By Harry Keaney
Going “out on one’s own” has long been the simple way of saying someone has become an entrepreneur. But since travel agent Siobh_n Hennessy decided to follow her entrepreneurial instinct, she has ended up far from being “on her own,” but rather in the midst of a huge international travel management group called PROTRAVEL.
Computerization and the perpetual drive for cost-effectiveness, including commission-cutting, has, and is, changing the travel business. Against this background, Hennessy’s career route is a stark signpost of the direction the business is heading.
PROTRAVEL occupies the entire 10th floor of 515 Madison Ave., on 53rd Street, in Manhattan. It will soon take over the ninth floor. With about 100 independent agents, or travel consultants, PROTRAVEL, and firms like it, wield enormous clout, so much so that many airlines and hotels have assigned representatives to, as Hennessy puts it, “come in and talk to us.”
“PROTRAVEL is a kind of umbrella for its independent agents,” Hennessy said. “It creates workspace for them with back office support in accounting and airline negotiations, and it gives you a lot of clout, so all I have to do is get new business.
“This is probably a harbinger of what’s to come,” Hennessy added. “The airlines are cutting on commissions and the days of the mom and pop agencies are on their way out. The paperwork is colossal in this business. With support like PROTRAVEL’s, it frees up your time and allows you listen to people when they call.”
Never miss an issue of The Irish Echo
Subscribe to one of our great value packages.
Hennessy does not believe, however, that the increasing use of computers and the internet will render travel agents and their services obsolete. “If you think the $20 you save by going on the internet is worth spending half a day searching, be my guest. One call to a travel agent does it all,” she said. And, of course, if travel plans do not turn out as expected, there’s always the agent to call.
Hennessy herself likes to travel, she said, to “out of the way places.”
“I am going to Peru at the end of the summer, I was in Russia before the coup, I was Egypt just before the Gulf War. I try once a year to go to some place that’s off the beaten track. That’s why I like this business,” she said.
Hennessy was born in Philadelphia and moved to Kilkenny when she was 7. After attending national and secondary school there, she worked as a reporter for two years with The Kilkenny Standard. She then spent two years in Europe, another two back in Kilkenny working with the physically challenged, and a year in London studying marketing and public relations.
About 12 years ago, she came to New York.
“Kilkenny never suffered as bad as other areas of the country,” Hennessy said, referring to the recession that loomed over Ireland during in the 1980s. “You couldn’t walk into the job you wanted but there was work. My sister was here in America, a lot of my friends were here, and within six months after I came, I felt this was home.”
For Hennessy and other Irish immigrants working in New York bars at the time, it was a boom period. “When I had enough money saved up to enable me go into travel, I began to work for a Greek agency in Astoria, in Queens, and I started to book all the Irish people,” Hennessy said. “Eventually, Irish people became the bulk of the agency’s customers and I ended up managing the agency.
“I then decided to make my foray into Manhattan. I became an independent agent working for another travel agency. After about two years, I joined PROTRAVEL.”
Last year, Hennessy completed a term as president of the Irish Business Organization of New York. She was the first U.S.-born person to occupy the position.
She is currently working on fund-raising and corporate sponsorship for the American premiere, in September, of “Moonshine,” by Waterford playwright Jim Nolan, at the Irish Arts Center in Manhattan.