Business travel is improving

August 20, 2011
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Business travel has risen this year by about 20 percent from last year. Local leisure travel, however, has been put on hold.

“The business accounts that we deal with regularly have really been going out there trying to drum up more business for themselves,” said Michael Malaney, president of Travel Leaders of Grand Rapids. “That part of the business is increasing.”

Malaney said most of the local business travelers his firm serves are going to Shanghai, Frankfurt, Prague and Mexico.

“That tells me that the manufacturing jobs are in those locations for these companies. So it’s good that business travel is up.”

As for leisure travel, Malaney said area consumers seem to be making other spending choices.

“People are buying that refrigerator rather than taking a trip. We’ve been doing a lot of quoting prices for people, but then they become hesitant to make that decision to go,” he said.

Malaney said he had hoped that the cost to travel might have been less expensive than it is due to the uncertainty surrounding the economy. Lower prices might have persuaded more people to take a trip.

“We were hoping they’d be a little cheaper, but they’re still hanging up there pretty high. Whenever you go somewhere, you have to fly on an airline, and the airlines are trying to gouge the traveler as much as they can — that’s my feeling on it. They’re starting to charge for every little thing that you do,” he said.

He also feels people pay too much attention to the overwhelmingly negative news reports about the economy, which makes people afraid to spend anything on travel.

Malaney told the Business Journal that Travel Leaders has booked a few high-end vacations this year. Destinations have included Africa, a cruise on the Rhine River in Germany, and the Panama Canal. But most of the calls his firm has received this year are for the usual vacation packages to Disneyland or Disney World.

Malaney said the best deals currently for leisure travel can be found in the Riviera Maya in Mexico, a 72-mile stretch along the Caribbean coastline of the Yucatan Peninsula. “Those are fabulous resorts with beautiful rooms, great restaurants and beautiful pools right on the beach. It’s very safe in those resort areas of Mexico, and the deals are great,” he said.

Travel Weekly, a trade publication, recently ranked Travel Leaders ninth on a list of the nation’s top 10 travel firms, with its annual sales of $1.8 billion last year. Had the ranking included affiliated agencies such as the one in Grand Rapids, the company’s total sales would have topped $16 billion.

Travel Leaders of Grand Rapids is a locally owned and-operated franchise that has served local travel clients for 31 years. Malaney said sales at his company have risen for the past two years.

“2009 was a real down year for our business. In 2010, we were up quite a bit, as a matter of fact. And this year, we’re up over where we were in 2010, so it’s an upward trend. It’s just not a real steep line; it’s more of a gradual line,” he said.

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