Rough ride.

AuthorTaylor, Mike
PositionStatistical Data Included

Travel agencies faced a triple whammy over the past year -- a nationwide recession, Sept. 11 and, finally, a decision in March by most of the major airlines to discontinue commissions on airline tickets.

Add to that the internet's siphoning of travel-agency business, and you've got a prize-winning recipe for hard times.

Despite all those troubles, the eight travel agencies on the ColoradoBiz Top 100 list of women-owned businesses performed reasonably well, weathering a 12 percent drop in revenues from 2000 to 2001. By comparison, total sales of airline tickets nationwide were down 16 percent.

But most of the travel-agency women owners say the days of being solely an airline ticket provider, a generalist, are over anyway.

Survivors of the travel-industry shakeout, they say, will be those who specialize and find sources of revenue beyond the plane ticket.

"I've been around 21 years and had some pretty challenging years," says Dana Robinson, owner of the agency Travel by Dana. "Now what you're seeing is the end result of travel agencies that couldn't set themselves apart with value-added services that the public is willing to pay for."

Adding value - that's what Terryl Lofgren is doing.

"Most of what we do is packages. For example, a trip to Costa Rica for a week, rather than just the airline ticket," says Lofgren, owner of World Wide Adventures & Photo Journeys in Lakewood. Her travel agency is one of the few on the women's Top 100 list that increased revenues in 2001.

"Where people got creamed -- and we got hit with it some -- was when September 11 occurred and we were handling all the cancellations."

To keep cash flowing in the weeks after the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington D.C., Lofgren first dug into her own pockets rather than cut back on her three-person staff. She says business has come back, but she still is applying for a low-interest, long-term disaster loan from the Small Business Administration for the value of lost sales. The SBA announced in late March that it has increased the revenue-based size limit for travel agencies, from $1 million to $3 million, allowing larger firms to qualify for SBA assistance.

"Every time a big event occurs (now) and nothing (bad) happens, we see an increase in sales," Lofgren says. "The Olympics were a big deal. Life stopped in the travel industry during the Olympics as I think it did in a number of industries. Everybody stopped to see if something was going to happen. When it didn't, the Monday after the Olympics, our phones went nuts. I think that's going to continue."

Lofgren, who has been in business five years, believes that attrition in the industry will hit agencies that refuse to change. Agencies with niches and packages will survive.

Along those lines, Lofgren has set up a weeklong trip to Costa Rica in June that will include photo-taking guidance from Boulder photographer Bob Castellino, and another trip with him in November to Hudson Bay where 3,000 polar bears migrate annually

Other women-owned Colorado travel agencies also are gearing up for better times in 2002.

Among them is Denver's Mile Hi Tours, whose revenues were down nearly by half in 2001 compared with a year earlier. The company sells tickets wholesale to travel agencies nationwide.

Owner Pamela Murdock says she cut back on her staff when air travel came to a near-standstill after Sept. 11, but by Thanksgiving business returned to near normal. She suggests that airlines, by cutting commissions to travel agencies, are biting the hands that feed them.

"The airline industry is the only one I know of that doesn't pay people to sell their goods, to help promote their products. Travel agents do a tremendous job in promoting the airlines' products," she said.

Airlines reportedly lost more than $7 billion last year, and curtailing commissions is expected to save the airline industry $1 billion this year. In the weeks after Sept. 11, Congress approved a $15 billion bailout for the airlines, but no such relief to travel agencies, although a total of 319 agencies did receive disaster loans totaling $13.4 million from the SBA. The average loan size was $42,000.

Heather Ross, co-owner of Via Travel, says the travel-agent industry was just getting back on its feet when airlines discontinued commissions. "It's just another blow," Ross says. "We're certainly a good agency, and we have a wonderful, loyal clientele, and we're going to be here for a long time. And somehow we'll make the adjustments we have to make. But a lot of small agencies are going to go under."

Ross says business at Via Travel was down 25 percent in 2001. She says selling airline tickets has become just a favor to clients rather than a moneymaker. To make up for lost revenue, Via Travel, like other agencies, has raised its fees on airline tickets, from $20 to $30 per ticket. And now her agency, which offers bicycle tours, European packages, and corporate travel arrangements, regularly books hotels and cars along with transportation, something it didn't do before 2001, except as a customer courtesy.

Despite the challenges they were put through, three travel agencies cracked the top 10 of the women's Top 100 list, although all three reported revenues that were either flat or lower than in 2000.

"Certainly we have more challenges to deal with at one time," says Ann Schimmel of Travel Connections Inc., citing Sept. 11, the economy and the elimination of commissions. "But this industry continues to amaze me as far as the resiliency of travel agencies. With the introduction of the Internet they were predicting our demise a couple of years ago, but I think we're more important to the traveler than ever."

EDITOR'S NOTE Marking a year of difficulty for some industries and one of opportunity for others, the ninth annual ColoradoBiz list of Top 100 Women-owned businesses yielded results that mirror both favorable and adverse conditions.

Overall, businesses on the list reported revenues of more than $902 million, for a 6 percent gain for these companies over their previous year.

The challenges businesses faced in 2001 also are evident, as a total of 33 companies experienced a decrease in revenues from the previous year.

By comparison, in 2000, only 17 companies on the list reported a drop in revenues.

Many companies have taken a conservative outlook into 2002.

Overall, companies project revenues this year of just over $814 million, which would be a full 10 percent lower than revenues reported for 2001, although the lower projection also results from the fact that some companies opted not to give a projection for 2002.

ColoradoBiz Top 100 women-owned businesses 2001 2000 COMPANY CITY RANK RANK 1 1 Ralph Schomp Littleton Automotive 2 3 McClain Finlon Denver Advertising Inc. 3 2 Andavo Travel Greenwood Village 4 4 DSP Builders Inc. Commerce City 5 6 Travel By Dana Englewood 6 9 Packaging West Inc. Aurora 7 13 Nexus Corp. Northglenn 8 8 Travel Connections Denver Inc 9 Craters & Denver Freighters Franchise Co. 10 14 Slifer Designs Inc. Edwards 11 17 Thayer Media Inc. Englewood 12 15 Highland Inc. Longmont 13 19 Mayo Aviation Inc. Englewood 14 16 Travel Leader Group Longmont of Colorado Ltd 15 23 Eastwood Printing Denver and Publishing Co. 16 20 Excel Personnel Inc. Parker 17 18 Job Store Inc. Denver 18 22 United Banks of Englewood Colorado 19 Hensmann Castle Rock Technology Inc. 20 27 ETI Professionals Lakewood Inc. 21 25 Sounds True Inc. Louisville 22 28 Associated Denver Equipment Specialists Inc. 23 Core Integration Denver Partners Inc. 24 Rainbow Electric Longmont Corp. 25 36 First Revenue Denver Assurance LLC 26 21 Mile Hi Tours Inc. Denver 27 34 Broadway Moving Denver & Storage Co. 28 29 Contract Design Denver Services Inc. (dba CDS Inc.) 29 33 Pride Electric Co. Denver 30 30 Connect: The Littleton Knowledge Network Corp 31 31 Burkett Design Inc. Denver 32 35 St. Vrain Moving & Longmont Storage Inc. 33 41 Baker Interiors Inc. Littleton 34 40 D&L Stained Glass Boulder Supply Inc. 35 Global Imaging Inc. Louisville 36 45 O'Brien Advertising Denver Inc. 37 37 JC Brooks & Co. Inc. Arvada 38 60 LT Environmental Denver Inc. 39 38 Integrity Realty Denvur 40 53 Auto-Chlor System Denver of Denver Inc. 41 71 Waterstone Environ- Boulder mental Hydrology & Engineering Inc. 42 51 SKT Inc (dba Englewond Occasions By Sandy) 43 62 RME Electric Corp. Aurora 44 61 JWO Farms Inc./ Denver dha Colorado Natural Eggs 45 49 Continental Graphics Broomfield Inc. (dha CG press) 46 47 Via Travel Boulder 47 58 AET/Source Denver Environmental Inc. 48 76 Optimum Management Denver Systems LLC 49 66 Imaging Systems LLC Colorado Springs 50 67 Routt County Auto Steamboat Springs Parts & Supply Inc. 51 55 AvenueWest Corporate Denver Housing Inc. 52 59 Advertising Denver Impressions 53 72 Tallgrass Inc. Evergreen 54 68 J.F. Options Inc. Denver 55 69 Anko Metals Inc. Denver 56 Burlstene Inc. Lakewood 57 Ren Inc. Denver 58 57 JohnstonWells Public Denver Relatoins Inc. 59 54 Aero/Tech Industries Colorado Springs Inc. 60 Design Consortiom Denver LLC 61 65 Blue Spruce Design Niwot and Construction Co. 62 75 Kazoo & Co. Denver 63 78 Fossi Group Inc. Steamboat Springs 64 74 Arrow Insurance Frisco Management Inc. 65 79 Orion Registrar Arvada Inc. 66 70 Pascoe Associates Denver Inc. 67 84 Demarest Enterprises Englewood Inc. (dba Sign -A-Rama Inc.) 68 80 Linhart McClain Denver Finlon Public Relations 69 Ray Publishing Inc. Wheat Ridge 70 Garcia & Colorado Springs Hagauer Inc. 71 AdTech Denver Resources Inc. 72 CNT Group Denver 73 The Collection Denver 74 Mountain West Manitou Springs Trading USA Inc. 75 83 Designs by Alta LTD Denver 76 77 Furniture Denver Galleries Inc. 77 82 Design and Image Denver Communications Inc. 78 85 World Wide Adventure Lakewood & Photo Journeys 79 89 Marketing Solutions Englewood & Results 80 HR Search Firm Denver 81 87 Canasawada Valley Paonia Inc. (dpa High Country Shopper) 82 92 McKissack Printing Denver &amp...

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