HACKENSACK â€” It seems like the Internet should have killed travel agencies.
These days, anyone can find the fare they want and the hotel they want on their own, all without budging from their desk.
But Florida Vacations, based in Hackensack, is thriving, increasing sales seven times over by bringing on dozens of new agents. And Vacation.com, a consortium of more than 5,000 travel agencies, recently recognized Florida Vacations as one of six member agencies with the fastest year-over-year sales growth.
Robert F. Schoonhen, who founded Florida Vacations 15 years ago, said some travelers still prefer the personal touch of a travel agent.
“If you’re spending $10,000 on a honeymoon, isn’t it nicer to call someone up versus just booking it on your own?” he said.
Schoonhen started the business just as the Internet was starting to disrupt the industry. But the Paramus resident used it to his advantage, allowing him to draw clients from across and even outside the country. The agency, located in a nondescript office on State Street, has no walk-in traffic to speak of.
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While the Schoonhen started the business strictly booking trips to Florida, it has expanded to destinations worlwide.
In time, Betty Krystyniak and Brigitte Kiledjian, who oversee the roughly 50 outside agents who work with Florida Travels, joined the business.
The three have kept up with social media to make it easier for potential customers to find them.
“You have to keep everybody informed,” Kiledjian said. “If you just lay back and do nothing, they’re not going to come to you.”
But the most important way they’ve retained customers, Schoonhen said, is by being available to clients. Schoonhen fields calls from customers at all hours of the day.
“Certain people want to be able to call someone,” he said. “People feel important when they can say ‘I can call someone.'”
The company is poised to take advantage of an expected increase in summer travel this year. A study by American Express found that 69 percent of Americans plan to travel over the summer, a 17 percent increase over last year.
“I think the country as a whole is coming to a realization that they need pleasure in their life besides work,” Krystyniak said.