Osman Siddique: Deregulation Helps Minority-Owned Travel Agency Fly

By Kaplan, Peter | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), October 26, 1998 | Go to article overview

Osman Siddique: Deregulation Helps Minority-Owned Travel Agency Fly


Kaplan, Peter, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


The year was 1976, and Osman Siddique was headed for a career in corporate America. Fresh out of the University of Indiana's business school, he had landed a management-trainee position at Metropolitan Life Insurance.

There was, however, another idea percolating in Mr. Siddique's mind. While in college, he had closely followed government proposals to deregulate the airline industry. And he was convinced that it would present big opportunities for start-up travel companies.

"I saw at that time that any company could go up against American Express or any of the entrenched travel companies," says the first-generation immigrant from Bangladesh.

So Mr. Siddique struck out on his own. Over the next 22 years, his career has mirrored the fast-growing, turbulent travel business. His company, Travelogue Inc., is now one of the biggest travel agencies in the Washington area. Travelogue has more than 100 employees and is the largest minority-owned agency in the United States.

Along the way, Travelogue has had to adapt to rapid change and new technologies. Last year, for instance, the company expanded its corporate travel management business by acquiring iTravel, which specializes in planning meetings and conventions.

Question: What do you think about the Department of Transportation's proposed competition guidelines? Are we headed back toward more regulation of the airlines?

Answer: I think you know deregulation has been a very successful thing. It was a necessity. And we will not see turning the clock back to re-regulation the way we knew it before. However, I feel very strongly that this is a time for us to re-examine what we have accomplished so far and fine-tune a few things. . . . The competitive nature has to be looked at when all the airlines have merged and if we have only two major airlines after five years. The government has to look into it in a way that does not impede competition, but enhances competition. That's the purpose of the DOT.

Q: What about the airlines' contention that the government shouldn't be involved?

A: I think that's an extreme view. I don't feel that the government should be involved in every decision-making process. But in some macro-issues, I think the government has . . . to see if there are any inequities and come up with some guidelines. That is not reregulation.

Question: How are travel agents coping with all the commission cuts imposed by the airlines?

Answer: It has been a wake-up call for the 35,000 agencies in this country. Some people have thrown in the towel. Some people will definitely see no bottom line for them to pursue business as is. And some people really have flourished.

This is a free market. Demand and supply determine price. All I'm saying is, to be in this business, we have to be cognizant of what can come down the pike. I'm not trying to justify what the airlines have done. But what I'm trying to say is, if the airlines can do this in the free market, we have to have a responsible reaction to it.

We have reacted to it by re-examining our core business, what our clients want in terms of service. We have retrained our agents. We have embraced technology to make sure that we compete and deliver the service for our clients that we should be [delivering].

Q: What specific changes are you referring to? New client fees?

A: I think fees are definitely one way of dealing with this problem, but they're not the answer to the whole thing. What we have done obviously is focus on fine-tuning our own internal costs. What are the things we can do to make ourselves more cost-competitive? No. 1 is that we have re-evaluated our agents. Wherever they needed some training, we have given them training - made them aware of the non-air revenues that are also available - for example, hotel and car bookings. We [also] have a Web site . …

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