities, as before, but they were held by a UK company called Fleming, Fitzgerald & Associates. At that time, Mike Fitzgerald Jr. became President of Frontiers and Mike Sr. became Chairman of the Board. As a Co-owner, Mollie Fitzgerald is also the Director of our Elegant Journeys Department, Air Department, and our Atlantic Salmon programs.
In 2006, Shackleton elected to sell their fishing interests in the Seychelles and
at the Ponoi in Russia due to ever increasing costs and layers of bureaucracy associated with operating in those countries. Later, Bristol Bay Lodge and Lake Rotoroa Lodge were sold and Frontiers concentrated more on its core business of specialized travel. By 2007, Frontiers handled travel arrangements for nearly 8,000 clients per year with annual gross sales approaching $41 million - approximately 50 percent fishing, 30 percent Elegant Journeys, and 20 percent bird shooting.
In 2009, we are celebrating our 40th anniversary and, in spite of the current recession, look ahead with optimism. Our company is broadly based and diversified with a varied product mix representing the best available for sophisticated travelers throughout the world. We believe our success rests with the quality of our employees and their understanding of our responsibilities to our customers and to our suppliers. Frontiers remains recognized as preeminent in the special-interest travel business, and we believe this position has been achieved and can only be maintained with continued dedication to the concept that we are a service business -- what we are selling is service to our customers and to the resources we represent. We bring both much capability and broad perspective, well seasoned in experience.