Park City Travel off and flying
For more than 11 years, Parkites, along with the rest of America, have been booking their own travel online. Since 1995, travel agents have become nearly extinct.
In the mid-1990s, Delta lowered the commission paid to travel agents from 10 percent to eight, and then later took it down to five percent before removing it entirely. The rest of the airline industry quickly followed suit.
Barbara Wallack owned a travel agency in New York at the time and was too afraid to charge fees to her clients for booking flights and other travel amenities. She thought her business was going under.
Someone finally talked her into charging $25 per booking, a move she said most of her clients understood. When the rest of the industry began charging $35, she finally moved her fees to $30, which is where they have stayed, even since moving to Utah and opening Park City Travel on Main Street.
"The airlines realized that oil was their No. 1 cost and travel agent fees were No. 2," Wallack said. "They couldn’t do away with oil costs, so it was the travel agent fees that had to go. It makes sense from a business standpoint. If you charged fees you could make it, but if you were scared to do that, like I was, it was very difficult."
Wallack got into the travel business when she worked as a reservation agent for Delta before starting at a travel agency. After the gaining the necessary experience, she opened her own agency on Long Island in New York. She recently decided to move to Park City and start over.
"I got married to a New Yorker in June," she said. "We had come out to Park City before and both loved it. He moved out here a few years ago and I came in February."
Three days after moving to Park City, her new travel agency was born. Until October she ran the business herself, but she has since hired Rena Jensen, a fellow New Yorker. Between the two, they have more than 60 years of experience in the travel reservations industry.
"I was working almost 20 hours a day," Wallack said. "But it’s been great to have Rena here. We have so much in common. Someone like her is hard to come by. I think that unless you get into the industry and you know what’s going on it’s a huge challenge. Even moving from New York to Park City was very difficult. It was hard to leave the business I had set up before."
Wallack said starting Park City Travel was a lot of work, but, because she brought a lot of her New York clients with her, it could have been worse.
In New York she dealt with several corporate clients who have continued to employ Wallack on their behalf. She said her current business is about 50 percent corporate and 50 percent personal bookings.
"I have a few corporations that I still do business with, but I think I’d like to make it more leisure than corporate. I’ve been doing corporate for almost 20 years and I’m getting tired of that."
Although Park City is a destination spot for people around the world, Wallack said she helps more travelers get out of Park City then come in, although she has myriad clients booking flights to Salt Lake and hotels in Park City from the East Coast.
Since the airlines stopped paying travel agents commissions, Wallack said most people have turned to the Internet to find flights. She is the first to admit that, for most destinations, travelers will find better deals online than through an agent. But, she added, that’s not the case for destinations such as Hawaii and other islands.
"If you come in and want a ticket to Florida, nine times out of ten you’ll be able to find a better deal on the Internet than I can get you," she said. "But where a travel agent has the advantage, as far as leisure travel, is if you want to go to Hawaii or on a cruise then I can do better than you."
She said the advantage comes down to being able to put together a complete package. For island vacations, travelers generally need a flight to the main island, than shorter flights between the islands, including separate lodging and car needs at each leg of the trip.
When it comes to putting together a flight/hotel/car rental package, she said, travel agents have the upper hand. And, she added, it’s a lot less complicated and time consuming for someone looking to get away.
"A travel agent will charge for an airline ticket, so I don’t want a client who just wants a single ticket because I don’t want to charge them for something they could do for themselves on the Internet. I’m here to help people save money," she said.
"But if that’s what people want, I’m happy to do it," she continued. "I have a lot of clients who won’t go on the Internet. They don’t use it, or, for some of the older generations, they don’t know how. I have clients who don’t even own a computer."
Most of all, Wallack said travel agents are able to put their experience and excitement for travel into a client’s vacation, which makes for a good time. Her greatest reward, she said, is when people come back from vacations, bring in their photographs, and tell her how much fun they had.
"I love doing trips for people, it’s just fun," she said. "But to be in this industry you have to love to travel yourself. You have to want to do trips for other people and make them happy."
Park City Travel is located in the Treasure Mountain Inn building at 255 Main Street and can be reached at (435) 940-0111. They are open Monday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday by appointment.
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