Travel Business Moves To Keep Up With The Times

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A majority of financial reports you hear these days have some mention of how tough things are in the travel business, especially for the airlines.

Claudia Humphrey and Ralph Schessler, co-owners of Cruise Port Travel, don't see it. They have not been on a flight that wasn't full and have still had to work to get their clients seats on planes going out of Phoenix.

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Ed Jim, manager of Payson's Travel Network, has a new product to help travelers find the best Internet travel deals through Priceline.com.

For Humphrey and Schessler the war in Iraq, the terrorism threats, the SARS virus are just another bump in the road for the travel industry.

"So you adapt and do what you have to do," Humphrey said.

Ed Jim, manager of Payson's Travel Network, has gone proactive and teamed up with Priceline.com to offer complete discount travel.

The arrangement between Travel Network and Priceline.com gives a nod to Internet dominance in the travel business, but retains that all-important human touch.

"If you can't beat ‘em, join ‘em," Jim said, adding that about 50 percent of his business has been lost to the Internet.

Travel Network is a global travel agency. The deal with Priceline.com increases both parties' market share by extending their reach more widely across the Internet.

Now, travel enthusiasts can go to a single website --ww.travelnetwork. com/payson -- to get complete access to a wide range of discount travel options.

"Despite heated competition posed by e-commerce in recent years, the move by Priceline.com to work with Travel Network, one of the nation's largest retail franchise travel agencies, is a vote of confidence for traditional retailers," Jim said.

"When it comes to planning a trip, Priceline.com has figured out that consumers want a good deal and they want to ask questions -- questions that will be answered immediately by a human being. The truth is, when it comes to planning a first-rate vacation, the human touch adds tremendously to the price advantages offered by Priceline.com," Jim said. He said the site is very user friendly, and packed with information, with more being added all the time.

"I have a pet peeve about doing exchange rates. With this site, it is just a matter of a few keystrokes and you have the information right there in front of you," Jim said.

The joint effort makes the traveler the winner, with lower travel prices and an easier place to shop for travel, according to Travel Network.

"While consumers are turning more and more to the Internet to conduct their shopping, there are still some goods and services that consumers believe require the human touch. That's where Travel Network has the advantage," Jim said. "We deal directly with the client one-on-one to help them customize their trips, and we can now do this with the traveler and the discount companies through our Travel Network website.

"In addition to saving money while traveling, our clients want to ask questions about potential destinations and gather information about things to do and see. Folks can't ask information-intensive questions over the Internet, and that makes it difficult for e-commerce businesses to fully service the customer," Jim said.

Even if a client does not have access to a home computer, they can go into the Travel Network office in the Ponderosa Village Shopping Center and make use of a computer there, or peruse a whole wall of brochures, shopping for travel in the old-fashioned way.

For more information, call Ed Jim at Payson's Travel Network, 472-2575.

While Cruise Port Travel has only been in operation since February 2002, its co-owners, Schessler and Humphrey, have many years experience in the travel industry.

"When we came into this business, we knew we had something to offer: service. Service is what it's all about. And also knowledge," Schessler said.

When the country went to war with Iraq, they didn't make any changes.

In fact, business has remained brisk enough to bring in a third agent, Joan Coleman, who joined the firm in 2002.

"Each of us have our own specialty. I do cruises. Claudia does tours and group travel. Joan knows the airline industry and is developing a knowledge of group travel and tours as well," Schessler said.

The team a Cruise Port Travel can put together special interest packages, as well as sell prearranged packages.

"We can put together any kind of special interest travel for individuals or groups," Humphrey said.

On the subject of the Internet and travel, she said, "There's been a lot of talk of extinction (of travel agencies) due to the Internet. That's premature. Only about 13 percent of all travelers book on the Internet. Seventy-five percent of airline tickets come through travel agents."

Schessler said, the Cruise Lines International Association motto says it best, "Without a travel agent, you're on your own."

Cruise Port Travel is in the Tonto Plaza, 408 S. Beeline, Suite A, Payson. For more information, call 472-7878.

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