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World Wide tops list.

Little Rock Travel Agency Generates $130 Million in Annual Volume

LITTLE ROCK-BASED WORLD Wide Travel Service Inc., the 21st largest travel agency in the country, again leads Arkansas Business' list of the state's largest agencies.

World Wide did about $130 million in annual dollar volume, easily outdistancing Arkansas' second largest agency, Dillard Travel/Executive Travel. The travel arm of Dillard Department Stores Inc. does $75 million-$100 million in annual volume.

Dillard's number of employees, 280, is just less than World Wide's 286. World Wide is ranked No. 21 in the country by Business Travel News.

No other agency in the state is within $50 million in annual dollar volume of either Dillard or World Wide.

Travel agents enjoyed a very active time for airline ticket sales in October because of discounted air fares for the holidays. But when the special rates ended, that portion of the business dropped.

"The airlines have created a situation where the public doesn't want to buy until there is a fare war," says Sue Smith, who owns Sue Smith Travel Centers, the fifth largest agency in the state. "So we have this up-and-down yo-yo with the airline ticketing.

"It's been like that for a couple of years now. It's not good for the public and it's definitely not good for us. The people who bought tickets during the higher fares are unhappy and want their money back. But they are non-refundable tickets."

Smith says airlines occasionally will refund the money if the customer "makes enough of a fuss at the ticket counter," but the travel agencies aren't allowed to make refunds.

"Airline ticketing is probably the worst headache of the travel agency business," says Smith, who has two offices in North Little Rock, one in Hot Springs Village and one in Conway. "Airlines have really created their monster and travel agencies are suffering."

The airlines started the frequent flyer programs but now frequently change the rules. Smith says customers are angered by the changes and take out frustrations on travel agents.

To offset airline ticketing problems, many agencies depending on leisure travel are trying to focus on specialty traveling, Smith says.

Among the speciality travel emphasized by agencies are cruises, escorted tours, incentives, group travel and vacations.

Dallas Cowboys Tickets

Smith's agency also "bit the bullet" and purchased 100 season tickets for home games of the National Football League's Dallas Cowboys. Her agency is the only one in the state offering Cowboys tickets, she says. But the gamble is paying off now that the Cowboys are winning after losing their first two games.

"We did this for two or three years on consignment," Smith says of the Cowboys' packages. "But they've gotten so big, they won't do it on consignment anymore. We've done quite good with it. We'll do it every year now, I'm sure."

Arkansas' smaller travel agencies, including all except a "mega-agency like World Wide Travel," emphasize service to their customers, Smith says.

"We're selling, but we're also taking care of people," Smith says. "It's very important that people don't have surprises and that what we tell them they are going to get is what they get. They begin to have confidence in you, and your business grows by word of mouth."

The corporate business handled by most smaller agencies, Smith says, consists of law offices and other small firms.

The largest agency outside the Little Rock area is World Travel Inc. of Searcy. It has 15 employees, 13 of which are travel agents.

Much of World Travel's business is missionary trips for Harding University in Searcy, which is affiliated with the church of Christ. The agency also works with church groups to plan international trips, says Helen Wilson, who owns World Travel with L.R. Berry.

World Travel, in its 16th year of business, also has offices in Heber Springs and Newport.
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Title Annotation:Arkansas Business Rankings; World Wide Travel Service Inc.
Author:Smith, David (American novelist)
Publication:Arkansas Business
Date:Nov 8, 1993
Previous Article:Malls prepare for holiday rush; singers, gingerbread houses, holiday helpers on the way.
Next Article:Two winners in First United buy.

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