Tourism & Hospitality and Small Biz Updates and Travel Agencies and Travel and Small Business

Earle Travel Co. perseveres despite flu scare, recession

July 27, 2009

Address: 4737 E. 82nd St.
Phone: 813-3131
E-mail: kelly@earletravel.com
Web site: earletravel.com
Founded: 1977
Founder: Constance Earle
Owners: Kelly Shea, Ariane Ely and Jane Essenburg
Service/product: travel agency
Employees: six
Revenue: $4.5 million
Date of first profile: Feb. 7, 2005

Earle Travel Co. has been weathering challenges as the recession has deepened and H1N1 influenza spiked earlier this year. Those problems have nearly capsized many travel agencies, but Earle Travel’s business slumped only 8 percent last year, which meant a $10,000 drop in revenue, said co-owner Kelly Shea. She believes the worst of it to be over by the end of this year and expects a rebound in 2010.

For the first time since the travel slowdown after 9/11, Earle Travel recently organized a promotional event for clients to encourage them to plan trips and to give them travel ideas. The agency is trying to make clients aware of opportunities created by the recession, like deals on cruises.

Even though people are rethinking how they spend their discretionary income, Earle’s clients have remained loyal, Shea said.

“Luckily, most of our clients have not felt the pressure of the recession,” she said.

Another reason the company has done well is the high ratings it has received from Angie’s List and such travel magazines as Travel and Leisure and Traveler. The company has received 40 referrals because of those rankings, Shea said. She also has been asked to be on Saveur magazine’s new culinary travel advisory board.

In spite of the flu outbreak, Mexico remains an attractive destination, Shea said. Only two clients dropped out of a group spring break Mexico trip that Earle organized this year. Mexico is a favorite honeymoon and Christmas spot, too. Earle’s clients often prefer custom itineraries as opposed to packaged group trips, Shea said.

Europe accounts for 75 percent of the travel arranged by the agency, but Earle is looking to branch out—to Africa, Australia and South America. The approach of Earle’s owners is first to experience a new place themselves, so they can share their knowledge (and their photos) of the place with clients. Co-owner Jane Essenburg, whose son is a chef in a New Zealand hotel, is gearing up for a group trip to New Zealand in 2010.

Shea’s own favorite destination is Greece, which she has visited 19 times. She has been going to Hydra since a 1978 trip there when she was in college. Hydra is a tiny Aegean Sea island, 13 miles long and five miles across, with no neon signs, a very strict building code and donkeys for transportation instead of cars. The sea, the island, the people, their passion, their music, their way of life—all make Greece special to her.•

 

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