Despite a changing industry, travel agent finds success in local market
There are the lucky few that spend much of their lives taking vacations, but the travel agent isn’t one of them. Patty Horst, owner of Patty’s Travel, would like to be booking more of her own trips someday.
Horst struck out on her own in 2003 and formed Patty’s Travel when the travel agency she was working for sold. She brings about 25 years of experience in the travel industry. Experience in accounting and marketing also helped her launch her own business. Horst operates Patty’s Travel out of a home office in Washougal. While advances in technology have made it easier for travelers to plan trips without travel agents, these same advances also have made it easier to run a successful agency from home.
"The industry has changed so much," said Horst. "A lot of storefronts have closed down."
Patty’s Travel focuses on creating custom international leisure vacations. Europe, particularly Italy, is the most requested destination. European travel is on the rebound following a significant decline that impacted the entire industry after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001.
Horst’s clients tend to be families and couples. Cruises are popular with baby boomers and retirees, she said. The majority of her client base is local, but her Web site draws clients from around the world.
Horst also has partnered with another local agency owner to form U.S.A. River Cruises, specializing in small-ship cruises, including several on the Columbia River. Agencies that can create a niche are much more successful, she said.
"I still feel there is a need for travel agents," she said. "You just have to learn to change with (the industry)."
U.S.A. River Cruises expects to market to businesses for corporate and group events, said Horst.
The summer actually is the slow season for travel agents. Much of Horst’s work is done from January to April while planning summer trips for clients. But she keeps busy this time of the year booking Christmas and spring break vacations.
Patty’s Travel is beginning to develop a strong repeat customer base, and much of her business comes from referrals, she said. The ability to customize and personalize vacations keeps her clients from relying solely on the Internet when trip planning.
The U.S.A River Cruises partnership will be a source of significant growth going forward, said Horst. And then maybe she can take a vacation.