In a story yesterday about Washington's travel agency business, Karen Preston was incorrectly identified as an in-house travel agent for The Washington Post. Her proper title is "travel coordinator."
Rosalie Russell knows the travelling habits of Washington's business and professional crowd, and they nettle her.
As manager of the American Express travel bureau downtown, she writes hundreds of tickets each week for law firms, trade associations and manufacturers. She has handled corporate accounts in other big cities like Los Angeles and Denver, and some in a few small cities, as well. But Washington, she says, out-pains them all.
This is the most difficult city," she grumbled ofhandedly during a recent interview. "Everyone thinks they're so important."
This portrait of Washington as home of the nation's proudest passenger is also attested to by Ralford Pierce, manager of Marriott World Travel. "The law firms are the hardest to handle," he confided. "They're self-professed prima donnas. They are the most exacting. I mean, their secretaries will say that."
So there it is. Washington's professional community demands greater care and attention than most. But there is also the flip side. The people in this town travel a lot to get out of town, and they do it in style, paying top dollar on the way.
"This is a crazy community for travel," Pierce said. "They like to go first class and will generally book a bigger car. They'r not on as tight a budget as, say, the aerospace and manufacturing firms in L.A. are."
The money, of course, is why the travel agents are in the business they are in. There is big money especially to be had in taking care of corporate accounts. So, looking a bit like gluttons for punishment, local travel firms are beginning to scream for more.
Marriot and American Express have become the leaders in a developing a trend away from tourist-orientated package tours and into high-volume corporate bookings. Located on the 10th floor of a K Street office building, Marriott even avoids the street-level office other travel bureaus have fought to get in order to be more readily accessible to the traveling public. The kind of travel planning Marriott does takes place high above the sidewalks in phone links to corporate boardrooms and executive suites around the city.
The American Express office is located on the street, and bookings there are split evenly between the tourist and commercial trade. But the balance is expected to tilt in favor of business next year.
"Business travel is year-in and year-out," Russell said. "It can be very lucrative if handled well. If business gets bad, there even travel more. Plus, there are all sorts of referrals of family members."
This new bid for the corporate travel dollar has unnerved company traffic managers who traditionally have been the ones hired fulltime to handle travel arrangements for the members of a firm. By going to an outside agent, these managers say, the company sacrifices preferential rates on hotel and rent-a-car bookings it used to get; it loses its company identity and special privileges; and, in the long run, it raises arlines rates, because the more business travel agents do, the more commissions the airline must pay, and the higher rates become.
"The more reservations which start going to them (outside agents), the more we'll all be paying to fly," said Karen Nicola Preston, head of the Greater Washington Passenger Traffic Asociation and the in-house travel agent for The Washington Post.
But the outside agents argue they can provide the same discounts on hotels and car rental that companies - at least the big ones - might be able to get on their own, while providing more professional, experienced travel counseling more efficiently than in-house managers.
"We're the technicians of travel," Pierce boasted.