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Travel industry great place to start small

| Tuesday, March 19, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

If you want to start your own small business and have a desire to see the world, consider the many opportunities for entrepreneurs in the travel industry.

If you think the Internet destroyed all small travel agencies and travel-related small businesses, think again.

I recently was invited on a flight with leaders in the travel industry and had a chance to explore prospects for travel entrepreneurs with some of the best thinkers in the field. British Airways operates a 32-seat, all-business-class flight between London City Airport and New York City, perfect for business travelers.

At almost 9 percent of America's total gross domestic product — generating more than a trillion dollars a year — travel and tourism represent a big chunk of the overall economy. And small businesses get a share of that.

“A lot of young people are bringing exciting new approaches,” said Arnie Weissmann, senior vice president and editor-in-chief of Travel Weekly. “People predicted that travel agencies would disappear, but they're still here. In 1995, there were 36,000 agencies; there are 14,000 today.”

Travel agents still number almost 83,000, according to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. And the travel industry added 81,000 jobs in 2012, according to the U.S. Travel Association.

In spite of news in mid-January that American Express will cut 5,400 jobs, mostly in its travel-services unit, opportunities for entrepreneurs exist.

“You won't necessarily see the travel agency in a strip mall or on Main Street,” Weissmann said. “Many of today's new travel agencies are home based. They seem invisible. But they've reduced their overhead and lowered the bar for entry into the field.”

Two segments of travel agencies are doing particularly well: luxury/upscale travel and niche travel, he said.

“Start with what you know and love. If you run marathons, organize trips around marathons,” he said. And go the extra mile to stand out.

Twitter: @RhondaAbrams. Facebook: facebook.com/RhondaAbramsSmallBusiness.

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