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The Personal Touch Sustains Local Agencies

Industry Report – Travel AgenciesThe travel industry is dominated by a handful of huge online travel agencies. Internet giants like Expedia.com and Travelocity.com have received more than 35 million visitors in the past two months, according to ComScore Media Matrix, a firm that tracks online traffic.

However, the University of Michigan’s American Customer Satisfaction Index e-commerce report shows slippage in both companies’ customer rankings: each fell a point in the survey’s 1 to 100 scale. Observers says this is because the online format minimizes personalized attention and still doesn’t always provide the cheapest package prices, factors that are valued by most corporate travelers.

To stay competitive, some of New Jersey’s travel agencies are trying to lure corporate travelers and businesses by providing detail-oriented service, personalized packages and competitive pricing.

For example, Directravel in Mahwah offers corporate clients multiple options to customize travel plans to the specific needs of their companies. “By offering three different online booking tools, our clients have easy and readily available access to the technology solutions that best fit their corporate needs,” said Patrick Fragale, president of the agency. Directravel has several hundred corporate clients, Fragale says, which the firm helps with vendor negotiations and customized reporting options to control travel costs.

LasVegasConventionTravel.com, in Ocean City, says it caters to more than 200 business clients. “We handle air travel, hotel accommodations, ground transportation, private jet charter, meeting and convention planning services for all U.S. destinations, with particular emphasis on Las Vegas,” says President Kevin Weakland.

Weakland says the agency often provides more detailed and involved services to corporate clients than leisure travelers because business travelers tend to have more time constraints and less flexibility.

Fair Lawn’s Travel Four agency caters to more than 50 businesses, with corporate clients making up 65 percent of its customer base, according to President Carol Strauss.

The agency uses the industry’s major global distribution system (GDS), SABRE, to complement its corporate management services. The SABRE system provides computerized electronic ticketing, itineraries, seat assignments and car and hotel reservation data that allows agencies like Travel Four to provide the most up-to-date deals for clients.

While discounts and online search systems help keep New Jersey travel agencies in business, local executives say it’s the personalized services that give them an edge over the larger online agencies.

E-mail to news@njbiz.com

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