Travel Weekly's 2009 Power List

Despite recessionary pressures, a record 61 travel sellers qualified for Travel Weekly's 2009 Power List with sales of $100 million or more.

To view the survey in its entirety, click here.

AWEISSMANN100x135Last week, at a lunch hosted by One&Only to promote its Cape Town property, I found myself seated at a table with executives from four New York-based agencies on Travel Weekly's 2009 Power List: Jack Ezon, president of leisure travel for Ovation (No. 17); Martin Rapp, senior vice president of leisure sales for Altour (No. 19); Priscilla Alexander, CEO of Protravel (No. 22); and Valerie Wilson, CEO of Valerie Wilson Travel (No. 30). Their combined travel sales surpass $1.8 billion.

Also at the table was Nathan Devore, co-president of Rich Worldwide Travel, an agency that did not participate in this year's survey but was No. 37 last year. Across from him were Bill Fischer, travel agent to the rich and famous, and Bobby Zur, founder of Travel Artistry, a Virtuoso agency in Franklin Lakes, N.J.

The talk among these competitors began small. Alexander gave two thumbs up to a documentary film about Mike Tyson, and Wilson spoke about her daughter's involvement with the Make-a-Wish Foundation. The table was informally polled about whether anyone had heard of Bernie Madoff before his scandal. (Two had.)

Then came the inevitable question: How's business?

Ezon said there was a positive change in the conversations his agents were having with clients. There was no longer a deep sense of impending doom regarding the economy.

Wilson responded that she hadn't even seen a positive shift in conversations.

Fischer professed that not much had changed for him and that the very wealthy were still traveling, and not necessarily looking for deals.

For others, transactions were up, sometimes significantly, but revenue was down, sometimes significantly.

What struck me as remarkable about this conversation was that, whether talking about Mike Tyson or short booking windows, the tone remained the same. Yes, concern was expressed about business, but everyone's outlook stayed somewhere between hopeful and patient.

That's not the tone I hear from many smaller agencies these days. Many are on the edge, with no reasons to be hopeful nor the resources to be patient.

In this recession, large companies have frequently found themselves in the biggest trouble. For General Motors, scale was a hindrance. Which begs the question: Is there something special about how travel agencies work to suggest that, for now, size can be helpful?

This year's 61 agencies on the Power List, all of whom sold more than $100 million in travel in 2008, is a record number. The list has consistently grown over the past six years, with new agencies appearing despite many mergers and acquisitions among agencies already on the list.

But the true measure of the importance of size for travel agencies in 2009 won't be known until the 2010 Power List is released.

Some of you may remember that the Power List was once called "Top 50 Agencies." But then came 9/11, and by the end of 2002, there were only 43 agencies remaining with sales of $100 million or more.

As it turned out, size alone was not powerful enough to save some very large agencies in 2002. Stay tuned to see whether the same will hold true for 2010.

Contact Arnie Weissmann at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/awtravelweekly.

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