The events of Sept. 11, the slump in the economy and the popularity of Internet booking sites have combined to paint a bleak picture for travel agents elsewhere in the country, but Alaska travel agents seem to be largely immune to the hard times others in their profession are facing.
"There hasn't been any decline in business as far as we're concerned," said Karen Munger, owner of The Travel Place in Soldotna. "I think everyone in and outside of the Kenai Peninsula can expect a pretty busy summer and travel season."
The isolated nature of Alaska largely shielded travel agents from declining business because residents are limited in their travel options.
"Up here, I think we're a little different because we really have no other option than to fly," said Teena Dyer, owner of Penny's Travel Agency in Kenai. "If we have two weeks of vacation, we're not going to drive to Florida. If airlines are running good cheap prices, people go."
Even after Sept. 11, business didn't slow as much for travel agents in Alaska as it did elsewhere in the country.
"There were a few right after it happened that canceled their trips," Dyer said. "I can honestly say we had maybe two or three that didn't want to fly, but the rest just got rescheduled."
Sept. 11 wasn't the first threat to business success travel agents have had to deal with lately. The ease and speed of buying tickets over the Internet has caused travel booking sites to grow in popularity and take business from travel agents. But area agents said they have weathered that storm, too.
"There's been some decline (in business) but not to any serious degree," Munger said. "And we do a lot of business in cash and government purchase orders that can't be done online. I don't think for this area it's a real big issue, some people do it, but it's easier for most to use a travel agent and have someone to blame."
Sept. 11 may have helped boost business for travel agents in a way because they were more able to help stranded travelers than online companies were.
"I think people tried (the Web sites) a lot more up here at the beginning but had problems if they tried to get a real person to help them," Dyer said. "After Sept. 11 we got all our people all rebooked and taken care of. The ones we heard had nightmares were the ones that did it online."
Barbara Romine, Kenai Peninsula district manager for One Stop Travel, cautions customers not to jump on Web sites and assume they're getting the best price for tickets.
"I have had more than one client tell me they had purchased tickets on the Internet and I asked what they paid, and it was way too much," she said. "I always tell people checking the Web is a good source of information, but they should never purchase tickets on the Internet unless they check with an agent first and check prices. It may be a quick and easy way of obtaining information, but it's not always the best deal."
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