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Local Travel Agencies Adapt to Digital Age

The Internet has disrupted the business of traditional travel agencies, with most struggling to survive.

Brick-and-mortar travel agencies in South Gate have been forced to get creative as more people flock to Internet services for their travel needs.  

According to the Airlines Reporting Corp., a company that provides the travel industry with financial services, a total of 37,981 travel agencies in 2001 were in business while only 16,564 were operating as of March 2011.

The convenience of the digital market place is tough competition for local businesses to beat, with huge declines in business sales reported. In South Gate, the story appears to be the same as local travel agency owners struggle to keep their businesses solvent.

“[Business] was very good before,” said Rosa Cuadra, owner of on Tweedy Boulevard. Five years ago, her business would receive a little over $100,000 in annual revenues, but has only been able to make an average of around $60,000 in recent years.

Three years ago, Americana also employed three full-time employees, but now can only afford to have two part-time employees. “Right now business is bad,” Cuadra said.

Pricing is one of the ways a local agency can beat a powerful Internet travel service company along with using the commissions that travel agencies receive from airlines. 

“We get a commission [from the airlines] and we give [the customer] part of it to give them a discount,” said Cuadra. “[This makes] the ticket cheaper than on the Web.”

Even with the lower prices, it is still difficult to get customers in this economic downturn. The expediency of using Web sites is something that even a lower price cannot beat.

“It is easier to see [travel options] with their computer at home,” admitted Cuadra.

Offering services or products at cheaper prices is not the only thing that travel agencies are doing to keep their businesses afloat. Some have opted to broaden the kinds of services they offer to outside of the travel and leisure industry.

Yelba de Trinidad, owner of , offers notary services, marriage licenses and car insurance as well as the usual travel services. “We have been able to find other alternatives to keep on going while we go through these bad times,” she said.

Tweedy Travel had its most profitable period from 1994 to 2004. Now, its airplane ticket division has just 20 percent of the business it had during better times. Employees in her travel division who earn their salaries from sales commissions admit it has been tough to make a living.

“The commissions are now less,” said Ricardo Martinez, 24, who has sold travel products at Tweedy Travel for the past three years. Prior to 2008, a bad week was when sales would earn him a commission of $380. Now, he is luck to earn a commission of $300. “There is less work,” he said.

Beyond offering lower prices and expanded services, the agencies try to employ customer service techniques to keep loyal customers and maintain constant sales.

“If someone wants [to wait for a lower price], I will tell them I’ll let them know,” said Cuadra. “They are going to have to spend several days doing that if they use the Internet.”

Other customers may appreciate dealing with a real person who can be flexible with their financial concerns. Vilma Maria Duarte is one such traveler.

“Sometimes I don’t have the payment and they have given me a few days of lag time [until I do] have the money to purchase the ticket],” said Duarte, a resident of La Mirada, who has been using Tweedy Travel since the late '90s. “On the Internet, I don’t have this flexibility.”

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