Eric Ardolino with his wife, Patti, and twin sons, Andrew (left) and Jon (right), in Telluride, CO.
In the technology wars that have engulfed the travel agency industry, few travel agents have fought as long or as successfully as Eric Ardolino, owner of A&S Travel Center, Wallingford, CT.
Like thousands of other agents, Ardolino has survived the evolution of the GDS, the emergence of the Internet and online travel sales, commission cuts and the proliferation of websites and the current dominance of desktop systems.
A veteran travel agent, Ardolino has made a go of it as a brick-and-mortar, full-service agency. A&S has two branches, seven full-time agents and six independent contractors. His business mix is about 35 percent corporate and the balance is leisure (consisting of cruises, tours and groups).
Founded in 1981, A&S Travel’s annual sales are currently in the $5 million to $7 million range and both branches are in small shopping malls. “We welcome the impulse buyer and have the advantage of walk-in business,” Ardolino says. “We don’t see it as distraction.”
What It Takes to Succeed
Like any successful agency leader, Ardolino pays close attention to the bottom line and believes in sound management practices. He has been a consistent advocate of agencies to adopt and apply technology—back and front office—to improve efficiency, gain time savings and improve customer service capabilities.
“Today’s travel agency takes for granted the advantages technology offers. Technologies such as the Internet have transformed the industry and changed how consumers shop and buy travel,” he notes. “Technology has also helped owners manage their businesses better.”
Uniquely, Ardolino has also devoted 30-plus years to the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA). He has served terms as an ASTA chapter president and area director and won national elections as both ASTA’s national treasurer and secretary.
Today, Ardolino is heavily involved with Vacation.com, the 5,100-agency-member network, as well as serving on its agent advisory board. He also chairs Vacation.com’s technology committee.
“Vacation.com has been at the cutting edge of developing new technologies. EZguider, Vacation.com’s newest desktop system, will give member agencies and their agents tremendous advantages,” Ardolino says.
He also notes the importance of major GDSs, including Sabre and Amadeus, which have sustained a history of innovation in new technologies. Ardolino even won an award from Sabre for his contributions.
Technology and the Future
Ardolino believes that technology has changed the industry, including suppliers as well as travel agents, and that there is more innovation coming. “Technology is transforming how agents communicate with clients and how they promote travel,” Ardolino says.
Major suppliers such as Royal Caribbean, Travel Impressions and Globus are making great strides, he notes. He also sees major systems widely used by agencies, such as TRAMS Client Base, providing agents with integrated technologies.
“One of the challenges agents face is learning and applying all the capabilities of systems like Client Base—most apply 30 percent of the total and the rest is underused despite its potential to benefit the agencies.”
Looking forward, Ardolino sees a lamentable shortfall in the industry’s ability to attract and retain new travel agents. “For many of us who have made a career in the travel business and enjoyed it, this is a tragedy. We need more good people.”
Technology has gotten cheaper, Ardolino says, but there is a lot of change to cope with. “Cell phones, Wi-Fi, mobile computing, search engines and the vast amount of information available to consumers will continue to transform the industry,” he says.
President of A&S Travel Center
Headquarters: 970 North Colony Rd., Wallingford, CT 06492
Annual Sales: $5 million–$7 million
Affiliation: ASTA, Vacation.com