Fast Facts about Jerry Thorne
Jerry Thorne is the president of Party Animal Travel and Tours in Westland, Michigan.
Party Animal Travel started in 1986 as a small venture. In 2001, Thorne and his wife purchased a local travel agency and opened what became today’s Party Animal Travel and Tours. The company plans 250 tours per year for groups consisting of travelers of a wide age range. The company also operates as a full-scale travel agency.
Born: Garden City, Michigan
Education: The Travel Academy in Southfield, Michigan
Employment: Thorne served as a registered nurse for 27 years. He and his wife opened Party Animals Travel and Tours while he was still working as a nurse; he continued to work both jobs until he retired from nursing in 2019.
Family: Thorne has been married to his wife, Skee, for 35 years.
Hobbies: Besides travel, Thorne enjoys time at home with his 15-year-old cat.
When Jerry Thorne was 16, he showed up at a travel agency with a wad of money he had scraped together from part-time jobs and asked for a cruise ticket.
“She never checked my age,” said Thorne, president of Party Animal Travel and Tours. “She looked at my handful of money and booked me on a Carnival Cruise. I went home and asked my parents if someone could take me to the airport tomorrow because I booked a cruise.”
Thorne’s initiative to see the world beyond Michigan’s upper peninsula continued into adulthood. He eventually created Party Animal Travel and Tours with his wife; the company is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.
The company’s enduring popularity shows that a lot of unforgettable fun can come from dedicated hard work.
Bailing on Hay
Every summer break growing up found Thorne baling hay at his grandparents’ farm in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
“My friends would tell me they went to Disney World or some other great place,” said Thorne. “I knew there was something better out there.”
Thorne carried with him this desire to travel until he booked a cruise with his own money.
“I went and had the time of my life,” said Thorne. “That was the last year I baled hay.”
Thorne also enjoyed medicine, so he became an emergency medical technician and later a registered nurse. Since his love of travel had not lessened over time, he used his funds from nursing to invest in a travel agency with his wife, Skee, as vice president. The couple initially started the company out of their home. Thorne kept his job as a nurse while he poured his free time into the fledgling travel agency.
“I would work at the agency from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” said Thorne. “Then I would leave the agency and change into my scrubs. I would work as a nurse until midnight. I had the best of both worlds.”
Party Animal Travel and Tours faced an immediate crisis right after its start. A month after its purchase, September 11, 2001, brought the travel world to a halt. Though the company had a rough start, over the years, the business grew by selling both individual travel and motorcoach trips.
Road to Success
Thorne tried out his first group tour on a whitewater rafting trip at the New River in West Virginia. Word of the trip’s popularity began to spread.
“It started small,” said Thorne. “Then people would walk into our office saying that they had heard about our latest tour and wanted to get involved. People let me know trips they had always wanted to take. Eventually, we were doing 20 tours per month. It was a huge explosion.”
Thorne also quickly learned what type of tour he didn’t want to sell on his first motorcoach tour to Europe.
“It was horrific,” said Thorne. “We were always hurried from one place to another. It was 14 hours on a bus in a day. When we came back, I said we have to do something different than this. We started having fun on the bus. We started playing games doing more hands-on experiences.”
Motorcoach rides turned into part of the tour by incorporating unusual entertainment like an onboard magician. Experiential travel also became part of the norm, with hands-on activities that went beyond the typical tour. Additional activities added some adrenaline to the experience, with adventures like skydiving and bungee jumping.
The company’s lighthearted fun is even built into its motto: “Spending our children’s inheritance one trip at a time.” Groups know to expect a good time emptying their bucket list with Party Animal Travel and Tours.
In a typical year, the company’s 2,800 customers go on 112 tours, with about 70% domestic and 30% international. Thorne usually accompanies about 50% of the tours himself and sends other employees on trips he can’t attend.
Thorne attributes a lot of the company’s growth to his wife and other staff.
“The company would not be a success without Skee’s support and daily insight,” said Thorne. “I come up with the ideas, and she makes it all happen. The backroom is the hard job, with nonstop changes and stress from cancellations. We have a wonderful team of staff that work around the clock to make all these tours happen.”
Thorne’s medical background has often proved an asset on tours with primarily senior travelers.
“When a customer becomes ill, they like it when someone has medical knowledge,” said Thorne. “Those skills haven’t left me. I am still licensed. Once, one of our customers fell and fractured his skull. I was able to ensure he got the best medical care.”
Though his medical skills were useful in past tours, they became a critical piece of the company’s tours once the pandemic hit in 2020.
Thorne used his nursing background to develop COVID-19 assessment procedures to determine who could safely travel with the group. Party Animal Travel and Tours’ office building’s drive-through window from its days as a restaurant started becoming part of the procedure. Thorne used the drive-through window to pass out travel documents and conduct COVID-19 assessments for customers.
Other typical pandemic procedures — mandatory masks, bus sanitation and spaced-out seating — helped build back customer confidence in the company. The company started with half-day tours in June.
“We would ask the passengers — that if they felt comfortable with the tour — to do us a favor and tell someone else,” said Thorne. “It was the reassurance of the peers that started building the travel back up again.”
Thorne is now focused on assisting his travelers in getting their vaccines. He plans to offer some tours where everyone is vaccinated to further assure his passengers of their safety.
Party Animal Travel and Tours is on the rebound with 112 motorcoach tours now scheduled and more to be announced.
“People have the urge to travel,” said Thorne. “People are calling us saying they need to go somewhere. We had a husband and wife come in yesterday with cash saying they need a vacation.”
Thorne can understand the feeling. Now he gets to be the one to turn a handful of cash into a dream come true.
• Animal attractions: “I took the customers to a sloth sanctuary, a kangaroo orphanage and a monkey rescue facility.”
• Tuscany: “My Party Animals love hands-on experiences. They’ve had dinner at the top of a mountain in Tuscany. The surprise there was that each member of the tour had to take a position in the kitchen to make dinner for each other.”
• Places with a “Wow” experience: “We have hopped on camels in Egypt, soared over the outback in balloons over Australia, rafted the rivers in West Virginia and had many other incredible adventures.”