Handling inbound travel is one way that U.S. travel agents -- hard
hit by a series of airline commission cuts in the past few years --
say they have managed to diversify their business.
However, this is a travel industry segment that's relatively
undeveloped. Inbound travel agents are not everywhere.
That's just fine by Donald Ahlm, owner of Chicago's Nelson World
Travel. He calls inbound travel a "survival niche" but is happy
that so far there are relatively few agents handling it, because
"there's less competition that way."
But he's been into
this niche since 1963, bringing in groups from Scandinavia,
especially Sweden. Ahlm works with Swedish travel agents who book
the air while he puts together land programs, many of them history
oriented. "We do a lot of things that bring people into areas where
Swedish immigrants settled, such as the greater Minneapolis area,
Illinois, New York and Wilmington, Del."
Other preferred destinations include Niagara Falls, since "so
many people who went back to Sweden talked about visiting Niagara
Falls on their honeymoon."
Ahlm's inbound business -- a significant 40% of his total --
also has natural synergy with another aspect of his operation,
wholesaling Scandinavian tours to U.S. clients. "On the initial
visit to the States, Scandinavians will come into contact with
relatives or people they [become friends with] who will then book
trips back to the old country," he said.
Ahlm makes sure to get the benefit of both inbound and outbound
travelers as well as operating a regular retail travel agency.
A more recent entry to the inbound fold, Anastasia Mann,
chairman of Corniche Travel in West Hollywood, Calif., has been
soliciting business from the U.K., mostly through her corporate
accounts that have U.K. offices. The British "love to come to the
U.S. to shop, where it's still an excellent value for them," she
Corniche Travel also has a London division, which helps put
together small group trips "with an upscale flair," such as a tour
of museums in New York, Chicago and California, escorted by writers
and artists. Corniche Travel, which represents Dodger Stadium in
Los Angeles in an exclusive arrangement, also works with tour
operators to bring in groups from Asia, who are then outfitted in
baseball uniforms and get to play a game with former and current
Mann said this arrangement is a natural for the Asian market,
which has a "huge interest in baseball -- but I think there's going
to be interest in other countries." Like other inbound experts,
Mann has a lot of interest in promoting U.S. destinations -- in her
case, especially, the state she lives in.
Sheila Pollack, meanwhile, has been a long-time cheerleader for
the excitement of New York's Broadway, which she has promoted as
owner of Sutherland Hit Show Tours of New York. Also owner of New
York-based Sutherland Travel, Pollack for 43 years has overseen an
inbound business that is mostly domestic, handling theater tickets,
sightseeing and other entertainment needs for groups and individual
travelers visiting New York.
She said she has tickets to the otherwise sold-out show "The
Lion King" as well as for New York millennium celebrations.