If you are among the believers that the internet killed the local travel agency you’re about to be proven wrong.
Well, at least that’s the case for Largay Travel Inc. in Waterbury, started in 1969 by Roland Largay at a time before the infancy of the web and ability to instantly purchase airline tickets and book hotel rooms from your iPhone.
Paul Largay, Roland Largay’s nephew, joined the business in 1982, also a time when the business model was different. “What is really unique and kind of neat about it is I grew in the Waterbury area and I have always been a very large part of the Waterbury community and this business has really blossomed because of the community,” said Paul Largay, chief executive officer. “Like every industry there are some challenging times we have gone through in 48 years, but the business has never been stronger.”
Largay said the business started with just two people and a dream. Now nearly a half-century later they employ 100 and have a network and cadre of clients all over the world. On Friday the Waterbury Regional Chamber will honor Largay Travel as its 2017 Small Business of the Year at the 20th annual Harold Webster Smith Awards breakfast.
The company is a branch of the Tzell Travel Group and Virtuoso network of trusted travel specialists. The company’s expertise is in soft-adventure leisure programs, including hiking, biking, ballooning, family travel, worldwide deluxe cruising and African safaris, the chamber stated.
Lynn Ward, president and chief executive officer of the Waterbury Regional Chamber, said the chamber’s Small Business Council chose Largay Travel to receive the recognition for their ingenuity in their business.
“They are very active in the community and they are a business that was started many years ago that has continued within the Largay family and they have had very successful growth over the years with the changes in industry,” she said. “I think a lot of people are misinformed of the travel industry, about the benefits of working with an agent who is educated and experienced in the business of travel.”
Largay said being selected as Small Business of the Year is “absolutely humbling and incredibly exciting.”
“I knew Harold Smith from a very young age and I always admired his professional and civic engagement in the community,” Largay said
Largay said their business model changed greatly since he started in the business. Back then their value was a monopoly on travel information, airline tickets and peoples access to it.
“If you wanted to go away, or even buy an airline ticket, you had to go to Largay Travel, or a ticket office,” he said. Those functions have been replaced with the likes of Expedia.com and other online ticket companies, but the core of the business hasn’t changed.
“People say ‘didn’t the internet put you out of business?,” he said. “Because of the internet, people have access to empirical information about destinations, but they don’t have the ability or filter to take general information and distill it down to recommendations that are relevant to them. That is where we have harnessed this opportunity.”
Largay acts as a “mother ship” to agents in all 50 states. They provide resources, connections, relationships and back office functions, like accounting in Waterbury that allows the agents to focus on tailoring a trip for the client.
“We are focused on creating a community,” he said. “Before the internet if you wanted to expand your market you had to either acquire another agency or put up another brick-and-mortar facility because at that time you had a 20 mile radius around your base of information. Now the thing that was supposed to put us out of business is the source of new business. 90 percent of our clients, we have never met.”
That includes clients in Africa, Australia and the Middle East. “What has happened is the internet has now provided ostensibly a conduit through which these people seek us out. They don’t care what ZIP code you are in so long as they can access you through the internet or a phone call,” he said.
Largay said his uncle was focused on establishing and maintaining relationships rather than looking at people as transactions, and that has paid off.
“When people recognize you don’t just look at them as a transaction … but as individuals first and clients second they beat a path to your door,” he said. “We focused on creating a community.”