Two online titans dominated this year's Power List, separated by just a few hundred million dollars, which is not a lot at the heady levels of sales at the top. Expedia, with sales of $39.4 billion in 2013, squeezed past Priceline, at $39.2 billion. A fairly distant third was American Express, at $30.3 billion.
The list continues to reflect strong recovery in the industry; most listees did better than the previous year, and the overall number on the list rose from 53 to 58.
To view this survey in its entirety, click here.
Following 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 in 2013.
• Five companies registered more than $20 billion in sales, the same number as in 2013, although three had more than $30 billion, up from one last year.
• Sixteen companies recorded sales of more than $1 billion, the same as the last two years.
• Priceline continued to come on strong, partly on the strength of its Booking.com division, vaulting from $28.5 billion in 2012 to $39.2 billion last year.
• Smaller firms continued to grow impressively, with and without acquisitions. Ovation Travel moved from $828 million to $910 million, and Direct Travel soared from $575 million to $767 million as it continued an aggressive acquisition strategy.
• Companies continued to report increases in sales from hosted or outside travelsellers.
• There were several new listees this year: International Cruise & Excursions, or ICE (No. 22); the Appointment Group (50); Gant Travel Management (51); Conlin Travel (55); CruCon (56); and Campbell (58).
• Firms were asked to describe their business model. Most said they sell directly to consumers, although some do white label. And many described a mix of centralized agency and hosted structures.
• Companies that operate outside the usual travel-selling model continue to thrive. ICE does business through partnerships, such as opening travel stores in Sears locations.
• Leisure agencies continued to grow by offering creative packaging and good deals. Listees that are leisure-dominant include Expedia, Priceline, FC USA, AAA, Travelong, World Travel Holdings, ICE, CheapCaribbean.com, H.I.S.-USA, Avoya, Travel Experts, Cruise Planners, CruCon and Quality Reward Travel.
• Not surprisingly, technology dominated the replies when it came to recent developments and projections. A number of companies said they were developing proprietary technology solutions.
• For the first time this year, companies were chosen for "breakout" profiles to demonstrate the diversity of Power List companies. ICE, new to the list, has an unusual business model, serving as a travel provider to corporations and associations; Christopherson Business Travel demonstrates how many agencies, while not at the top of the list, continue to grow and innovate; Conlin Travel, another newcomer to the list, continues to operate out of traditional storefronts.
The 2014 Power List proves again the resilience and adaptability of an industry that many seem to believe is disappearing. On the contrary, it is a channel that is gaining strength even as it evolves.
To view this survey in its entirety, click here.
CORRECTION: The consortium MAST has 210 locations; an incorrect number was reported in the Top 10 Consortia/Cooperatives chart in Travel Weekly's Power List on June 23. The correct number moves MAST up one spot, to No. 9 on the list. In addition, the same chart incorrectly identified the Western Association of Travel Agencies as the Western Association of Travel Planners.
The compilation of Power List 2014 began late last year, and early this year, the questionnaire was sent to roughly 70 companies that:
- Had appeared on the list in previous years.
- Had been in the news because of acquisitions or had grown for other reasons.
- Had contacted Travel Weekly believing they qualified.
To qualify for the list, agencies had to reach $100 million in sales in 2013. For purposes of this survey, sales are defined as gross sales of travel products, whether to consumers or corporate travelers, for which the company is the merchant of record from a supplier's perspective. At least 15% of the sales volume must have been generated in the U.S.
"Travel products" does not include licensing income or royalties from developing booking platforms, user interfaces, apps, etc. Included are only the booked components of a trip: cruises, tours, forms of conveyance (air, car, train, etc.), attractions, accommodations, entertainment, etc.
Gross sales volume, the primary number for ranking, had to 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 totals were based on publicly disclosed information because the company did not respond to the survey.
We believe the following companies are among those that may have qualified for the list but opted not to participate: Adtrav, Travizon, Travelocity and STA Travel.
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 travelsellers 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 non-airline 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 was based included questions involving sales figures; ARC sales; travel-related subsidiaries; percentage of sales from business, leisure, etc.; corporate structure; and other topics. There were several open-ended questions about recent and planned developments to which companies could reply.
Responses to the questionnaire determined the length of the profiles that accompany each listed agency. Companies were offered the option of having an executive interviewed by a Travel Weekly editor; several took advantage of that opportunity.
There may be firms that should be on the list but escaped our attention. Representatives of such firms should contact Harvey Chipkin at [email protected] so we can send them a questionnaire for next year's edition.