Providence Business News

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Providence Business News

New Englanders are famous for having a David vs. Goliath complex, something lurking in their DNA that says just because something is bigger doesn't mean it's better. It's why locally brewed Sam Adams beer can do battle successfully in local eateries and pubs with a nationwide powerhouse likes Anheuser-Busch. Why Ben & Jerry's can hold its own in supermarket freezers with giants like Haagen-Dazs. And I haven't even touched upon that little skirmish in Lexington nearly 250 years ago.

So my antenna goes up when I hear that more and more local travel-management companies are being swallowed up by much larger entities, as was the case recently with Travison being bought out by Australian-based CTM, and Norwood, Mass.-based Colpitts World Travel acquired by Colorado-based Direct Travel, one of the county's largest TMCs.

How can doubling or tripling the size of a company you deal with be a good thing? How can there possibly be more prompts on a phone call that you have to hit before you speak to a real person?

The head of a company once told me the reason he turned down an independent TMC was because of its size, and if it were a bigger agency it would have won the job hands down. I've known this company for a long time and knew that the choices they were making were wrong. It is now apparent that the implementation has not been smooth and the introduction of the online booking tool has been dreadful, with a thorough lack of communication not helping the matter.

As companies grow they begin to compartmentalize, to erect silos that make communication frustrating, so that when a problem occurs getting to the person with the answer is like navigating a hedge maze.

The difference in dealing with smaller companies is in the beginning stages. Companies notice right away the lack of an elaborate PowerPoint presentation, or a cookie-cutter approach where someone tries to fit your round business into their square hole. What you will see most often is that the person sitting across the conference table when you make the deal is the same one you'll likely get on the phone, or at the very least you'll be able to connect with the one or two people sitting to his or her left and right. And it might very well be via their personal cellphone.

There's a certain level of responsiveness that only a small firm can deliver because it operates with just one single level of leadership. This one degree of separation makes decision-making and problem-solving efficient and nonrepetitive. By working with the key persons involved, everyone greatly reduces wasted energy.

By the very nature of their size, smaller firms have fewer clients, which means they also have the ability to foresee problems before they arise, and then to act more quickly to resolve them.

And if being "poorer" means less overhead in terms of big salaries and glass towers, then so be it. It just means there are more financial opportunities available to keep up with the latest technology and more time available to stay in close touch with past and current clients.

So with the stroke of a pen, companies such as Travison and other smaller TMCs get bigger and customers are now told that they will reap the benefits of supporting this growth. But as the number of independent TMCs in New England – and across the country – dwindles, you can only hope that when companies plan their business travel, that they realize bigger doesn't always mean better. •

Franc Jeffrey is CEO of EQ Travel, with offices in the United Kingdom and Boston. He can be reached at