MINNEAPOLIS (AP) -- On the heels of a $15 billion federal aid package for the nation's airlines, the top executive at Carlson Cos. Inc. is leading a delegation to Washington in search of federal help for travel agencies.
Marilyn Carlson Nelson, chairwoman and chief executive of the giant Minnetonka-based travel and hospitality company, is spearheading an industry request for about $5 billion for travel agencies that, like the airlines, have lost business since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Without government help, industry executives said, many travel agencies will likely go under. The industry employs about 300,000 people.
"It's not just about people losing jobs and having their careers ended, which is true, but the country's recovery will be materially slowed down," said Paul Ruden, senior vice president for legal and industry affairs for the American Society of Travel Agents.
Ruden planned to testify Tuesday before a House aviation subcommittee. Meanwhile, Carlson Nelson and other industry representatives were to meet Tuesday with Commerce Secretary Donald Evans.
Roughly 75 percent of all airline tickets are sold through travel agencies, according to the Travel Industry Association of America.
The airline industry had fallen into unprofitability months before hijacked airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon, and in Pennsylvania. But the attacks made the industry's survival more difficult, prompting huge layoffs and the multibillion-dollar government bailout.
Travel agency executives said they support the airline bailout but see it as only part of an overall strategy to help the economy recover.
"The rest of the industry has to be addressed," Carlson Nelson said. "Airlines alone ... won't be able to provide the stimulus that's needed for this recovery."
But Terry Trippler, an analyst for OneTravel.com, believes the request from the travel agencies for federal aid has little chance before Congress.
"If they receive some type of assistance, what about cab drivers, are they next? They're hurting, too," Trippler said. "Where do you draw the line?"
The industry should instead ask airlines for help, Trippler said. In August, airlines lowered the fees they pay travel agents.
"The travel agencies have helped the airlines time after time" by accepting cuts in commissions, he said. "I would like to see the airlines turn around and raise commissions for six months or a year."
A spokeswoman for Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., the ranking Democrat on the House Transportation Committee, said Monday it was too early to say whether the request would receive much support.
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