Morris Travel Services L.L.C.
Morris Travel Services L.L.C.
Sales: $200 million (1997 est.)
SICs: 4724 Travel Agencies
Morris Travel Services L.L.C. is the largest travel agency in the western United States and one of the largest in the nation. It provides a full range of travel services and products for individual, family, government, and corporate customers through its more than 50 retail offices in Utah, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. Morris Travel also is well-known for creating Morris Air, a low-cost charter service to Hawaii and western states. Later Morris Air became a separate company and a regular airline that then was acquired by Southwest Air. The nation’s business community has honored founder June M. Morris because of her contributions to the travel and airline industries.
June M. Morris was born in Manti, Utah. After graduating from West High in Salt Lake City and attending the University of Utah and Stevens-Henager College of Business, she gained experience managing a travel agency for the Utah Auto Association.
In 1970 she started Morris Travel as a one-person operation working out of spare office space in her husband Mitchell Morris’s film processing firm. Mitchell Morris helped the new firm with cash for operating expenses when some Morris Travel customers failed to pay their bills.
In 1975 June Morris hired her son Richard W. Frendt. In the May 22, 1988 Deseret News, Frendt recalled that, “At the time, Morris was just four or five people, so it didn’t seem like a business with a future.” However, he accepted the job: “$16,800 a year and all the travel benefits. It seemed like a fortune back then.”
Frendt also recalled the turning point when Morris Travel gained Sperry Univac as a corporate customer. “That doubled our business and gave us the idea that we could really do it. We doubled in size every year after that.”
Expansion in the 1980s
In 1983 Morris Travel recruited two new individuals who helped build the small Utah company. Randy Hunt, formerly with United Airlines, helped land some major accounts as the new Morris executive vice-president.
The other person, Mark Slack, joined Morris Travel in 1983 as its corporate controller. A 1980 graduate of Southern Utah University with a B.S. in accounting and business administration, Slack had worked as a CPA for Ernst and Young before starting with Morris Travel. He wrote all of Morris Travel’s accounting policies, established its internal controls, and installed a new computer system for the company. After being promoted to financial vice-president, Slack renegotiated Morris’s bank contracts, which saved the company $10,000 a year from lowered credit rates. In addition, all accounts were moved to one bank and made part of a cash management system.
In 1987 Morris Travel acquired Bountiful’s Faldmo Tours, Ogden’s Fishburn Travel, Tour West in Utah County, Logan’s Travel Chalet, and Salt Lake City’s Travel Express, five agencies that had been incorporated in 1984 under the name Travel Express. That acquisition increased corporate sales some $30 million to reach approximately $90 million. At the same time, June Morris sold Morris Travel to two company officers and Travel Express shareholders. Since Travel Express had become a franchise of the national travel chain called Ask Mr. Foster, the newly merged firm became known as Morris/Ask Mr. Foster.
Before the merger with Travel Express, Morris Travel was Utah’s largest travel agency, but the merger resulted in the company’s first major sales outside of Salt Lake.
Morris made Richard Frendt its new president in the 1987 reorganization. However, in 1989 Morris Travel elected Mark Slack as its new president and the following year made him the CEO and chairman of the board.
Meanwhile, in 1983 June Morris had started Morris Air Services as a division of Morris Travel to offer charter services to Hawaii by leasing seats, mainly on Hawaiian Airlines. Customers jumped at the opportunity to fly roundtrip to Hawaii and receive five nights hotel accommodations on Waikiki Beach for just $399. Once in 1985 an incomplete Morris charter from Salt Lake City to Honolulu filled the remaining seats by offering the same $399 deal for only $99.
Later the charter service expanded to various West Coast cities. “From the day we started, our flights were based on low fares, and our strategy was to make air travel affordable to people who were not traveling,” said June Morris in the August 1993 Nation’s Business.
In 1987 Morris Air Services was spun off as a separate firm, but it continued a close association with Morris Travel. In 1989, for example, both companies moved into their new 60,000-square-foot office building at 260 East Morris Avenue in south Salt Lake.
In 1993 Morris Air Services became a regular airline known simply as Morris Air, which owned some of its own planes and leased others. At age 62, June Morris was “the only female CEO in the jet airline business in the USA,” according to an August 30, 1993 USA Today cover story. In December 1993 Southwest Airlines, headed by Herb Kelleher, acquired Morris Air.
Since some people may have thought that Morris Air and Morris Travel were affiliated businesses, Mark Slack in the December 14, 1993 Deseret News emphasized that they had separated in 1987 and therefore Morris Travel was not influenced by Southwest Airlines purchasing Morris Air. “Our management and 400 service representatives at our 35 offices throughout Utah and Idaho will continue to be available at the same locations and phone numbers,” said Slack.
Expansion and Challenges in the 1990s
In 1990 the Salt Lake Chamber of Commerce honored Morris Travel as the “Outstanding Business of the Year.” In the same year Morris changed its name from Morris/Ask Mr. Foster to Morris Travel, Associate of Carlson Travel Network.
Morris Travel expanded into Pocatello, Idaho, in 1991. After signing a contract with the J.R. Simplot Company and merging with a 24-year-old firm called Travel Inc., Morris in 1991 also moved into Boise, Idaho. Sales in 1991 reached $130 million, and the growth continued.
In 1992 Morris Travel left the Carlson Travel network and joined the American Express Network with its 1,700 owned and representative worldwide travel agencies. As the largest representative travel agency of the American Express Travel Related Services Company, Morris was able to offer more services to its customers. Executives of the American Express Travelers Cheque Division in Salt Lake City welcomed the new affiliation. “Morris will provide us with increased opportunities for high quality customer service in our Travelers Cheque business,” said Senior Vice-President James F. Welch in the March 20, 1992 Deseret News.
The Utah state government in 1992 contracted with Morris Travel to provide its travel needs. Operating from an office in the State Office Building, Morris booked flights and made other arrangements for the state’s employees, county agencies, and state-supported colleges and universities. Morris Travel and the state renewed the four-year contract in 1996.
In 1993 the company opened its new office in St. George, Utah. The following year, Morris entered the Oregon market for the first time by acquiring Portland’s TravelLink, an agency with two offices and $7 million in annual sales.
Also in 1994, Morris Travel created a new company called Morris Vacations to sell low-fare charter tours mainly to Mexico and other destinations, following Southwest Airlines’ decision to cancel low-cost flights to Mexico in the fall of 1984.
During the early 1990s, many travelers changed their preferences for vacation spots. Fewer chose Hawaii, due in part to higher prices for roundtrip airline tickets. Australia and the Caribbean islands became more popular, as did Britain because of a more favorable exchange rate. In addition, more people traveled to Russia after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union and the so-called end of the Cold War.
Another relatively new destination for Morris Travel customers was Branson, Missouri, which in the 1990s replaced Nashville as the hot spot for country western music fans. In addition, Mormon customers booked more trips to church history sites, such as Palmyra, New York, where Joseph Smith, Jr., founded The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in 1830, and Nauvoo, Illinois, where most church members lived before crossing the plains to Utah in 1847.
Major changes in operations, personnel, and ownership occurred at Morris Travel in 1995. First, the company in March 1995 reduced its number of workers after all major U.S. airlines announced they were capping commissions to travel agents for booking domestic flights. Agents began receiving $25 for a one-way ticket and $50 for a roundtrip, instead of the earlier ten percent commission. This commission change resulted from the airlines losing $10 billion in the previous four years. And since Delta Airlines, the major hub operator out of the Salt Lake Airport, was particularly hurt financially, that impacted the Salt Lake City travel agencies. For example, Morris Travel suffered a 20 percent income decrease because of the airlines’ decision. Morris Travel sold about 60 percent of its airline tickets for Delta flights.
Morris: We Know Your World!
In May 1995 Morris Travel chose Dave Kooyman as its new board chairman, replacing Mark Slack, who remained the firm’s president and CEO. A 22-year veteran of the travel industry, Kooyman had served on the Morris Travel board for eight years.
A new owner of Morris Travel emerged a few months later. For an undisclosed price, Yamagata Enterprises, a Nevada corporation owned by Gene Yamagata, purchased Morris Travel. Yamagata, a Las Vegas resident who had grown up on a Jerome, Idaho farm, owned two other companies: Vegas Eagle Canyon Airlines to provide flights over the Grand Canyon and Forever Living Products of Japan. Mark Slack, who remained president of Morris Travel, stated in the August 17, 1995 Desert News that Yamagata Enterprises “will provide us with the necessary capitalization to further develop state-of-the-art automation systems and enhance our highly trained sales and support team. In addition, the new ownership brings great stability for the future of Morris Travel, including the opportunity to expand into new markets.”
On October 5, 1995, Mark Slack signed a statement that Morris Travel Services L.L.C., a Nevada limited liability company, had the right to use all Morris names, including Morris Travel Express, Morris Travel, Morris Vacations, Morris Incentives, Faldmo Tours, Diamond Travel, and the June Morris School of Travel.
Morris Travel in 1995 started a new program called “Worry-Free Low Fare Guarantee” to ensure its customers they would receive the lowest possible airline fares. Even after a ticket was purchased, the firm would notify a customer if a lower fare was found. The $10 fee for this program also provided flight insurance, one day parking near the Salt Lake Airport, and a five-minute prepaid phone card.
In 1995 Morris Travel acquired Seattle’s Diamond Travel with its six offices which emphasized vacation travel. That was followed by the 1996 purchase of Seattle’s Corporate Travel Service, a firm with $7 million in annual sales.
Also in January 1996, Morris Travel merged with Beehive Travel, another Salt Lake City travel agency, to create the newly named Morris-Beehive Travel, the nation’s 15th largest travel agency with offices in six states. Morris Travel in 1995 had $145 million in sales with 400 employees, while Beehive recorded $43 million in sales with 150 employees. According to Clifford Snyder, Jr., Beehive’s former CEO, in the January 5, 1996 Deseret News, “It’s been an obvious marriage that we’ve been pursuing on both sides for some time. The timing is excellent for the marriage to happen.... With the way the travel industry is heading, and the way many industries are heading, synergy and strength of operations are critical for future strategies. These two highly successful companies combining will create a terrific and powerful force in the Western United States.”
To provide services for its expanding corporate customers, Morris Travel in 1996 created a new Morris Meetings and Incentives Division. The division offered special programs for sales meetings, executive retreats, and company conferences sponsored by firms like the Utah Jazz, Huntsman Chemical, KSL-TV, and Southland Life. For example, Morris staff traveled to destination hotels to arrange all the details, from securing audiovisual equipment to creating special conference menus. Morris offered these services through Convention Services & Technologies, a meeting management firm in operation since 1988.
Morris continued its acquisitions in the late 1990s. In 1997 it purchased single-office New Horizon Travel in Cedar City, Utah. Morris in 1997 also acquired Anderson-Elerding Travel with six offices in Montana: Billings, Cut Bank, Havre, Helena, and two in Great Falls.
In August 1997 Morris Travel announced that it had become the largest travel agency in the West based on volume. Previously, Associated Travel of Los Angeles and Seattle’s Mutual Travel outranked Morris, but their purchase by the U.S. Office Products Company of Texas resulted in Morris becoming number one. It employed some 500 individuals who worked at over 50 offices in Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Nevada. The company also announced it had created a new logo and opened a new office in Spanish Fork, Utah, to serve customers there and in Provo and Orem.
In September 1997 Morris announced it had been chosen by Autoliv Inc. to provide its corporate travel needs. Autoliv manufactured car safety products, such as seat belts and air bags, for the world’s largest auto makers.
To better serve its customers, Morris offered a software program called Perk Passport available on compact disc for $19.95. Anyone could browse the photos, movies, and audio of different vacation sites and get the latest information on travel specials. After selecting a deal from this virtual travel marketplace, customers then phoned or e-mailed a Morris office to make their reservations or get more detailed information.
The company also set up a web site for better access in the Information Age. It included addresses and phone numbers for all Morris offices, details on various travel support systems, and links to other web sites featuring information on different destinations and travel bureaus around the world.
Morris also teamed up with Woodside Travel Trust (WTT) to provide support for business travelers traveling overseas. According to Morris Travel’s web site, WTT since its origin in 1973 had become “the largest travel management company in the world.” WTT partners like Morris Travel gave their clients the advantage of accessing services at over 4,000 locations in more than 60 nations. Whether customers were concerned about passport and visa issues, car rentals, hotel reservations, or getting the best price on airfares, the Morris Travel/Woodside Travel Trust joint venture furnished the necessary information.
To help businesses keep track of their travel expenses, Morris Travel supplied the Navigator system of investigative tools and travel management consulting. That included proprietary reporting systems to provide companies with customized statistical reports on their travel activities. Morris consultants also were available to help firms improve their travel policies and procedures. State-of-the-art software programs helped companies automatically monitor travel expenses.
Morris Travel in 1998 continued to grow because of such innovative technology and good leadership under the direction of President Mark Slack. As Utah’s largest travel agency and one of the nation’s largest, Morris remained dedicated to meeting the travel needs of its individual, family, corporate, and government customers.
Brown, Matthew, “Frendt Has Taken Travel Firm a Long Way,” Deseret News, May 22, 1988.
Denalli, Jacquelyn, “An Airline of Her Own,” Nation’s Business, August 1993, pp. 14, 16.
Knudson, Max B., “Lots of Name Jockeying Hasn’t Hurt Business a Bit at Morris Travel Agency,” Deseret News, January 3, 1993, p. D9.
“Morris Travel Now Largest in West,” Deseret News, August 12, 1997.
Thomson, Linda, “Las Vegas Entrepreneur Purchases Morris Travel,” Deseret News, August 17, 1995.
______, “Morris Travel Merges with Beehive Travel,” Deseret News, January 5, 1996.
______, $1.5 Million Morris Restructuring to Result in Layoffs and Fee Changes,” Deseret News, March 3, 1995.
—David M. Walden