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Portland travel agency still flying high after 20 years

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Portland travel agency still flying high after 20 years

PORTLAND — Travel agencies may seem like an endangered species, but don't tell that to Pamela Hurley Moser.

Twenty years ago, there were more than 100 full-service, local agencies in Maine, said Hurley Moser, founder of Hurley Travel Experts. Records show most were in the Portland area.

Today, the Portland telephone directory lists fewer than a dozen. Only three are in the city.

With websites such as Expedia, Travelocity, Hotwire, Priceline and Kayak offering travelers countless low-cost ways to book their own trips, the travel agency may seem destined to go the way of the dodo bird.

But Hurley, which specializes in group travel and meetings, corporate travel and luxury vacations, seems to be defying the odds.

The agency, headquartered at 415 Cumberland Ave., has seen its sales grow from $24 million in 2011 to $40 million last year. This year, Hurley Moser is projecting sales of $50 million.

And after launching her one-person business in 1993 at the age of 25, the Harpswell resident now employs a staff of 48, including a six-employee branch in Naples, Fla.

Instead of being threatened by the travel websites, Hurley Moser said her business welcomes them. Online travel booking frees agencies from being "order takers," she said, and helps educate people about their travel choices and costs.

"Clients are coming to us now with more information," she said Sunday. "They're further along in the process."

But there's still a need for the inside knowledge and perspective that a travel agent brings, according to Hurley Moser. Her "experts" help by getting clients to focus on the overall goals of a trip.

"We ask them to paint a picture, we ask them what they really want," she said. "Our job is then sometimes to introduce them to something they didn't know existed."

Travel agencies such as Hurley also help their clients by using experience and resources to get better travel deals, she said. For example, Hurley leverages the bargaining power of its membership in Virtuoso, an invitation-only association of 330 luxury travel agencies around the world.

Hurley can also arrange a luxury vacation that will take you out of this world.

The agency is one of only 120 internationally that can book passengers for commercial space flights through Virgin Galactic, the airline offshoot owned by mogul Richard Branson. Ticket prices for a suborbital spaceship trip start at $200,000.

Hurley Moser hasn't sold any trips since becoming an "accredited space agent," but said she's more focused on serving her earthbound clients, some of whom have been with her since the agency's founding two decades ago.

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, Hurley is launching an online auction to benefit community nonprofit groups. The auction, called "20 for 20," will put 20 trips and travel-related products up for bid, most with values of around $3,000. The auction starts May 1 and runs through the next year.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or whall@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.