While 2009 was a year to forget for many travel sellers, it was a year to remember for the Power List. It was the year that an online travel agency, Expedia, displaced American Express as the industry's largest seller of travel.
As a result, for the first time since the inception of the Power List (and its predecessor list, Top 50) in 1992, Amex does not occupy the top perch as the industry's largest seller of travel.
Whether Expedia's rise can be attributed to an increase in distressed inventory, which played to Expedia's strength, or an overall shift toward leisure travel -- which held up somewhat better than corporate travel, the mainstay of Amex and Carlson -- will be demonstrated next year and in years to come.
Most other OTAs also did well in 2009. Orbitz held onto its No. 6 rank, and Priceline moved up to No. 7 with a striking 25% increase in sales (from $7.4 billion to $9.3 billion) as consumers continued to seek bargains. Privately held Travelocity declined to report its sales, but we estimated a decline (see "What Happened to ... ?" on Page 7).
Elsewhere on the list, a number of companies do not reappear this year simply because their sales did not reach the $100 million threshold for inclusion. Others, like the Travel Authority and Linden Travel, disappeared because they were acquired by larger Power List companies.
The venerable Garber Travel name also disappeared from the list as the company last year rebranded its business travel operation as FCm Travel Solutions, a unit of Flight Centre USA.
As a result of these and other events, the number of companies listed has been reduced from 61 to 52.
And more names will disappear next year, including that of Gateway Travel Management (No. 32), which was recently acquired by Carlson Wagonlit, and Boeing Travel Management (No. 22), which will cease serving outside clients and become Boeing's corporate travel department this year, making it ineligible for inclusion.
Also indicative of economic turmoil were declines in the number of employees as companies cut and cut some more.
On the other hand, one company appears on the list for the first time: Global Crew Logistics (No. 28), which focuses on travel management in the aviation industry (crews for cargo planes, private aviation, etc.). The company has maintained a low profile but has grown rapidly in recent years and is seeking higher visibility for further growth.
Many companies suffered declines in sales; in fact, most were off by significant percentages. A couple saw impressive increases, some attributing that to their particular specialties or, in the case of Altour (No. 14), partly because of its purchase of the Travel Authority, itself a $300 million Power List company.
YTB Travel Network, which is always a focus on the Power List because of its controversial business model, slipped from No. 25 to No. 29, attributed both to the economy and to a restructuring of the way it operates.
The number of "billion-dollar companies" in the industry remained stable at 13, even though Travelocity is not actually listed. Sales slipped for some of the giants, but other companies, large and small, reported good results last year.
Short's Travel rose from 46 to 38, attributing some of its success to "diversification." The company has significant revenues from sports travel.
Many companies took the opportunity to project sales increases in 2010, so optimism is fairly pervasive in this group.
And while most Power List companies are focused on corporate travel management, many have substantial leisure sales and some are primarily leisure, including industry leader Expedia and other billion-dollar entries such as Priceline, AAA and Flight Centre.
The No. 16 firm, World Travel Holdings, parent of the CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. brands, is 100% leisure.
Other leisure leaders include Travelong, Travelers Advantage, Nexion, Travel Experts, America's Vacation Center, Onetravel and Global Travel International.
The Power List is all about size and represents an effort to rank the nation's top travel sellers in terms of the total dollar volume of annual sales. That simple starting point, however, quickly leads to complexity. Even the question "What is a travel seller?" can be interpreted in a number of ways. For this list, Travel Weekly defined travel sellers as intermediaries that sell travel products through any medium (electronic, phone, etc.) directly to consumers.
And lest there be confusion, there are three companies on the list whose name begins with the words "World Travel." They are World Travel Holdings, World Travel Inc. and World Travel Service.
Last year we concluded our introduction by asking: Will the "world" of the Power List be a smaller one in 2010?
The answer is, decidedly, yes. But can it change again?
This report appeared in the June 28 issue of Travel Weekly.
To view the survey in its entirety, click here.
The compilation of Power List 2010 began late last year with adjustments to the questionnaire sent to potential listees. Early this year, the questionnaire was sent to about 70 companies that:
Had appeared on the list in previous years.
Had been in the news because of acquisitions or had grown for other reasons.
Had contacted Travel Weekly believing they qualified.
All questionnaires were sent by email. All but two were returned by email; the two exceptions were returned by fax.
In an effort to keep up with relentless changes, questions were added, removed and tweaked to make them relevant.
As was the case for the last few years, Travel Weekly requested that gross sales volume, the primary number for ranking, be certified by a company's owner, CEO or CFO. Responses showed that most companies were happy to cooperate with that stipulation. In a small number of cases, certification was made by an executive at the vice president level but with financial oversight.
In several cases, such as Priceline, sales totals are based on publicly disclosed information because the companies are publicly held.
A number of companies that might have qualified opted not to participate. In the case of Travelocity, Travel Weekly estimated sales based on published material and discussions with other parties in the industry.
We have noted where a company did not certify its own sales figure, and the source of its sales is explained in parentheses.
While all cooperating listees did certify sales, it must be kept in mind that even those numbers are difficult to verify, because the great majority of travel sellers are privately held and under no obligation to disclose financial data. Also, there is no commonly accepted standard for calculating sales volume, and there is no clearinghouse in the U.S. that tracks non-airline sales, as ARC does for airline sales.
Where possible, Travel Weekly sought to confirm accuracy in the figures by referring to published information and other data. We also reviewed responses for consistency and used whatever resources we had at our disposal to ensure accuracy.
The survey on which these rankings were based included questions involving sales figures; ARC sales; travel-related subsidiaries; percentage of sales from business, leisure, etc.; corporate structure; and others.
Respondents were also presented with several open-ended questions about recent and planned developments to which companies could reply in any way they felt appropriate for them.
Responses to the questionnaire determined the length of the profiles that accompany each listed agency. Some companies supplied a minimum of information on developments in 2009 or on the company itself; others had a lot more to say. Companies were offered the option of having an executive interviewed by Travel Weekly. Several took advantage of that opportunity.
There might be U.S. travel sellers that should be on the list but that escaped our attention. Representatives of such companies should contact Managing Editor Rebecca Tobin at email@example.com so we can send them a questionnaire for next year's edition.