TraveLeaders firm acquires way to top of independentsBy Marilyn Bowden
A new but fast-growing travel agency in Coral Gables has opened a Latin American division with acquisitions that principals say catapults it to the top of the market.
Launched in January, TraveLeaders Group has acquired 13 businesses to become the largest independent travel services provider in Florida, says Chairman and CEO Keith St. Clair, with nearly $700 million in annual gross revenues and more than 500 employees in 40 offices across the country.
A 20-year veteran in the travel industry in the UK, Mr. St. Clair, who said he moved to the US seven years ago, served as a consultant to a number of corporate and leisure companies before founding TraveLeaders.
While TraveLeaders is new, he said, the companies it has purchased have an average age of 20. The principals, he said, have all become shareholders.
After acquiring three Miami agencies specializing in Latin American travel DeLara Travel Consultants, Around the World Travel and Express Travel Mr. St. Clair last week announced the formation of a Latin American division with more than 100 customer-service representatives fluent in English, Spanish and Portuguese.
"That makes us certainly the largest Latin American specialist in Miami," he said.
The division, based in Coral Gables, will offer corporate customer services, including discounted air fares, customized hotel programs and help with acquiring visas and passports.
He said the company plans to open network offices in Argentina, Brazil and Chile.
"The formation of the Latin American Division represents another step in our aggressive strategy to create full-service programs serving niche travel markets," Mr. St. Clair said. "Travel statistics for the past year suggest that for the first time Latin America will have exceeded Europe as an outgoing destination."
Mercedes Dessau, formerly of Varig Travel, has been appointed director of sales for Latin America, he said. TraveLeaders' Lorry Santana will be account services manager.
Ten days ago, Mr. St. Clair said, the company launched a website he describes as "cutting edge, not bleeding edge.
"Major research suggests that by 2005, 10% of the travel industry may go through the web," he said. "That means the residual business travel agents deal with is nearly $200 billion.
"So is there a new web-based business developing? Yes. Is it a panacea? No. But we do need to be a part of it and we are."
Details: (305) 567-0484 or traveleaders.com.
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