Business

Continental Travel moves to new digs

After 30 years in the same location, Continental Travel has relocated to the Chase Bank Building at 7900 S.E. 28th, Suite 202. From left are travel agents Alisa Kruse, Rick Long, Bette Orrico, owner Heinrich Koehler and office manager Sharon Jones. Combined, the five of them have well over 100 years in the travel industry. - Linda Ball/Staff Photo
After 30 years in the same location, Continental Travel has relocated to the Chase Bank Building at 7900 S.E. 28th, Suite 202. From left are travel agents Alisa Kruse, Rick Long, Bette Orrico, owner Heinrich Koehler and office manager Sharon Jones. Combined, the five of them have well over 100 years in the travel industry.
— image credit: Linda Ball/Staff Photo

After 30 years in the same location, Continental Travel of Mercer Island is moving.

With well over 100 years combined in the travel business, the five travel agents at Continental Travel will make a short journey across town to the Chase Bank building at 7900 S.E. 28th Street, Suite 202, just a few blocks from their current location where they have been for 30 years. Their move, however,  is not due to the economy like Continental’s old neighbor, Finders, which closed last month.

After a dispute with their landlord, Heinrich Koehler — the owner of Continental Travel since 1981 — decided it was time to move.

“If I hadn’t found the right place, I would have lost my business,” Koehler said.

With only 30 days to move, Michael Crisp with Lighthouse Properties found the new location for Continental. The logistics of moving the computers and getting a phone system installed could have been a problem, but fortunately the stars are all lining up for the travel agency.

Before Koehler purchased the company it was a private travel club, then called The Continental Club, which offered charter flights and tours to Europe. Koehler turned it into a full-service travel agency. So how does a travel agency survive these days when people can go online and book a flight? Koehler said it’s about service.

“You can call us and give us dates and we can do it,” he said.

Office manager Sharon Jones said they have clients who date back many, many years.

“We do a lot of international work,” Jones said. “I do a lot of corporate travel. With business and schedule changes, they need service quickly.”

The airlines don’t pay commissions to travel agents anymore, so Continental charges a flat fee of $30 for domestic airline tickets and $40 international. Contrary to popular opinion, 90 percent of the time, people who do the work trying to book online often end up spending more money or find themselves in accommodations that are less than desirable.

Agent Rick Long, who has been in the business 41 years, specializes in booking packages such as destination weddings and tours. He said he can always compete with online packages such as those offered by Expedia.com, which spends millions each year on advertising.

Another problem with booking online, Long said, is that once you do so, you have no more human contact. For example, when the volcano Mt. Eyjafjallajokull blew in Iceland last year, they were able to re-route their clients, while others were stranded in Europe.

Long said they’ve booked quite a few people who tried the Internet and had a bad experience or were otherwise disillusioned by the experience. Those folks have become repeat clients.

Air fares have not really gone up that much, both Long and Jones said. The problem is fuel surcharges and taxes. Add onto that the new and annoying baggage fees and lack of other ancillary services designed to bring more revenue in for the airlines, and it’s a wonder anyone is traveling, right?

Wrong. Long said after a couple of slow years, things have really picked up. In the last three weeks, he has booked over 80 people to Hawaii.

“There’s a pent up demand,” he said. “People are not giving up their vacations. There are great deals to Hawaii now.”

After all those years in one place, this move is a big deal to them, but agent Bette Orrico said they are going to a great place, clean, convenient and newer with very friendly people, more parking and a convenient location.

Contact Continental Travel at (206) 232-9000.

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