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Mega Agencies More Specialization, New Career Paths

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Most agencies have a mixture of leisure and commercial business, though the balance may vary (usually 60:40). Some agencies specialize almost entirely in one or the other, and there are gigantic differences in terms of working environments. The leisure agency is generally friendlier; counselors are accustomed to spending a lot of time with clients because they may have to prepare special itineraries.

In the commercial agency, speed and efficiency are everything; the agent does not deal with the traveler as much as with a secretary or corporate travel department; there is little consultation since the traveler will likely have specific requests. Creativity comes in obtaining the lowest fares and best rates. Also, agents in commercial departments do not have the same opportunity to travel since they are not in a position to influence decisions regarding destination and product. Commercial agencies also tend to be larger and more heavily computerized. On the other hand, commercial agents tend to make higher salaries.

There are advantages and disadvantages to starting out in a small operation rather than in a large organization. The largest agencies probably offer more entry level positions, better training programs, substantially better mobility, and benefits. But they are also highly specialized; you may be required to do reservations for a commercial account (which some compare to a position on an assembly line) for some time. On the other hand, a small agency may also present entry level opportunities, and the training, while not as formatted, can be excellent, with an opportunity to take on a wide variety of tasks. The rise to a senior position may be more rapid in a small organization, but since there are very few management tiers, fewer senior positions are available. A small agency, though, may offer a homier atmosphere and more opportunity to be creative in travel planning.



The number of personnel agencies specializing in full time agency personnel is growing. McGettigan Corporate Planning Services, Philadelphia, has allowed some of its valued employees to telecommute. "From an employer's point of view, it is so difficult to find skilled people that this was cost effective for us," commented Mimi McGettigan, vice president.

Kathryn Davis, a Texas travel agent, gave up a job as an office manager and bookkeeper because she was "tired of staring at the same four walls." Instead, she established a relationship with a local agency and, in effect, works on her own, doing FITs (customized itineraries), groups, and corporate travel. "If I choose to let my family take priority, that's my choice," said Davis, who has been working from her home for five years, linked to a sponsoring agency by computer. "I would never go back to an office setting. I would quit completely first. I like the freedom."

One of the advantages of telecommuting is that agents car coordinate their schedule around their families. "What doesn't p done in the day, I can do after hours," said McGettigan's T McLaughlin.

The emergence of mega agencies-billion dollar comp hundreds of outlets nationally and internationally Express, Carlson Travel, Thomas Cook, and Rosenblv the dimension of Big Business to travel agency c? new paths for entry and advancement, and, in a travel agency work into a profession.

The Travel Agency Industry

The travel agency is a relatively new phenomenon. Its origins go back a little over 100 years to the heyday of railroads and steam ship lines, when agencies sold tickets on these carriers. With the emergence of airlines as the main common carrier of the twentieth century, travel agencies have become an extension of the airlines. Although they are, in effect, a department store for all forms of tours and travel, the airlines, which account for 65 to 80 percent of an agency's revenues, for the most part dictate the rules and regulations for agency appointments and operations. The appointing bodies are the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC), the domestic airline conference, or the International Airlines Travel Agent Network (IATAN), the international conference, a not for profit subsidiary of the International Air Transport Association.

In the early days of travel agencies, the clientele was typically affluent, but more efficient and less expensive jet service brought a new era of mass travel. The trend was further hastened by tour packages that combined the airfare and ground arrangements so that the total cost was cheaper than the regular airfare alone. In the 1960s, the predominant low cost package was the GIT (group inclusive tour); the 1970s saw the liberalization of charter rules and the mushrooming of this new form of package.

A new generation of so called "jetsetters" was born. The airlines used low commissions and difficult rules to effectively keep most agencies out of nondiscretionary business travel. The airlines felt that agents were entitled to commission only on business that was incremental above what the airlines would have had on their own. Moreover, the carriers knew that the leisure traveler takes much more time and personal attention than the business traveler, whose requirements are dictated by the purpose of the trip. Often, the difference is between minutes and hours.

In the mid 1970s, the airlines made a complete reversal in policy. They realized that their overhead for reservationists and city ticket offices was much more expensive than the amount they paid in travel agents' commissions on actual ticketed sales and began to ease agents' way into the commercial arena. At the same time, new computerized reservations systems were introduced, giving travel agents direct access to the airlines' inventory of seats.

The result was dramatic growth in numbers, sales, and pro portion of airline sales by travel agencies. In 1974, only 11,400 agency locations were appointed by the Airline Traffic Conference (now called the Airlines Reporting Corporation), and these generated only 40 percent of domestic airline sales. By 1984, the number of agencies had more than doubled, and the agencies' share of domestic airline sales jumped to 65 percent.

A decade after deregulation went into effect, dollar volume jumped 231 percent, but the number of agency locations also doubled, to 29,584. In 1989, agency sales from all sources totaled $79.4 billion, according to the 1990 Travel Weekly Louis Harris Survey.

Currently, agents generate 95 percent of all cruise reservations, 90 percent of tours, 85 percent of international tours, 80 percent of international airline sales, 70 percent of domestic airline reservations, 50 percent of car rentals, 37 percent of rail fares, and 25 percent of domestic hotel bookings, according to the Travel Industry Yearbook: The Big Picture, 1990.
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