Business

Mergers help travel agencies stay afloat

Three local vacation travel agencies have set sail as one as a way to deal with their challenging market.

Cruise One of Federal Way and Cruise Holidays of Kent discontinued their individual operations and merged with Cruise Holidays of Federal Way, an independent franchise of the Carlson Travel Corp., which has 1,900 franchise stores worldwide.

Jerry Vaughn, co-owner (with his wife, Carol) of the Federal Way store, said combining forces has resulted in higher levels of business efficiency and service to customers.

Travel agencies nationwide are going the merger route to survive, according to Vaughn.

“The last couple years, smaller, independent agencies have been going out of business at an alarming rate,” he said. “There’s been a 40 percent decline in the number of full-service agencies nationally.”

Airlines cutting their commissions for travel agents and the impact on the travel industry of heavy trip cancellations after last September’s terrorist attacks on the U.S. have taken the wind out of many agencies’ sales. They’ve gone looking for ways to reduce costs while keeping customers happy.

“Full-service agencies that relied on airline, hotel and car rental commissions have declined significantly over the past several years,” Vaughn said. But leisure recruiting has grown consistently, and ocean cruising is its fastest-growing segment, he said.

“I wish I’d gotten into this business years ago. I love it,” said Vaughn, who sold interactive videos for job simulation testing before changing careers.

Alaska is a hot cruise destination these days. Bookings are 45 to 50 percent ahead of last year, Vaughn said. The Panama Canal, Mexico and the Caribbean also are riding high in popularity.

Vaughn said his agency’s client base is national and in several other countries through its Internet-based business, World Voyager Vacation/Cruise Holidays (www.world-voyager.com). More than half of the agency’s total business has come from on-line the past two years, he said.

Paula Kramer and Dawn Banfield owned and operated Cruise One and the Kent-based Cruise Holidays, respectively, before merging with the Vaughns. Kramer is a Federal Way native with 20 years of travel management experience. Banfield’s Kent store was open for nine years and served the Kent, Des Moines, Auburn and Burien areas.

Six other full-time, part-time or outside agents are part of the Federal Way store’s staff.

Bringing them together has enabled the agents to concentrate on their clients “while minimizing administrative and overhead duplication,” Vaughn said.

Editor Pat Jenkins can be reached at 925-5565 and editor@fedwaymirror.com

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