A survey by the Travel Management Group, an Alexandria, Va.-based consulting firm, appears to spell generally good news for the corporate travel manager-agency relationship.

Of the 30 leading corporations responding to the survey -- they average $27.9 million in annual air travel volume -- about 80% said they would maintain their agency relationships even if future commission cuts force them to pay for services out of their own pockets rather than through diminished rebates and the like.

Some of the survey's other numbers, however, should raise warning signals to the trade. For starters, about 70% of the respondents said they would consider corporate travel department or rent-a-plate configurations to counteract the rebound effect of commission cuts.

Although only one company, the Republic National Bank of New York, is participating in the Airlines Reporting Corp.'s pilot program, which enables a company to book travel under its own ARC accreditation, it is safe to assume that other major entities are looking on with interest.

As for rent-a-plate deals, under which a corporate travel department processes bookings through its agency's ARC number, their implications seem to render the traditional client-trade relationship hollow indeed, with much of what makes an agency an agency -- providing consultative services, quality control, 24-hour service, travel expertise and experience -- a rapidly fading memory.

Perhaps most ominous among the survey's findings is that about half of the travel departments contacted would like to create direct links to air, hotel and rental car vendors.

Perhaps the survey findings suggest that it is time for corporate agencies to decide whether they are in the transaction business or the travel services business.

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