If you read the Internet news source for the global travel industry you would probably assume independent travel agents were just listed as an endangered species.
It's all doom and gloom. The Airline Reporting Corporation (ARC) showed a 12 percent drop in accredited agencies. Restricted-access locations are down 16 percent. Total agency sales are down 16 percent. Domestic sales are down 19 percent. Total sales for December 2001 are down 21 percent.
So why has MacNair Travel Management of Alexandria just acquired two additional agencies and shown an increase of 40 percent in sales over January 2001? What does President and CEO Mike MacNair know that others apparently don't?
"Every industry is changing significantly. We have been able to develop customer services that individuals and corporations are willing to pay for. We are close to being a $30 million a year business," MacNair said.
Seventy percent of the agency is based on corporate business and 30 percent on personal/leisure travel accounts, according to MacNair. "We operate as the corporation's travel department. We help them write their travel policies and procedures," he emphasized.
"When Sept. 11 happened many CEO's didn't know where their people were. Our clients are moving away from travel anarchy. The advocacy for the traveler doesn't exist on the internet. We have saved our corporate clients thousands," MacNair insists.
This analysis was verified by Clint Wheeler, Vice President, Corporate Programs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce. "MacNair has defined himself not as a travel agent but rather as a travel manager. As our travel has increased our dollar cost per ticket has decreased. We have more people traveling at less expense," Wheeler said.
"We now have an on-site travel agent from MacNair and that person is handling all travel arrangements. They generate reports monthly, giving us the lowest logical fare for each trip. For the departmental manager it is a significant benefit. Mike came up with the idea," according to Wheeler.
"MacNair doesn't want to be the biggest travel agency in America. He wants to be the best in the region. He is honing in on the association capital of the world and that is great for us," he insisted.
As a native upstate New Yorker from the Hudson Valley area, MacNair and his wife Ellen, came to the Washington area in the 1980's. He was with an airline and she was a travel agent who became the travel coordinator for the first Bush presidential campaign in 1988.
FIRST ALEXANDRIA — THEN MOUNT VERNON
Their first home was in the western portion of Alexandria. Then they relocated to the Waynewood area of Mount Vernon. Two years ago they moved to Yacht Haven Estates, south of the Mount Vernon Estate on Dogue Creek.
With three children, ages 11, 8, and 5, Ellen MacNair now concentrates on the financial-accounting side of the business, dividing her time between the office and home. She is also very involved with The Campagna Center and has served as the treasurer for her local Parent Teachers Association.
Both MacNairs serve as soccer coaches and participate in swim team activities for the Mount Vernon area Summer League. Mike is also active in the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, which named MacNair Travel Management its Small Business of the Year in 1998.
In 1989, following the presidential election, they borrowed some money and started MacNair Travel Management, according to Mike. The airline he worked for had folded and the political campaign was over. Originally, their office was at 106 S. Columbus St. They moved to their present location on Duke Street in December 1992.
As of January 18, 2002, MacNair acquired Alvensa Travel and New World/Peele Travel. Alvensa, a corporate and meeting travel management company, located in the District of Columbia, has moved its operations into MacNair's Washington office.
New World/Peele Travel, an Alexandria based corporate and leisure travel agency, has relocated its key staff and clients to MacNair's headquarters office at 1703 Duke St. The firm now has 43 employees, 20 of whom are based in Alexandria. MacNair also has an office in Chantilly and at various corporate client sites.
"Many of our competitors have reduced staff and cut hours of operation in the wake of Sept. 11. We went the other route. We committed ourselves to a no layoff policy, took an aggressive sales approach, and concentrated on how we could provide further value and advocacy to our customers," MacNair explained.
THE CLIENT'S ADVOCATE
He is quick to point out that his firm's aggressive approach as the client's advocates was deeply appreciated. The company added weekend hours while the air traffic system was down and issued continual updates via e-mail and their web site to help traveler's navigate the uncharted pathways of post-terrorist travel.
"They really came through for us post 9/11," Ursula Uszynski, Education Manager, American Society for Industrial Security International, emphasized.
"We had a big convention scheduled in San Antonio and all the flights kept changing. They handled the situation very effectively. And, they are always very financially conscious for us. That really helps in this economy," Uszynski said.
"It is essential that you tell the client here is why you need a travel consultant and here is why you need a travel professional. I have found that the transition in this business has occurred because great travel agents don't know how to generate business," MacNair said.
"The realities have changed and it has changed the load factor forever. There will be continued consolidation in the business. I see it moving closer to regional travel powerhouses complimented by niche specialists," he predicted.
"I also envision people seeing through the Internet travel agent more and more. Travelocity doesn't offer Southwest Airline tickets. We do," he emphasized. "How can you get the best deal without having the information on all airlines available?
"The last quarter of 2001 we were also down some. But, for the first quarter of 2002, so far, we are up over last year."
This was accomplished by taking several initiatives, according to MacNair. "Immediately after 9/11 we got information out to our clients through our newsletter in order to clear up a lot of misconceptions. We took over the education role," he said.
"We are also marketing personal travel through and to our corporate clients, as well as offering a full package of meeting travel options," MacNair explained. Uszynski is a perfect example of the corporate/personal connection. The agency handles all her personal travel, such as vacations. "I wouldn't use anyone else," she attested.
MONEY WELL SPENT
As for the cut in airline commissions, which has plagued many travel agencies, MacNair readily acknowledges that his charges have increased. But he doesn't see it as a problem.
"The cost to the client is 97 percent based on the fare and only three percent based on the agency fee. That three percent is well worth it," MacNair said. Apparently the clients agree.
To emphasize his accent on the positive, MacNair acknowledged that he is presently searching for a new headquarters office. "We've outgrown our present space and we've made a few offers to either buy a building or to lease new space. We want to maintain the headquarters in Alexandria," he clarified.
Always inventing new and different approaches, MacNair upgraded the firm's logo last year with a new tag line - "Destination Excellence." The web site www.macnairtravel.com is next for rehabilitation, he said.
But probably his most creative addition is what he calls his "Weddingmoon Division" headed by his "Travel Agent of Love." This division offers, "all the logistics for weddings and honeymoons both here and abroad. We cover the globe from Virginia to Hawaii to Spain to Jamaica. Anywhere in the world," MacNair proclaimed.
Alexandria resident, Nora Schindel, can attest to this new service. "We had a great experience in having them plan and book our honeymoon travel. They handled both the hotel and air arrangements and matched our tastes perfectly. It's all set for next October in Mexico," she assured.