The seesaw battle to be the largest travel company by sales as ranked by the annual Travel Weekly Power List continues with the swing back to Expedia, which reclaimed the top position from American Express. And continuing to climb was Priceline, powered in part by its rapidly growing Booking.com subsidiary and now occupying the No. 3 spot formerly held by Carlson Wagonlit Travel (No. 4).
Some familiar names left the list because of consolidation. Protravel (No. 18 last year) was acquired by Travel Leaders Group (No. 10), WK Travel (No. 26 in 2012) was bought by Travelong (No. 11) and Ultramar (No. 29 in 2012) was acquired by Travel & Transport (No. 12).
And there were acquisitions by smaller companies such as Adelman Travel (No. 22), which acquired Great Southern Travel, itself a $90 million agency. Additionally, several new names appeared, including CheapCaribbean.com (No. 24), Worldview Travel (No. 28) and Cruise Planners/American Express Travel (No. 44).
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But the overriding story once again was the continuing recovery of the travel management industry, with many companies posting record sales. Here are some highlights of this year's Power List of businesses that were the agency of record for $100 million or more in travel-related sales:
• Five companies registered more than $20 billion in sales, the same number as in 2012.
• Sixteen listees recorded sales of more than $1 billion, same as last year. One of last year's billion-dollar members, STA Travel (No. 13 in 2012), did not participate this year.
• Many travel sellers registered strong gains. While Priceline could not sustain the 50% increase it saw last year, it did surge from $21 billion to $28 billion. (Important note: No. 7 FC USA, subsidiary of an Australian-based company, had only been reporting its U.S.-based sales. However, Power List enables reporting of global sales as long as 15% are generated domestically, so FC USA now comes in at $13 billion.)
• Smaller firms saw tremendous growth without acquisitions. For instance, Christopherson Business Travel (No. 26) grew by more than $50 million, to $341 million, by adding many new clients; Uniglobe (No. 39) grew 23% by adding multiple international accounts.
• Many companies reported significant sales from hosted or outside travel sellers; travel networks have become more commonplace among listees.
• After years of being a controversial listee because of its multilevel marketing business model, YTB does not appear. The travel assets of the firm, No. 52 in 2012, were sold to a private equity firm, which chose not to participate in 2013.
For the first time, Travel Weekly this year asked listees to describe their business model. Most answered this question, and the answer when provided is the first point in the Company Facts sections. The most common business model seemed to be "sale of travel products directly to consumers," but there are a number of variations on that model.
Other trends -- globalization, mobile app development, diversification into meetings and other businesses -- continue to progress.
While corporate travel companies continue to dominate, top leisure-oriented companies racked up $100 million-plus in sales, as well. They include Expedia, Priceline, FC USA, AAA (No. 9), Travelong, CheapCaribbean.com, H.I.S. USA (No. 30), Travel Experts (No. 34), Avoya (No. 36), Cruise Planners/American Express Travel, Amtrav (No. 48) and Global Travel International (No. 52).
Finally, several companies replied to a "looking ahead" question by projecting sales increases for 2013.
The 2013 Power List confirms once again that travel, as evidenced by rising revenue numbers, continues to grow and prosper.
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Early this year, the questionnaire for Power List 2013 was sent to roughly 70 companies that had previously appeared on the list, had been in the news because of acquisitions or had grown for other reasons or had contacted Travel Weekly believing they qualified.
Companies qualified for the list if they reported $100 million or more in sales in 2012 for which they were the merchant of record as defined by suppliers. Companies were asked to include corporate, leisure, group, meetings and incentive sales made directly to consumers or corporate clients. At least 15% of the sales volume must have been generated in the U.S.
As was the case for the last few years, Travel Weekly requested that the number be certified by a company's owner, CEO or CFO. Responses showed that most companies were happy to cooperate with that stipulation. In a small number of cases, certification was made by an executive at the vice president level but with financial oversight.
In one case (BCD Travel), sales total is based on publicly disclosed information because it did not respond to the survey.
A number of companies that may have qualified opted not to participate. They include Travelocity, which has not participated for the past few years. Others include STA Travel and Travizon, which did not respond to multiple phone calls and email messages. One former listee, JTB Travel, said it was choosing not to participate.
While all cooperating listees did certify sales (or make them public), it must be kept in mind that even those numbers are difficult to verify because the great majority of travel sellers are privately held and under no obligation to disclose financial data. Also, there is no commonly accepted standard for calculating sales volume, and there is no clearinghouse in the U.S. that tracks nonairline sales, as ARC does for airline sales.
Where possible, Travel Weekly sought to confirm accuracy in the figures by referring to other data and to articles published in the past year. We also reviewed responses for consistency and used whatever resources we had at our disposal to ensure accuracy.
The survey on which these rankings were based included questions involving sales figures; ARC sales; travel-related subsidiaries; business mix; corporate structure; and others. There were several open-ended questions about recent and planned developments to which companies could reply in any way they felt appropriate.
In an effort to keep up with relentless changes, questions were added, removed or tweaked to make them relevant. For instance, a question was added requesting that the company's business model be described.
Responses to the questionnaire determined the length of the profiles that accompany each listed agency. Some companies supplied a minimum of information on developments in 2012 or on the company itself; others had a lot more to say. Companies were offered the option of having an executive interviewed by a Travel Weekly editor. Several took advantage of that opportunity.
There may be companies that should be on the list but that escaped our attention. Representatives of such companies should contact Managing Editor Rebecca Tobin at [email protected].