Dollar's Drop Shrinks Margins for Travel Cataloger

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The falling dollar and rising airfares could produce headaches for Carol Bense if those trends continue into 2004.

The manager at Interhostel Learning Vacations, Durham, NH, dropped 40,000 copies of the organization's summer/fall 2004 catalog of learning vacations for those 50 and older during the first week of December. A dozen of the roughly 50 educational travel packages are new to the book. Program costs generally range from $1,000 to $3,500, and each can accommodate 20 to 40 travelers.

"The dollar versus every other currency has fallen tremendously," said Bense, whose organization produces a catalog three times yearly. "In Australia and New Zealand, their dollars went up 30 percent, which meant we paid people to go to New Zealand. We don't change prices once they are listed in the catalog. The airlines are offering fewer flights, since they can't afford half-full planes, and they are charging more. Our programs include airfare on the international side."

Domestic and international offerings are split about evenly in the book.

She expects about 90 percent of sales to be generated through its toll-free number, 6 percent via the Web and 4 percent from the book's registration form.

"A lot of people go on the Web to look for information and call to register since it's a big dollar amount," she said. "They have questions, and they want to know they are dealing with a real person and a reputable organization. When you're committing a lot of money, you want more personal contact."

Its call center in Durham has three people handling calls.

The Familyhostel program is included in the back of the book for those traveling with a school-aged child.

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