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stint working for a judge, came on board. It took about 15 years to buy his father out,
but he was running things within a couple of years, he said.
Why did he choose to stay with the family travel business? “I’d seen some advantages
... traveling to interesting places, but it was the lifestyle” in a small (population: 10,000)
A pilot with 35 years’ flying experience,
Fred Bursch commutes by air between offices.
lakeside resort community. And, “I wanted my kids to be around their grandparents,
and it was to work with my dad; he was kinda my idol.”
Pete Bursch, when Travel Weekly interviewed him 25 years ago, lamented computerization because it “sort of took the fun out of it ... you used to call the airlines and you
would know the reservationist.”
Son Fred recalled the “revelation” that was teleticketing, the ticketing option that
preceded GDSs. For him, computers made basic functions a lot easier and staff more
efficient. And the Internet, admittedly a double-edged sword, is an invaluable informa-tion-gathering tool, he said.
But some things are harder today, such as staffing.
In the early days, he recalled, agency staff noted each customer’s travel request on a res
card and bunched the cards by airline in time for each carrier’s daily call to the agency to
make all reservations at once. The agency staff then wrote the tickets by hand.
Bursch explained that, in such an era, when fares were few and regulated, “you could
be an order taker.”
Today, he said, “we have to look for passionate salespeople, people who have good
customer relations,” which reduces the pool of candidates.
The business has changed in other ways, too. The business mix was
80% air before the first commission caps in 1995 but is only 35%
now, “which has freed us to do what’s more fun and has higher
margins,” Bursch said.
Clients are a new breed, too. “In the past, we dealt with anyone,” but Bursch doesn’t mind that travelers think they can get
a better deal on the Web for cheap Vegas trips, once “our bread
That leaves the customers who, while better informed and
more demanding, need Bursch Travel for their more complicated,
not to mention pricier, trips. Customers also include those “who don’t want to take their
own time on this.”
As for the product, “the overall quality of everything has ratcheted up, ... and clients
have moved up, too,” in terms of what they expect.
The destination list is “much broader.” Before the fall of the Iron Curtain, “I could
count on one hand the sales to Bulgaria, Romania or Poland, but now selling them
is second nature.” The expansion of global airline alliances also has helped broaden
choices, Bursch said.
With more branches, Bursch changed something else: A pilot with 35 years’ experience, he travels among the offices on a six-seat, twin-engine Beechcraft Duke.
He has owned planes since the mid-1980s and uses the craft “to expand my days”; he
can visit several branches a day but have dinner at home. Besides, he said, his commutes
above the clouds on autopilot at about 200 mph are very relaxing.
The agent as airplane pilot?
Some things really did change in 50 years.
FROM THE ARCHIVES
Nov. 3, 1959
After addressing the ASTA convention in
Havana, Cuba’s new president, Fidel Castro,
who had just taken power in the island nation,
was shown holding a cigar in one hand and with
a pen in the other for signing autographs.
He had addressed ASTA’s Havana travel
congress in English.
TERRORISTS CLOSE CONGRESS
Oct. 27, 1980
The annual ASTA World Travel Congress was
canceled at the conclusion of day one after an
anti-Marcos faction detonated a bomb during the opening session, injuring 18. President
Ferdinand Marcos was in the room when the
bomb exploded. (Photo at right shows delegates assisting an injured agent.)
NEW WEB SITE TO OFFER ‘ONE-STOP’
Oct. 26, 1995
That new Web site was Travelocity, among the earliest of a new breed of travel
agencies aiming to do business only online. It was the first among those that
would rise fairly quickly to mega status. It debuted in March 1996. Microsoft
launched Expedia later that same year.
AIRLINES AGREE TO SELL SATOTRAVEL
Jan. 18, 1999
Sato Travel, a $1 billion travel management corporation owned by 11 U.S. air-
lines, ended 45 years under airline control by agreeing to be acquired by a private
investment team and to become an ARC agency. The buyers were Ambassadors
International, headed by brothers Peter Ueberroth, chairman, and John Ueberroth,
president; Stuart Mill Capital, an investment firm; and GE Pension Trust. It later
became part of Carlson Wagonlit.
The oldest agency marketing organizations are Virtuoso, from 1951, and
Signature, 1956. First known as Allied
Travel and Leisure Tours, respectively,
both were cooperatives, though that is
not true of Virtuoso now.
These pioneers focused on upscale
markets and represented a small portion of retailers. Today, agencies of all
sizes and types may be members of
The 1968 creation of Giants, a cooperative, is considered the kickoff event
for that shift. Several more groups
came on line in the 1970s, Travelsavers
among them in 1972.
Perhaps it was inevitable that eight
groups were folded into one, Vacation
.com, by 1999, with Action 6 added
later, pushing the strength-in-numbers
notion further. It is the largest marketing group by number of locations.
Early on, some called such groups
“commission clubs,” but suppliers
demand more nowadays. The agents
use their numbers and technology to
market with suppliers more effectively
than was possible 50 years ago.
Groups of corporate agencies can
negotiate pricing with suppliers, too,
which they do for their bottom lines
and for customer benefit. They place a
greater emphasis on using technology
and networking to serve customers.
The first of these to emerge were
Woodside Group, now Radius, in
1973, and Hickory Travel Systems