Power List 2009 includes a record number
of travel sellers, 62 of them, with annual
sales of $100 million or more. They arrived on the list by different routes, but
many report that they endured the same
split during 2008 that many travel companies experienced: decent results for the
first half of the year, followed by a precipitous drop in the last half or quarter.
And that experience seems to shape their
future expectations. Not every participant
offered a projection for 2009, but most of those who did said
they expected sales to decline in the range of 15% to 25%.
Perhaps even more indicative of the economic downturn were declines in the number of employees as companies cope with
soft demand and client cutbacks, particularly among some of the smaller companies
further down the list.
Among the giants, the top companies
continued to grow in sales and seemed to
hold steady in terms of the number of employees, results of organic growth as well as
acquisition. American Express, perennially
No. 1, saw sales increase from $26.4 billion
to $29.1 billion, and second-ranked Carlson Wagonlit enjoyed a jump to $27.8 billion from $24.9 billion
The big online agencies reported mod-
erate gains as Expedia (No. 3) moved from
$20 billion to $21.3 billion, Orbitz (No.
6) from $10.6 billion to $10.8 billion and
Travelocity (No. 7) from $10 billion to
By far the healthiest sales jump online,
and on the Power List in general, was Priceline (No. 8), which reported a 54% increase
in sales, from $4.8 billion to $7.4 billion.
The company attributed the boost to
soaring international growth and rising
consumer interest in deals.
The number of “billionaires” (companies
with $1 billion-plus in sales) held steady at
13, but with some shuffling in the ranks.
The Travel Leaders Group (formerly the
The compilation of Travel Weekly’s Power List 2009 began
early this year when questionnaires were sent to about 70
• had appeared on the list in previous years;
• had been in the news because of recent growth, including
• had contacted Travel Weekly believing they qualified. (There were an
unusually high number of these this year.)
All questionnaires were sent via email.
Most were returned the same way, with the
exception of two that were faxed to Travel
As was the case for the past few years,
Travel Weekly requested that gross sales
volume, the basis for our rankings, 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 presidential level who had financial oversight.
In several cases, sales totals were based
on publicly disclosed information because
the companies are publicly held.
A handful of companies that Travel
Weekly believed qualified for the list opted
not to participate. Travel Weekly was unable
to obtain reliable sales figures for two firms,
STA Travel and Rich Worldwide Travel. For
more on those companies, see the report at
the conclusion of the Power List.
Where a company did not certify its own
sales figure, the source of the sales figure is
explained in parentheses.
All cooperating firms did certify sales,
but 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
Travel Acquisitions Group), which now incorporates two former Power List agencies,
Tzell Travel and Traveleaders, joined that
elite group, climbing from the No. 14 to the
No. 10 spot in the process.
Flight Centre USA debuts in the No. 11
position with its 2008 acquisition of Liberty Travel, which had filled the No. 10 slot
in last year’s listing.
STA Travel, which was No. 12 in 2008,
and Rich Worldwide Travel, last year’s No.
37, did not participate in the 2009 survey
and were therefore left off the Power List.
For more on this, see the report at the conclusion of the Power List.
The number of agencies hosting outside
sellers, and the number of sellers they hosted, continued to grow as companies moved
to save on costs and take advantage of technology that enables travel sellers to operate
remotely. Some firms, such as Nexion (No.
36), are basically hosting entities.
The Power List is all about size and represents an effort to rank the nation’s top
travel sellers in terms of the total dollar volume of annual sales.
But even among the top tier of firms,
those with more than $1 billion in sales, it’s
clear that size doesn’t equal sameness. The
business mix of the top firms ranges from
being virtually all corporate travel to virtually all leisure.
It also ranges from being totally online to
only a little online.
Some billion-dollar travel sellers are family owned, some never were. Some Power
List companies are household names, while
others are rarely in the news.
One company that has seen its share of
headlines recently is YTB (No. 25), a publicly traded multilevel marketer with an
ARC appointment and a reported $424
million in travel sales, most of it through
a network of tens of thousands of small,
hosted, work-from-home recruits.
A source of unending controversy since
it first gained national attention a few years
ago, YTB recently settled an action brought
by the State of California that accused the
company of operating an illegal pyramid
Even if YTB succeeds in transforming
itself into a franchise operation and fulfilling the other terms of the California settlement, the company is likely to remain a galvanizing force for friends and foes alike.
For the purposes of the Power List, however, only one thing matters: total sales.
Although this number is not included in
YTB’s annual financial report to the Securities and Exchange Commission, it is consistent with a company statement to the SEC.
“During fiscal 2007, the aggregate value
of the retail travel services that have been
booked by our RTAs and independent
franchisees surpassed $400 million,” YTB
reported in the statement.
The company has stated that the total
represents retail travel sales and excludes
revenue from other activities.
A number of agencies appear for the first
time here: Flight Centre USA, Frosch, Travelong, Travel Experts, Ad Trav Travel Management, World Travel Service, Atlas Travel
International, Peak Travel Group, One Travel and Travel-On. — Harvey Chipkin
does for airline sales.
Where possible, Travel Weekly sought to
confirm accuracy in the figures by checking
them against other data and articles published in the past year. We also reviewed
responses for consistency and used various
other resources to ensure accuracy.
The survey on which these rankings were
based included questions involving sales
figures; ARC sales; travel-related subsidiaries; percentage of sales from business or
leisure, etc.; and corporate structure.
There were several open-ended questions
about recent and planned developments to
which companies could reply in any way
they felt appropriate for them.
In an effort to keep up with relentless
changes, the Power List questionnaire is reviewed and revised annually to ensure that
the questions remain relevant.
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 2008 or on the
company itself; others had a lot
Companies were offered
the option of having an
executive interviewed by
a Travel Weekly editor.
Several took advantage
of that opportunity.
There might be companies
that should be on the 2009
Power List but escaped our
attention. Representatives of
such companies should contact Travel Weekly Managing Editor Rebecca Tobin
.com to request a questionnaire for inclusion
in next year’s Power