CLG’s Batt: Consolidation Is Good

At Carlson Wagonlit Travel’s national meeting, executive says to look for opportunity

Predicting that the past year’s challenges could result in as few as 15,000 travel agencies in the United States within five years, Carlson Leisure Group President and CEO Michael Batt nevertheless encouraged agents to “look at today as the biggest opportunity to do well.”

At the Carlson Wagonlit Travel National Meeting in Dallas, Batt told the 550 agents in attendance: “You don’t need the economy to be booming to do well. Don’t rely on the economy, and please don’t waste effort by hating the airlines, as we need them to survive.”

In his annual state-of-the-industry speech, Batt characterized the demise of airline commissions and the growth of Internet travel sites as positive developments for surviving agencies, which he said are fewer in number but stronger than they were in the past.

“Zero commissions and the Internet have stimulated consolidation rather than destruction of the industry, and this is really benefiting us,” said Batt, who also predicted that 2,000 to 3,000 of the remaining 15,000 agencies will be Carlson associates.

Batt hailed Carlson’s new customer-relationship management software, Q3, which he said helps gives Carlson associates a competitive edge over the increasingly popular online travel sites.

Carlson also hosted a panel discussion with businesspeople from other industries that, like travel agencies, are perceived by the public as being beleaguered with financial woes.

The panelists a real estate executive, a manager at a financial-services company and the president of a marketing firm said they distinguish themselves from their Internet-based colleagues with strong customer service, and they view the Internet more as a tool than as competition.

Success Stories

Carlson supplied video profiles of successful associate agency owners, including two from the West.

Angie Lepley of ETI Travel in Kirkland, Wash., was hailed for her agency’s motto “one step further service” and her commitment to zero turnover of her agency’s staff.

The other agency owners from the West, George and Becky Kingston of On The Go Travel Services/Choice Vacations in Orange, Riverside and San Diego counties, were cited for shifting to using home-based agents, consolidated operations and personalized e-mail communications with clients from their eight locations.

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