Though the number of agencies nationwide has dropped, strength in
the West has allowed it to maintain its market.
With just over 30 percent of the nation’s travel agencies in the
West in 2002, those Western agencies produced nearly 32 percent of
the total nationwide agency revenue.
And Western travel agencies appear to be going strong. More
travel agencies in the West (16 percent) earned $5 million per year
in revenue or more in 2002 than in any other region.
And those agencies generated a total of $21.7 billion, more than
half of the total revenue for Western agencies for the year.
Other than issues related to destinations service, agencies in
the West have faced the same challenges as those in the rest of the
country over the past few years, said consultant Bruce Tepper, vice
president of Joselyn, Tepper & Associates.
But, he said, “Western agencies have one advantage: Most Western
states are growing.”
For people like Tim Smith, owner of San Diego Travel Group,
which falls in the more-than-$5 million revenue category, survival
over the past few troubled years has been a matter of adapting to
the changing marketplace.
“As commissions went away, we had to focus on what we had to do
to make a profit,” said Smith.
One change has been shifting to compensation-based pay
higher-performing agents earn higher pay.
“We saw across-the-board increases in performance among both
corporate and leisure” sales, said Smith.
As the concept catches on, Smith predicted, “We will see fewer
agencies and agents, but they will be more productive agencies and
more productive agents.”
San Diego Travel Group has also been building its Internet
presence over the past few years.
The company nows offers its vacation-hotline.com, a Web site
that focuses on all-inclusive vacations and has brought in many
clients from outside Southern California.
“Seventy to 80 percent of agencies have Web sites, but most are
passive,” said Smith. “They’re nothing more than billboards.”
His company’s Web site allows clients to book direct, as well as
offering packages and promotions. “Now we’re one of the three or
four top sellers of Club Med in the world,” he said.
Doug Fox Travel & Cruise in Seattle also beefed up its Web
site this year, and has plans for more upgrades in 2004.
The agency, with 11 offices in the Puget Sound area, has a
partnership with Passport Online, which provides cruise, tour and
And the agency plans to launch a new program with Cruise
Partners to allow clients to book cruises direct through the Web
“It’s all about strategic partnerships,” said Thomas Kratsch,
director of marketing for Doug Fox Travel and sister company U.S.
Travel in Anchorage.
But it is perhaps one of the most low-tech efforts that has
helped the agency succeed over the past few difficult years, said
About 80 percent of the agency’s business is on the leisure
side, and building corporate sales has been a goal over the past
“We’re aggressively going after the small to mid-sized corporate
market,” said Kratsch.
How are they doing it?
Old fashioned cold calls, he said. “We’ve got a sales person in
place who does nothing more than cold calls” off of a strategic
list, said Kratsch. “It has been very successful.”
Despite an increased dependence on technology, direct contact
between agent and client remains a strong selling point.
It is that contact that allows agents to better demonstrate
their role as a service provider.
Tepper noted that he has heard from several agencies recently
who made a major investment in building a Web site to better
automate the process for clients. Tepper said some agencies now are
finding that clients say they prefer calling the agency’s toll-free
number found on the Web site.