Wen Peter Sontag travels, he often hits the road on his Harley-Davidson motorcycle. But customers of his company, USTravel, the third-largest travel agency in the U.S., usually ride in higher style - the pampered pam·per
tr.v. pam·pered, pam·per·ing, pam·pers
1. To treat with excessive indulgence: pampered their child.
2. beneficiaries of Sontag's customized approach to travel.
Want pizza for an in-flight meal? Need an immediate visa for a last-minute trip to China? No problem. A USTravel customer can call an emergency number from anywhere at any time, and the sole job of 50 USTravel employees - the company's elite guard - is to make sure the agency's 7,000 accounts remain happy.
"I'd like to create the perfect service delivery system," explains Sontag, 50, who co-founded USTravel in 1986 and serves as chairman and CEO (1) (Chief Executive Officer) The highest individual in command of an organization. Typically the president of the company, the CEO reports to the Chairman of the Board. . "I enable you to do business elsewhere in person. The objective is for you to be able to do it flawlessly flaw·less
Being entirely without flaw or imperfection. See Synonyms at perfect.
flawless·ly adv. ." Notes Laura West, the manager of a USTravel office in New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of , "We are trained to exhaust all possibilities."
Times are tough in the travel industry. Commercial airlines, for example, have lost $10 billion since 1990 - more than they made since the beginning of commercial flight. The Gulf War and sporadic terrorism have kept Americans close to home, and the recession has encouraged executives to curtail travel. Moreover, videoconferencing A real time video session between two or more users or between two or more locations. Although the first videoconferencing was done with traditional analog TV and satellites, inhouse room systems became popular in the early 1980s after Compression Labs pioneered digitized video systems is on the rise: Some analysts estimate it could replace up to 25 percent of corporate travel within the decade.
Fighting such currents, Sontag has made considerable progress. UStravel, a subsidiary of San Diego-based PS Group, has 2,300 agents at more than 900 offices in the U.S. and overseas. Between 1986 and 1992, the company's sales soared nearly tenfold tenfold
1. having ten times as many or as much
2. composed of ten parts
by ten times as many or as much
Adj. 1. to $2.3 billion from $265 million. The only larger U.S. travel companies are American Express American Express (NYSE: AXP), sometimes known as "AmEx" or "Amex", is a diversified global financial services company, headquartered in New York City. The company is best known for its credit card, charge card and traveler's cheque businesses. , with 1992 sales of $6.9 billion, and Carlson Travel Group, with $3.4 billion in sales.
Sontag says he would consider pairing with smaller competitors or even with American Express or Carlson. That's practical thinking, not just contingency planning: Consolidation in the industry has been brisk, and many U.S. companies are forming alliances with companies overseas. As a result, the big are getting bigger: Ten years ago, the top 10 U.S. travel agencies accounted for just 5 percent of the industry's sales. Ten years from now, Sontag reckons, the 10 leaders could control half of the market.
With increased size comes tremendous clout: USTravel now issues 12,000 airplane tickets every day, and Sontag boasts that the airlines do "virtually anything we ask them to." For a traveler, this can mean a free upgrade or money back on a non-refundable ticket. For Sontag, each ticket is another 10 percent commission from the airline.
Sontag is part new-age executive, part old-fashioned marketer. He believes in motivating and empowering employees, and he leads by example. Each weekday, no matter where he is, Sontag sends a computer message to his entire work force. Dubbed dub 1
tr.v. dubbed, dub·bing, dubs
1. To tap lightly on the shoulder by way of conferring knighthood.
2. To honor with a new title or description.
3. "Petergrams," these brief missives generally involve inspiration, praise for an employee, company news, or a personal anecdote anecdote (ăn`ĭkdōt'), brief narrative of a particular incident. An anecdote differs from a short story in that it is unified in time and space, is uncomplicated, and deals with a single episode. . A recent Petergram discussed creativity and innovation: "Ideas are useless unless they are used." Another praised a USTravel agent who drove a client to the airport to catch a flight.
"It's important that everybody is on board and understands what we're trying to accomplish," the CEO says.
Sontag spent 186 nights on the road last year, but he's happy to hop off In network transmission, to move off one network onto another. Network technologies may be the same or different. For example, data could hop off a large IP network onto a small IP network. Voice traffic could hop off an SS7 network onto a VoIP network. See hop. the global treadmill. His perfect vacation spot? Steubenville, OH, a small town near the West Virginia West Virginia, E central state of the United States. It is bordered by Pennsylvania and Maryland (N), Virginia (E and S), and Kentucky and, across the Ohio R., Ohio (W). Facts and Figures
Area, 24,181 sq mi (62,629 sq km). Pop. border. As a teenager in his native Vienna, Sontag gave a visiting American businessman a tour of the city. The grateful traveler, a plumbing supply salesman from Steubenville, invited 17-year-old Sontag to live with his family. Sontag made the move in 1960, graduated high school, and paid for college by working summers in a West Virginia steel mill. He owns a house in Steubenville and likes to shoot pool with his old mill pals.
If Sontag realizes a dream of becoming a U.S. ambassador, rest assured the embassy will be one of the most colorful spots in town.