Group: Local Style Will Survive

Austin Associates buys two more Western consortiums

By: Robert Carlsen

With the acquisition of two consortiums last week Travel Design Associates of Santa Clara, Calif., and 5Star Travel Association of Denver Austin Associates is committed to letting the groups retain their regional identity.

The Framingham, Mass.-based Austin Associates adds these 275 agency members to raise its total to 700.

The Austin Group, headed by President Norm Cotton, also consists of Coast Travel Group of Napa, Calif., and the original Austin Associates consortium. According to Austin spokesman Rich Abrahams, the average agency annual sales total is approximately $2 million, making combined sales in the $1 billion range.

“Each group will operate under its own name in order to retain its regional culture and focus,” Cotton said. “We plan to be aggressive and to be the conduit for bringing more profits and better services to everyone in our extended community.”

Abrahams said the two new groups, along with Coast, have good working relationships with regional vendors, which makes keeping them separate from a national group a viable move. He added, however, that as individual consortium vendor contracts expire, they will roll them into national contracts for the whole Austin Group.

The acquisition of Travel Design, with its 200 members, completes a process Austin Associates started more than a year ago, when both companies entered into a joint partnership. The Travel Design group will now be administered by Coast President Mike Caplin. Dave Parkinson, founder and president of Travel Design, will remain a member of the consortium through his agency, Nautical Connection. Parkinson also plans to continue developing his travel mediation training service.

5Star Travel Association added 75 travel agencies to Austin Associates. Jim Watts, president of 5Star, will stay on to manage the group from his Denver office and will have additional responsibilities for recruiting new members in Colorado and neighboring states.

Austin, Coast, 5Star and Travel Design are also members of the Consortium Marketing Alliance, a group formed several years ago to pool information and promotion efforts. Other consortiums involved with CMA include Travel Authority in Florida, Riverside Travel Group in Portland, Ore., STPN Consortium in Los Angeles and International Tours in Reno.

Since Austin seems to be buying up CMA members, Abrahams said that, obviously, the shape of the marketing group is changing. He noted that the Austin agencies are predominantly leisure-focused. They currently have 100 preferred suppliers, most picked up when Austin bought Coast in April 2001.

Meanwhile, the second annual Austin/Coast Convention and Trade Show is slated for Nov. 8-10 at the Argent Hotel in San Francisco. More than 70 vendors and 200 members are expected to participate, according to Abrahams.