here was a lot of fuss in the late '80s when airline ticket-printing kiosks were installed in grocery stores. Likewise, travel agents were up in arms when banks started to sell travel. If these were turf wars, agents won the battles, but lost the war. Big time.

I'm not referring to the emergence of the online channel -- that's simply a channel that's available to all sellers of travel. I'm referring to the fact that an enormous amount of travel is sold by companies whose core business isn't selling travel, companies with names like American Express, Carlson, Sabre, AAA and Cendant.

Divisions of each of these companies are among the top 10 sellers of travel in Travel Weekly's Power List. No. 1 on the list, American Express, is primarily a financial services company. When, in 2003, it acquired the third-largest seller of travel -- Rosenbluth International -- the financial impact on the parent company was so minor that it didn't need to issue an advisory note to shareholders.

No. 2, Carlson, is primarily a supplier rather than a seller. No. 6, Travelocity, is a subsidiary of Sabre Holdings, whose primary business is being a GDS. The various regional components of No. 8, AAA, typically make more money selling insurance than travel. And No. 9, Cendant, in addition to selling travel, owns a GDS, car rental firms and hotel brands.

Of the remaining top 10 companies, just two sell only travel: No. 5, TQ3 Navigant, and No. 7, Orbitz -- though some see the latter's airline ownership as making it something less than pure.

Travel does provide the highest gross sales volume for No. 3, InterActiveCorp, but the company also includes Home Shopping Network, Ticketmaster, and even an online dating service. BCD Holdings, the parent of No. 4, WorldTravel BTI, is primarily focused on travel, but 22% of its business is in financial services and technology.

And, try as it may to undergo separation surgery, in most people's minds No. 10, Liberty Travel, is joined at the hip to wholesaler Gogo Worldwide Vacations.

As a result, most of the largest travel sellers do not always behave as though their company's future depends on selling travel.

Want proof? Unlike almost every other industry on the planet that has retail outlets, no legacy businesses in travel are among the top sellers on the Web.

It could change. had what seemed like a lock selling books on the Web until Barnes & Noble awakened. B & N may have been late to the party, but it's now the largest online bookseller.

At this point, the only traditional agency that could topple IAC Travel's Expedia from Web dominance is Amex. Its strong brand recognition with consumers would give it a flying start, but thus far it hasn't shown the will to enter the fray. If it had been interested, it could have outbid Barry Diller for Expedia using loose change it found under the sofa cushions.

But remember, selling travel isn't at the core of Amex's business -- financial services are.

Agents used to worry about banks selling travel rather than financial services. Maybe not so much has changed -- travel agencies like Expedia, Travelocity and Orbitz must be quite glad that Amex's corporate focus is where it is.


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