Travelers snared in the Web Featured

9:51am EDT July 22, 2002

Lake Cable Travel’s business has more than tripled in the last five years, thanks in part to its emerging presence on the Web.

The 26-year-old business, among the oldest travel agencies in Canton, was doing about $500,000 a year in sales when Art and Jan Schneller bought it five years ago. About two years ago, the couple moved the agency online, and today, sales top $1.6 million a year.

“We saw then that the Internet was the way to go,” Jan Schneller says. “The travel industry is very competitive. We felt that getting on the Internet would help us alot, and it really has.”

The site features vacation packages, an online magazine with stories and photos on travel destinations worldwide and answers to frequently asked questions. Leading the site is the Cruise Search Network, which allows clients to describe the cruise they’re looking for and the price they’re willing to pay. The agency then searches its inventory for a match, and vacationers get better deals by booking online.

For Lake Cable Travel, being on the Internet didn’t have an immediate impact, Schneller says. But Web-related business began increasing as search engines included the site, and increased even more after it began advertising on Hometown Ohio, a Massillon Internet site.

Schneller estimates about 25 percent of Lake Cable’s customers come to it through the Web, but expects that to increase.

“It’s still a really young thing for the travel industry,” she says. “It’s a real growth area. You’ve got to be on the Internet to survive. You’ve got to be unique and your site has to be something really different.”

Many who come to the agency through the Internet are Canton area residents who find the company online, then stop in in person to follow through. And though much of the agency’s business remains local, the Web is increasing its reach. It recently sent a westside Cleveland man on vacation after he searched for Cancun on the Web and came across Lake Cable’s packages.

The Internet has benefited the agency in other ways as well.

“The Internet has changed the way people travel,” Schneller says. “With people going on the Net all the time, they’re getting more information and they’re a lot more savvy when they call us.”

That helps travelers give the agent a better idea of what they want.

“Before, people would call and say, “I want to go on vacation,” Schneller says. “We’d ask, ‘Where do you want to go?’ and they’d say, ‘I don’t know. Why don’t you recommend something.’ I can suggest a whole lot of places, but I don’t know you and I don’t know your interests.”

With the Internet at their fingertips, travelers are researching multiple locales to find their dream destination before getting the travel agent involved.

“They’ll check out some Cancun sites, and they’ll know a lot more about it before they call,” Schneller says. “They may not know a specific property” they want to stay at, but they do know they want to go Cancun.

That Internet savvy can work against independent agencies as computer users book vacations through sites such as Preview Travel.com and Travelocity.com. Schneller says the downside of booking that way is that the service often stops there, while a travel agency combines the best of the Internet and personal service.

“When you have a problem, who is going stand up for you?” Schneller says. “No one is going to help you. With our volume of business with tour operators and cruise lines, they do listen and we can address problems right away.”

How to reach: Lake Cable Travel, (800) 257-6622, (330) 494-8884, or lakecabletravel.com