he myth holds that, before the
announcement of commission caps in 1995, travel agents were, by and
large, order-takers. Support for the myth is found in numbers:
ARC-appointed travel agencies peaked at 33,593 locations in 1995,
and today, after caps, cuts and zero-base commissions, there are
only about 27,000 locations.
It's true that a significant percentage of some agencies'
revenue disappeared as air commissions withered, and about
one-fifth of the total number of agencies were acquired, merged or
shut their doors. Many of the remaining 80% of agents showed
remarkable entrepreneurial resilience after base commissions were
eliminated, but I submit that most of the agencies were doing far
more than just taking orders even before the first announcement of
I've recently met several agents who put lie to the myth of the
order-takers. They were creative in expanding their businesses --
decades ago -- and more than a few were doing so while contributing
significantly to the highest calling of the industry: promoting
intercultural understanding. In today's and next week's column, I'd
like to shine the spotlight on a few of them.
Twenty years ago, Linda Raymer was president of World Class
Travel in Nashville (she now runs a division of Travelink, an
American Express affiliate), and she was thinking about ways to
expand her group business.
It occurred to her that whenever she visited Europe, she was
especially drawn to the magnificent old cathedrals. She also loved
the choir music of Mozart, Hayden and other classical composers.
She began musing about how local choirs would no doubt love to sing
in the great halls of the cathedrals in Europe.
And so she founded the International Church Music Festival. She
paid a visit to the cathedral in Postsmith, England, and inquired
whether it would be willing to play host to a festival that drew
choirs from around the world. Officials there agreed, and Raymer
began promoting her idea. A year later, she attracted 150
participants from the U.S., the U.K. and the Netherlands to attend
-- and was the exclusive provider of travel for the choirs.
Today she draws 1,000 participants annually from all over the
globe -- her most recent festival drew congregants from 13
denominations, singing in 15 languages. Over the years, she's held
the festival in Oberammergau, Germany; Bern, Switzerland; and
Coventry, England. She has since been contacted by other European
cathedrals wishing to host festivals, and now her main concern is
making sure prospective hosts are situated in towns with an
infrastructure that can support a festival.
With the proceeds of the festivals, Raymer began a scholarship
program that has paid for choirs from China, India, Kenya and
eastern Europe to attend for free.
To conduct the choirs, she enlisted Sir David Willcocks, the
former director of the Royal College of Music at King's College in
Today, while Raymer spends most of her time on relatively
mundane operations for Travelink, she and her husband "own" the
festival. She had always imagined one day they would focus on it
exclusively -- it would be their retirement business. But on Sept.
11, 2001, she thought her dreams had come to an end. She expected
cancellations for the 2002 festival to pour in.
"No one canceled," she said. "We've always been heavily
dependent upon participants to guide the evolution of the festival,
and in October 2001, we held a planning meeting with our advisory
board. To our happy surprise, the members felt the festival was
more important and had more meaning than ever. So, of course, we're
The supplier community outside the airline industry has known
for years that there are agencies, like Raymer's, that create
business for them rather than simply take orders for them. Next
week, we'll visit an Indiana agency that helps keep a Hawaiian
tradition alive -- while adding considerably to its bottom