In an era when it is easier than ever for travelers and companies to book their airfares online, it would not seem to be a golden age for the travel agency industry.
However, Glendale-based Adelman Travel Group soared with record growth in the past year and has increased its annual sales from $372 million in 2007 to a projected $609 million in 2013.
Adelman’s record growth has been fueled by an array of factors, including enlightened new leadership, strategic acquisitions and diversification of services.
“I think there is a general lack of understanding as to what travel management companies have evolved into,” said Bob Chaiken, who was promoted to chief executive officer of Adelman Travel earlier this year. “We’re not just issuing airline tickets and making hotel reservations.”
Despite the growing crop of online booking resources, the travel management services available to Adelman Travel clients are far from obsolete, Chaiken said.
“There’s still a fair amount of complex trips going on, which is really where most of the focus is for our travel consultants these days. They really have become international superstars that have to arrange very complicated trips, while the online booking tools are handling the basic trips,” he said.
Executives for Adelman, the 22nd-largest travel agency in the nation, say the company’s innovations have helped redefine the scope of corporate travel management.
“I think our primary objective as a company is to identify opportunities and customers where we can balance out what the travelers need (and) what the company needs as a corporation and provide the right people (and) the right technologies to help them manage their travel programs,” Chaiken said.
In December, Adelman Travel completed a $90 million acquisition of Springfield, Mo.-based Great Southern Travel.
“We were looking for a great organization that had a similar culture, excellent people (and a) good product where we could acquire the critical mass of that business and then once we would do that we would then start to develop that business,” said Steve Cline, recently promoted to president and chief operating officer of Adelman Travel.
Along with dramatically expanding Adelman Travel’s client base, the acquisition enabled the company to step beyond the boundaries of corporate travel planning into leisure and vacation travel planning, which was one of Great Southern Travel’s specializations in the industry.
Prior to the acquisition, Adelman Travel had a small army of sales representatives catering to leisure travel. Taking over all 13 of Great Southern Travel’s offices along with its 90 employees and thousands of clients has provided the resources to make vacation planning more of a company priority.
Following the acquisition, Great Southern Travel was rebranded into Adelman Vacations.
On top of diversifying the types of trips it plans and manages for travelers, Adelman Travel, which also belongs to an international network of travel management companies known as Radius, has taken bold technological steps to offer virtual meeting capabilities for corporate clients.
The company’s mission is not focused on transacting business travel so much as it is on connecting businesspeople and corporations through whatever medium proves most efficient and convenient.
“Our objective is to bring people together to conduct business and then manage those solutions that surround that,” Cline said. “And this is just another way of conducting business.”
Through a video conferencing solution called VideoTravel, orchestrated with support from a New York-based telecommunications company called IVCI, Adelman clients have the option to conduct internal meetings or smaller meetings via video. This virtual tool allows them to avoid unnecessary travel time and expense.
Adelman Travel launched VideoTravel as a fee-based service in 2009, when travel was down and the company, losing market share due to cutbacks in corporations, needed alternative revenue streams.
“What we had identified is if we could bring travel data with video conferencing data together, we could then sell that as a way to convert some travel trips that would traditionally be done on an airplane but weren’t mission critical as far as actually getting on an airplane,” Cline said.
Data collected is then transferred to Adelman Travel’s back office where it is compiled and saved to later report to clients and also reference in the frontline point-of-sale process. With the reports, Adelman can better illuminate the benefits of video conferencing using hard figures.
While it might seem that a video conferencing solution would cut into Adelman Travel’s management services, the technology has actually added to the company’s reputation as a cutting-edge travel agency and further stimulated sales growth.
“We were coming across with some of our prospects as a little bit more futuristic than our competition,” Cline said.
According to Cline, many of the company’s clients and prospects are identifying video conferencing as a viable tool but aren’t ready to take the technological plunge just yet.
“So they want to know those capabilities are there, and if it helps us get more corporate customers it’s fulfilling its initiative,” Cline said.
Video conferencing will likely become a more utilized tool in the future as companies face the need for increased efficiency and productivity, but Cline and Chaiken don’t foresee it stifling their company’s financial growth.
“There’s so much need for in-person meetings still that I don’t think it’s going to impact our revenue,” Chaiken said.
Both Chaiken and Cline have largely propelled the company’s technological innovation efforts while chairman Craig Adelman has served as resident cheerleader for both his leadership team and the company’s global operations.
“Bob and Steve have been leading the company for a number of years and have been instrumental to both the growth and success of Adelman,” Adelman said. “Both are highly respected leaders in the travel industry.”
Among the company’s other technological ventures have been several in-house developments including Global Gateway and Analyst, which work in tandem to inform companies about their employees’ travel expenses and activity.
Adelman Travel also created AtrakPro, an unused ticket tracking tool that directs the company to travel opportunities in which unused tickets can be redeemed so that money is not wasted.
In May, Adelman Travel launched its latest technology-based service, a mobile app that informs individual business travelers about when their travel plans align with their companies’ travel policies. The app acts as a corporate travel management solution to educate employees about their companies’ travel policies and reward them for complying.
“Adelman has service and technology differentiators,” Chaiken said. “We utilize numerous third-party, industry-leading products and then build our own to fill in the gaps.”
One of those third-party products is Traveler Security and Data Suite. Brought to market by Sabre Holdings, a Texas-based IT services firm within the travel and tourism industry, the security tool tracks locations of customers on the road worldwide with map capabilities and instant notification features. The tool can be particularly helpful to locate customers traveling through areas that have suffered natural or provoked catastrophes.
Branching out beyond the parameters of the travel industry, Adelman Travel has constructed a meetings and incentives initiative called Adelman Summit that simplifies the complexities of planning corporate meetings.
Apart from diversifying and distinguishing its services, Adelman Travel executives say they have assembled the right group of employees who align with the company’s corporate culture, shaped by corporate responsibility and community volunteerism as well as creativity and a forward-thinking, adaptable mentality.
“We recruit, develop and retain top industry talent who are responsible for delivering on all of our services,” Chaiken said.
Thanks in large part to the acquisition of Great Southern Travel, Adelman Travel has grown its workforce by 71 percent from 2007 to 2012. Today, the company has 286 employees in 25 full-service travel centers throughout the country and 17 reservation centers located regionally. Sixty of those employees are based at the company’s Glendale headquarters.
Throughout 2010 and 2011, Adelman Travel increased its sales force from five representatives to nine, providing the company more bandwidth to recruit corporate clients nationwide. Most of the travel management firm’s 600 corporate customers are based in the United States.
The company has retained many of its clients for the past five years and beyond, according to Adelman.
“In this day and age, to have especially large corporations and mid-sized corporations stay with you that long of time is pretty much an anomaly for most companies,” Adelman said.
Moving forward with their new leadership responsibilities, Chaiken and Cline plan to continue evolving the dimensions of the company’s travel management offerings and pursuing new customers in both the corporate travel and vacation markets.
Under Chaiken and Cline, Adelman Travel likely will not operate on par with travel agency giants like American Express Travel, BCD Travel or Carlson Wagonlit Travel.
“We want to keep our organization fairly flat so that customers (and) employees can easily get to who they need to get to,” Chaiken said. “But we want to keep adding new customers, growing to other markets (and) looking at new services.”