Last year was not a bad year to be in the travel agency industry, generally speaking. Nearly every company listed on the 2018 Travel Weekly Power List, the annual listing of travel companies with at least $100 million in annual sales, showed a year-over-year sales increase. And a generally solid economic climate, good demand and increasing revenue helped some agencies grow through acquisition, purchasing even some former Power List companies.
The acquisitions, though, weren't the only sign that the industry considers itself healthy. Several companies increased staff, including the number of top executives and other senior managers, to help manage growth. Several introduced or pushed forward with technological initiatives, mobile apps in particular. And several others enhanced their programs for agent training and education.
While none of the 2017 acquisitions match the breadth of the largest already announced in 2018 American Express Global Business Travel's takeover of Hogg Robinson Group they were still large enough to affect the Power List. For example, Travel Leaders Group last year merged with Altour and acquired CruCon Cruise Outlet, and Direct Travel merged with Vision Travel.
There was no shortage of acquisitions of companies outside the Power List, either. For example, Booking Holdings (Priceline Group's new name) in 2017 acquired travel search company the Momondo Group. American Express GBT bought event management firm Banks Sadler, Travel and Transport acquired London's Statesman Travel, and Conlin Travel acquired Activa Travel of Grand Rapids, Mich. Travel Leaders Group also acquired Corporate Travel Services, Travel Management Partners, Andrew Harper Travel, Colletts Travel, Travel-On and Travelmore.
Meanwhile, several Power List companies restructured their corporate organizations or added key staff to help manage growth. Perhaps most dramatically, World Travel, after 35 years of ownership by the Wells family, was sold to the company's employees via a 100% employee stock ownership plan.
After a review of its process management, Fareportal adopted a new organizational model that stresses the self-organization of task-based teams instead of rigid hierarchical models.
The change was put in place to be able to execute quickly while managing the company's growth goals.
International Cruise & Excursions added several senior IT positions and a senior business development executive to help support programs to improve employee recruiting and retention.
Christopherson Andavo Travel expanded its leadership team from 20 to 27, KHM Travel Group added new regional coordinators, and Cain Travel began a complete restructuring of its sales organization.
More than 20 Power List companies watched investments in technology pay off in 2017, with the introduction of mobile apps, customer portals, booking tools, reporting systems and system integrations, among many others, featured among this year's list. There seems to be no letup in 2018, as companies experiment with chatbots, artificial intelligence and other newer tools.
One final note: Small World Vacations, which debuted on the Power List in 2017, barely missed a repeat performance this year with $98.99 million in sales. A return to the list in the coming years seems like a safe bet.
-- Chris Davis