Air Transport World

Going global: travel agents are following the lead of airlines, forming international alliances and establishing their own franchises.

Airlines have set up international alliances. So have CRSs. Why shouldn't travel agencies? In fact, that is exactly what agents have been doing.

U.S. corporations order much of their travel through agents. in the past decade, these agents made use of airline-provided computers to expand the services they could offer business travelers. Now, as U.S. business becomes more international, it wants the same services abroad. Because resources are limited, the result has been the formation of links with other agents, in hopes of stitching together seamless service, 24-hr. coverage and the kind of information that allows corporations to measure-and control-travel expense. As airlines and CRS vendors have found, the theory behind these alliances is easy to understand. Application takes time.

Rosenbluth Travel is a 99-year-old, $1.3 billion agency with 340 off ices in 35 states. It uses Apollo primarily, though it has Sabre sets, too. Hal Rosenbluth, president and CEO, had been trying to anticipate travel needs outside the U.S. for several years. He was not sure what structure would evolve but he was quite sure that, just as in the U.S., travel-information consolidation would be a central requirement.

The first step was a European trip to talk to clients. Agency executives got an earful. "The first thing we heard," says Rosenbluth, "was that you might be great in the U.S. but you don't know a damn thing about [doing business in) Europe.' " In other words, the clients weren't panting for a bunch of mini-Rosenbluth branches in Paris, London and Rome. Anyway, he acknowledges, "We don't have the management for lots of international branches. it was never an option."

Another lesson was that, while a U.S. corporation might funnel business through a particular agent, the international headquarters or subsidiaries don't necessarily want to do what the U.S. parent does.

In 1987, Rosenbluth decided that "the best course for the clients was to globalize information but use the best agency in a particular country" as the client link. For Rosenbluth, "best" means technical capability, use of Apollo, a business orientation, excellent service and depth of staff.

Carl Nurick, VP-international development, was in charge of researching and selecting the 32 members in 35 countries who have become the Rosenbluth International Alliance. Included are Canada, Central and South America, Europe, Africa, the Middle East and India, Australia and Asia.

According to Nurick, the alliance setup, which involves no fees but requires cost-sharing, "does not preclude ownership" of overseas locations. Rosenbluth does not own any non-U.S. agents as yet but has a joint venture in Japan. It has dropped two members for what Nurick calls "nonperformance." He adds quickly that an accounting firm has studied ownership vs. alliances and has concluded that the failure rate was the same under both types of structure. Rosenbluth does have two offices in London and Singapore to act as liaisons with RIA members.

Rosenbluth did not select its RIA countries based purely on instinct. The company is privately held. Resources must be applied carefully to compete against traditional global travel names such as Thomas Cook and American Express; France's Wagons-lits, whose investors include two major French corporations and which itself has established a U. …

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