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Agents keep an edge in online travel era

Published: Sunday, Feb. 9, 2014 5:20 a.m. CDT • Updated: Monday, Feb. 10, 2014 10:13 a.m. CDT
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(H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com)
Cary Travel Express travel consultant Letitia Mika (left) and owner Neelie Kruse discuss a client's itenerary change.
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(H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com)
Cary Travel Express travel consultant Mary Joe Babiarz checks prices for a client at the company's Jandus Road office.
Caption
(H. Rick Bamman – hbamman@shawmedia.com)
A globe and old suitcase are part of the eclectic decor at Cary Travel Express.

CARY – It's Spring Break 2008 and Mary Massaro has booked a Caribbean cruise with her family along with more than two dozen others.

As you know all too well, dear reader, Midwestern weather is anything but predictable at that time of year.

The Massaro's, of Cary, were set to fly out of Milwaukee but a major snow storm closed the airport and grounded all the flights.

Lucky for Massaro, she says, she booked the trip through Cary Travel Express. Owner and Certified Travel Consultant Neelie Kruse, was escorting the stranded group.

Kruse moved mountains to save their vacation. Almost like magic, she charted a bus to drive them to the nearest open airport where they caught the next flight to south Florida.

A day and a half later, everyone was boarding a cruise liner that would take them through the Caribbean.

"Had we booked on Expedia or Travelocity, we would have been in Milwaukee and had two very disappointed children who would have been home in the snow on their Spring Break and not enjoying the Caribbean," Massaro said. "To me that speaks volumes about using a travel agent."

It's that sort of personalized service that has made Cary Travel Express a mainstay in an industry often strained by competition from online travel agencies.

This month, Kruse and 14 travel agents with Cary Travel Express will mark 25 years in business. She calls it the best job on earth – one in which she opens new worlds to local travelers.

Kruse has been in the industry for more than three decades and has seen it change, but perhaps never more than with emergence of Internet travel agencies.

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, travelers using the Internet to research and book their own trips are expected to continue to suppress demand for travel agents.

Employment of travel agents is projected to decline 12 percent from 2012 to 2022. The industry employees 105,300 full time travel agents, according to the Bureau's most recent statistics.

While the Internet has created new competition, it isn't all bad, Kruse said. Travelers can see full color pictures their destinations, they can research ideas, but travel agents can take it from there. Kruse said she can save customer hours of research and thousands of mouse clicks.

Furthermore, agents are there for clients if a travel crisis occurs – much like the problems the Massaro's ran into.

"You book online and you look at a picture. When you get there, it doesn't look the picture but you don't have anyone to call," Kruse said. "We're there to go to bat for you if something happens."

Kruse and her agents are well-traveled, so part of their personal touch is advising clients with first-hand knowledge about the trips they are about to book.

Travel agent's contacts all over the globe also can provide a tailor-made trip, and often at matched or even lower prices than those found on the Internet, Kruse said.

Cary Travel Express plans many group trips, such as the one the Massaro's took that fateful spring, and another they're taking next month when Kruse leads a group of 44 to Australia, New Zealand and Tahiti.

Jealous? Join the club.

"Tahiti was probably one of most beautiful places I've ever been," Kruse said.

There is no fee to use Cary Travel Express and there's no trip too small.

"When you're ready to travel, go in and give them a try," Mary Massaro said. "They opened up a whole new world for us."

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Cary Travel Express

What: Travel agency marking its 25th year McHenry County

Address: 9 Jandus Road, Cary

Phone: 847-639-3300

Website: www.carytravelexpress.com

Most visited places for McHenry County travelers: Mexico and Italy, according to owner Neelie Kruse.

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