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Travel Agency Grows Despite Pandemic

Travel Agency Grows Despite Pandemic

Anastasia Mann has been growing Corniche Group Inc.’s client roster out of West Hollywood during the pandemic, a time when many boutique travel agencies faced acquisitions or closures. By partnering with hotel suppliers and car services through a consortium, the Corniche Group became a one-stop-shop to plan itineraries for corporate and leisure travel. Mann says her company’s growth can be attributed to its independent status as larger travel firms struggle to tailor to clients’ specific needs. At a time when airline passengers report record dissatisfaction with service and global travel interest spikes among Americans, she says her consultants 24/7 availability can ease travelers’ anxiety. 

Why has your company grown so quickly?

With the travel industry you have to take into consideration the pandemic. We had a very significant recovery. There aren’t as many privately owned independent travel management companies around. Many over the years have been taken over by companies that were going after market share and getting larger. Especially during the pandemic, many companies merged and started picking up smaller companies that were nervous.

Once people started to feel safe to travel again, many people, more than our normal market share, began to go for leisure. And we had a number of referrals for leisure travel. We not only retained a business that had paused, but we gained a lot of new customers because their former (travel agencies) had been absorbed somewhere else and the type of service they received was not what they were accustomed to.

What are your particular challenges of fast growth? Recruiting enough skilled people? The drive to expand supply chains? Acquiring enough space for your expanding needs? 

I have a really good infrastructure. I did cut back on my office space little by little. I had an office in Anaheim, and that space I don’t need back because we are basically consulting 24/7 remotely. Most of my consultants are on salaried positions, and we are very conscientious about being available for our clients in whatever time zone they are in. It’s just our M.O. for doing business.

Growing companies often relocate out of California. Do you think that trend will continue? Are you tempted to do so?

California is, as any business owner will tell you, the most difficult state to operate a business in for various reasons. I’m fully supportive of raising minimum wages, and we’ve always paid well over minimum wage for our hourly employees. But what the state of California does is when there’s an increase in the minimum wage, they automatically increase across the board. Your salaried employees’ wages get bumped up. A travel management company is not a high profit business, it’s a very low margin business. So every time this happens, it’s really a struggle. And, of course, taxation is a big issue. A lot of businesses in other tourism-related areas have moved out of the state because they’re constantly being taxed. So (moving) is a consideration.

There’s been a long-standing prediction of a recession. Do you believe one is coming soon? If so, what have you done to prepare for it? How do you project it will affect you?
If there is one, which I hope not, it will affect the leisure side of travel. It might affect business travel as to how far they go destination wise, if they’re going to hold a meeting in London instead of Philadelphia, if they’re going to fly in business or in coach versus first class, those types of issues regarding financial expenditures on travel. But I am a positive thinker, and I do not think we’re going to be in a recession that hits us that way.

If you could go back in time, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently at your company?

I wouldn’t do anything differently than what I’ve done. I’ve had offers from (large travel companies), but I don’t want to become them. I can’t give our clients what we give them if we were to become that large or be a part of a major company.

What’s the most important piece of advice you’d offer to another leader whose company is experiencing fast growth?

Try to analyze both old business and new business and look at what they’re doing to attain that growth and how they’re managing it, because to have growth without the ability to service it can be disastrous. Sometimes it’s wise to turn business down because you can threaten your entire reputation.

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