Top 10: Where are they now?
The 1992 list was based on total sales for 1991. Most of the agencies then in the Top 50 focused on business travel. In fact, Liberty Travel was the only one in the top 10 primarily focused on leisure. At the time, most leisure travel was firmly in the hands of smaller agencies, which tended not to tackle corporate accounts.
As noted in the introduction by then-Travel Weekly reporter Eric Lassiter, who compiled this first list, 1991 was a tough year for the industry. But by the time the list was released in April 1992, most agencies reported that business had improved over the previous six months. Thanks to discounts, cruises have remained a glimmer of hope for leisure agencies, if not for cruise passengers.
Here’s a look at the top 10 from 1992 and where they stand today.
1No. 1 on the list was New York-based American Express. The company’s travel business dates back to 1915, when it announced it would offer American and Canadian customers tours as close as upstate New York and as far away as New Zealand. .
By 1992, the company had more than 800 company-owned and representative agencies in the United States and 1,700 worldwide.
He was to hold the No. 1 position until he was ousted by Expedia in 2010. (After hearing this news, then Expedia CEO Dara Khosrowshahi told Travel Weekly’s Arnie Weissmann that the rise was “a wonderful thing, a great honour”, but he feared that Amex would take over. “We never want to go back to No. 2 or 3 again.” Alas, it was not Amex he should have worried about (Booking Holdings knocked Expedia out of the top spot this year.)
An Amex spokesperson noted that Amex Travel is very different today than it was in 1992. Back then, agency operations were consolidated under the Amex Travel Services group, which included travel business and consumption. Today, these companies are separated. Amex is now just a minority investor in business-focused American Express Global Business Travel, No. 3 on the Power 2022 list and a publicly traded company; it split in 2014 and became jointly owned by Amex and a group of investors led by Certares, before going public.
American Express Travel, the leisure sector, ranks 6th in today’s Power List. If its and Amex GBT’s sales were combined, they would be around $12 billion but would still be left behind by Expedia, at $72.4 billion, and Booking Holdings, at $76.6 billion. .
2 Number 2 on the 1992 list was Carlson Travel Network in Minneapolis. Its US operations would merge with Wagonlit Travel in Europe to form Carlson Wagonlit Travel in 1994; in 2019, the company officially changed its name to CWT.
Much of what in 1992 was Carlson Travel Network was the result of the acquisition of Ask Mr. Foster, a leisure agency founded in 1888. Wagons-Lits – literally, “sleeping cars” – also dates back more 100 years old, tracing its origins to an 1872 company that added sleeping compartments to trains in Europe. The leisure part of the business was divested in 2008 to Carlson Cos. and was absorbed into the agency cluster that eventually became Internova Travel Group (also part of Certares’ investment portfolio).
3 No. 3 Thomas Cook Travel was founded in the United Kingdom in 1841. In the United States, it was headquartered in Cambridge, Mass. Its formation was the result of a partnership in 1989 between Cook, Crimson Travel Service and Heritage Travel. The partnership was led by David Paresky, who founded Crimson and later, with his wife, Linda, bought Heritage. Eventually, the Pareskys took full control of the American operations, eventually selling the company to American Express in 1994.
4 Number 4 in 1992 was the sales agency Rosenbluth Travel in Philadelphia, then celebrating its 100th anniversary. In 2003, American Express would buy the company (then known as Rosenbluth International). A separate leisure-focused company, Rosenbluth Vacations, was not part of the sale. It works today but is not on the Power List.
5 USTravel in Rockville, Maryland was No. 5 in 1992. It merged with IVI Business Travel International in 1995 to form BTI Americas. Three years later, seven of its executives executed a buyout with funding from WorldTravel International, parent company of Atlanta-based WorldTravel Partners.
BTI then merged with WorldTravel Partners. In 2001, the company became WorldTravel BTI, then in 2006 it joined with two other companies to form BCD Travel, which ranks 4th in Travel Weekly’s 2022 Power List.
6 Liberty Travel in Ramsey, NJ was No. 6 on the list in 1992. It opened its first storefront in Times Square in 1951. In 2008 it was acquired by Australia-based Flight Center Travel Group. Today, the US branch of Flight Center sits at #7 on the Power List, and Liberty is still in business as part of the Flight Center family.
seven No. 7 in 1992 was IVI Travel in Northbrook, Illinois. IVI merged with 1992’s No. 5 USTravel in 1995. After several permutations over the years, it would become part of BCD Travel.
8 Maritz Travel in Fenton, Missouri was number 8 in 1992. Carlson Wagonlit Travel purchased its corporate travel division in 2004. The deal did not include the meeting, event and incentive travel management portion of its activity; Maritz Global Events is still in business and markets itself as an “experience design company”.
9 Wagons-Lits Travel USA in Dayton, Ohio came in at No. 9. Wagons-Lits USA was a subsidiary of Wagons-Lits Travel, a multinational agency based in Paris. According to CEO Gregg Bedell’s obituary, he and his partner would buy Northwest Travel in 1994, which merged with Wagons-Lits Travel USA to become World Travel Partners – later BCD – in 1998. It is unclear how Wagons-Lits Travel USA was tied to the group that would become CWT.
ten Rounding out the 1992 top 10, corporate agency Omega World Travel in Falls Church, Va., is still owned by President and Founder Gloria Bohan and is No. 21 on the 2022 Power List.
If the comparison between the top agencies of 1992 and the Power List 2022 speaks for anything, it’s the inevitability of change. In 1992, four of the top 10 could go back more than 100 years. In 2022, the first two are products of the Internet, a technology barely understood by consumers in 1992.
“It just goes to show that even if you’re one of the greatest today, in the next 30 years you’re probably going to be bought out or changed. Or something like that,” said Roger Block, president of Travel Leaders Network, a division of Internova. “And the funny thing is, new guys are popping up and growing up.”