PITTSBURGH -- Gateway Travel Management, a $140 million agency here, is the latest firm to quit Hickory Travel Systems, the Saddle Brook, N.J.-based corporate travel consortium.

Gateway tendered its resignation Sept. 23, said Gateway president Jim Pekins, and will join WorldTravel Affiliates shortly before the end of 2003, after its 90-day financial commitment to Hickory expires.

Like other defectors from Hickory that left the consortium earlier this year, Pekins said WorldTravel offered discounted pricing on technology (including its self-booking tool and quality-control automation) and a more established global network that could meet the needs of multinational clients.

Pekins also said he hasn't been pleased with Hickory's attempts at establishing a leisure presence. For the most part, those attempts, including developing a cruise reservations center and buying the WorldKey consortium, have amounted to failed experiments.

"I've been put off by [Hickory's foray into leisure travel] the last two or three years and I've told [Hickory CEO] Bill Chiles," said Pekins. "It's been a sore spot for me."

Pekins said Gateway may continue to use Hickory's 24-hour travel desk, which he said is a good service, but that his agency is evaluating other options and "keeping an open mind."

Other agencies to bolt Hickory this year include Austin Travel, First Class International, Maupin Travel, Piedmont Travel and Williamsburg Travel Management. Austin, a $120 million firm, and Gateway are the largest agencies to depart Hickory.

To contact reporter Jerry Limone, send e-mail to [email protected].

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