Were the latest commission caps the last straw? Are you seriously
considering selling your agency? To help you sort things out
realistically, here are some perspectives from several different
First, here is
the picture from two agents who decided to get out of the business
entirely. (In weeks to come, watch for more case stories of sellers
who stayed in travel.)
Both former owners, coincidentally, chose real estate as their
new gigs -- a good choice, said Dick Monteith, because it's similar
to the travel industry. "It was hard giving up being the boss, and
it would have been hard to work in a corporate structure," added
Monteith. "In the real estate business, I'm basically
Monteith sold his $5 million agency, Raleigh, N.C-based Monteith
Travel Services, in 1997 because the first commission caps hit him
hard. After being in the business for 15 years, he does miss it.
Sometimes. "It's very tempting to want to coach the people that
bought us, but then I remember, it's not my problem anymore," he
John Frazier sold his agency, Travel Unlimited in Charlotte
N.C., last January after more than 10 years of operation. His shop
was run by a manager, while Frazier had a real estate business on
the side. Lacking a deep knowledge of the travel industry, he
"decided this business wasn't one I wanted to learn. It seemed to
me the airlines were getting tougher and tougher in taking away
Frazier wanted more control and disliked the fact that outside
factors were controlling his profitability. "That's not the kind of
business I wanted to be in."
And when Frazier tried to move away from a mostly corporate
client base into leisure, he was unable to sell enough to make a
difference. So he asked, "Why fight this when I have another
business I can go to and do well in." For Frazier, "It was the
right decision. My life is simpler, and I'm doing what I really
For Monteith, things look better too. "I'm making more money now
than I made in the travel business, with a whole lot less
Before you sell...
try to sell your agency, take the following steps first, suggested
by Roswell, Ga.- based real estate broker Bob Sweeney (who brokered
the deals for the two agents mentioned above) and Ellicott City,
Md.-based travel lawyer Jeff Miller:Talk to your accountant and do some financial projecting. Are
there places where you can safely cut your overhead to enable you
to survive? Do you have enough money to pay your bills and also
take a salary?Other financial questions to consider: If you didn't have
overhead (rent, CRSs), would your agency be profitable? If the
answer is no, then you're a strong candidate to close down. If yes,
then you can take your business elsewhere -- by establishing a
home-based shop, or by affiliating with another agency.Ask yourself : What do I want to do with my life in three or
five years? What other skills or interests do I have? Am I young
enough to look for another job? Or am I ready to retire?Can you mentally picture yourself not being the owner? Some
people could never work for anybody else. But if you can, "the
reality is you have to do a strategic alliance with someone larger
if you're a midsize agency," said Sweeney.
Managing those feelings
Former travel agency owner Dick Monteith got out of the business
after "a good run" of 15 years. "It wasn't our failure," he noted.
"Our time was just up."
Before he came to this realization, though, he grappled with a
feeling of guilt. But he finally decided that his agency's stall
after the caps "wasn't my fault. The industry changed. Prospects
would say, 'I love your knowledge, but I can get it for 25% less
someplace else.' It's like in the movie 'You've Got Mail,' " he
noted. "Meg Ryan didn't mismanage her small, independent bookstore,
but it was closed down when a superstorebookstore opened around the
corner." Still, "you need to deal with that guilt before you can
Monteith also advised owners pondering their options to avoid
the "paralysis of analysis," or thinking too much before making a
move. "If the marketplace changes and a business no longer works,
then you need to come to terms with it," said former agency owner
"There's a definite grieving process," suggested Frazier, who
was a clinical psychologist before trying the travel business. "You
go through denial, when you don't want to believe it, then
depression, self-blame, anger and bargaining. Then you realize that
you can survive the letting go of your business and still be a
Frazier suggested, "Get a good friend, clergyman or counselor
and talk it through. It's tough going through this. Ask yourself,
how can I get out with the least amount of loss and make a plan for
Reasons to leave
"Agents are leaving the industry not necessarily because
business is so bad but because of the certainty of the
uncertainty," said Dick Landis, head of Travel Agency Management
Services, a Wayzata, Minn.-based network of agency owners. "Agents
feel put upon and tired of the rancor and the struggle. This is the
case in a lot of industries that have expanded as fast as travel
has," said Landis.
"A lot of people got in for the wrong reasons, and there will
definitely be a shakeout." He added, "If I was going to get out of
the market, I'd make a list of who I thought my potential buyers
were, and spend some time trying to position it so my agency was
attractive to those people.
Then, said Landis, "I'd establish some kind of communications
link with them. "For example, send them a letter and say, 'I'm
interested in selling or consolidating my operations, and you're
somebody I'd like to talk to.' "
This week's Web sites feature Paris and Italy.
San Francisco agent J. J. Lasne recommended this site for
information on his hometown in France. There's information on
children's activities, shopping, museums, nightlife and more. One
especially nice feature lets you find restaurants by criteria such
as "with a view" and "open after midnight." There's even a list of
"philosophical cafes." Say bonjour to: www.paristourism.com
And for Italy
Looking for links to sites with information about the Catacombs
of Rome, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence or the Vatican museums?
This site is a good starting point to find all sorts of information
about the country, including specifics on the major cities. It's
also fun to check out the art treasures pictured here. Say buon
giorno to: www.italiantourism.com
Compiled by Jennifer Dorsey. E-mail suggestions to [email protected]
Bean bags and clothes
Memo to all you
shop-by-mail catalog junkies: There's a new source of travel
clothes and gadgets from a veteran in the mail order field,
Freeport, Maine-based L. L. Bean, which has a new "Traveler"
The company includes some of its basic items of comfortable,
practical sportswear in this book, along with pieces specially
designed for the traveler.
For example, there's a line of matte jersey essentials for
women, in a quick-drying, wrinkle-resistant, lightweight black
knit; a cotton knit travel hat, and SPF Tropic Wear clothing
(pants, shorts and shirt) made with a fabric treated to provide the
highest level of sun protection for tropical climates.
Also notable are a roll-up Panama straw hat; a complete
collection of luggage including rolling bags with a wider wheel
base for "tip-proof" carrying; a first-aid kit, and a luggage lock
with a motion-detecting alarm system. For more information, call
(800) 221-4221 or check out the Web site at www.llbean.com.