When 33-year-old Hobbit Travel declared bankruptcy a few days before Christmas, it left Minnesotans who had booked cruises and vacations through the agency stranded and out of luck. It also left a legacy of negative publicity for the Hobbit name and several dozen travel agents out of work.
But three marketing managers at Hobbit Travel stayed on to work with creditors through the bankruptcy proceedings.
Now, the three — each with 16-plus years of experience — still have the travel bug so bad that they’ve launched a new travel agency, Midwest Travel Service, in St. Paul’s Lowertown district.
Urged on by former Hobbit travel agents and industry contacts, Maria Anderson, Andrea Wallace and Theresa Williams hope to replicate the Hobbit business model of offering low-cost warm-weather vacations to winter-weary Minnesotans by booking large blocks of airline and cruise seats and repackaging them.
While they’ve been working quietly on a website and lining up cruise and travel industry vendors, today was launch day. They sent out an email message this morning to former Hobbit clients announcing “Snooze you lose” travel deals have returned.
“We were the ones that were there when they turned the phones on in January to take people’s claims. We worked with the [bankruptcy] trustee to make sure all of our clients would get paid back as much as possible,” Williams said. Former customers were happy to have someone to talk to, she added.
Williams, an Eagan resident, is not concerned about starting a cruise and vacation travel agency in the current dismal economic environment. “Actually, from talking with vendors and agency friends, travel is now on the return. [Consumers] want the best value, but they haven’t spent any money [on leisure travel over the past two years]. Now they want to go” on vacations.
Even in the age of online travel websites, she still sees a role for a professional travel agency, particularly in booking cruises and vacation trips to destinations such as Europe that are more complex than just booking an airline ticket.
“If someone is Internet-savvy [and] can take the time, there are a lot of deals out there,” she observed. For travelers who don’t have the time to search for the best deals, or for whom the Internet is “not their forte,” Williams argues that it’s “better to have an expert” do the leg work.
Midwest Travel fees range from $10 to $29 per person, depending on the service booked, she said.
While the idea of launching an agency had been “in the back of our minds” for some time, Wallace “was the most persistent” in pushing the idea, Williams said.
“We’re proud that we worked for Hobbit for so many years … the wonderful trips we helped people go on, they money they saved … We loved what we did, we missed it,” she added.
Williams said that except for today’s email announcing their launch, they won’t mention the Hobbit Travel name again. Hobbit founder George Wozniak has no business or financial connection to the venture, she added.