ALBATours fam to Italy with Amex Travel, 1996 (Travelweek's Kathryn Folliott is 3rd from left)

Airline commission caps and cuts, OTAs and big ships: A look at the 1990s

Travelweek’s incredible history spans 50 years. From the 1970s through to the 2020s, we look at all 6 decades in a special feature in the April 13, 2023 issue of Travelweek. Excerpts are also running in Travelweek Daily, starting with the 1970s on April 13 and the 1980s on April 14. Here’s a look at the 1990s.

The retail travel industry was riding high on the boom times – and 10% airline commissions – that fuelled the sector’s prosperity in the 1970s and 1980s.

No one was prepared for what the 1990s would bring – namely, commission caps and cuts, and the Internet.

Canadian Airlines 747



The caps and cuts were bad enough. Delta got the ball rolling in 1994 and 1995, and over the next few years airline after airline followed suit, decimating agency revenues.

Travel advisors fought back, and lawsuits were filed. Many travel agents walked away from air-only bookings and never looked back.


As if that wasn’t enough, in the mid-to-late 1990s the Internet started to hit the retail travel sector with full force. Expedia and Travelocity both launched in 1996, and these two OTAs came to dominate online travel bookings.

Traditional bricks-and-mortar agencies worked feverishly to compete, stay relevant and launch websites of their own.

When the dust settled, the days of the so-called ‘ticket taker’ agency business model was waning, and the era of service fees had begun.


Also in the 1990s, cruise ships got bigger and bigger and ultimately passed the 100,000 gross tonnage mark, an unheard-of size … for a while at least. In 1996 Carnival launched the 101,353-ton Carnival Destiny, the first passenger vessel to exceed 100,000 tonnes. Hot on its heels was Grand Princess in 1998, at 109,000 tonnes, and Voyager of the Seas in 1999, at 137,276 tonnes.

For a little perspective: the biggest cruise ship right now, Royal Caribbean’s Wonder of the Seas, is 236,857 tonnes – and Icon of the Seas, due by the end of this year, will be 250,800 tonnes.


On land, all-inclusive resorts were king.

There was no shortage of major tour operators selling packages either. The list included Air Canada Vacations, Transat Holidays, Signature Vacations, Sunquest, Conquest Vacations, Regent Holidays, World of Vacations and more.

Sandals Resorts’ Tour Operator Sports Day, Toronto, 1999

Much-loved mid-size players included Red Seal Tours and Holiday House.

Royal Airlines took to the skies in the early 1990s. WestJet’s first flight was Feb. 29, 1996.

And a 22-year old Bruce Poon Tip, with two maxed-out credit cards, founded G Adventures in 1990.



Travelweek continued to thrive in the 1990s under editor Patrick Dineen.

There was a new look for the magazine, and soon a website, and new owners Gerry Kinasz and his business partner.

Meanwhile Envoy, which launched in 1998 as Hippo Express, got its start handling fulfillment and distribution for Travelweek.  With investments in equipment, vehicles and infrastructure, Envoy now offers a complete range of specialized logistics across Canada, including order fulfillment and warehousing capabilities.


Throughout 2023 watch for interviews and memories marking Travelweek’s 50th anniversary. Plus, try your luck with our contest, ‘It Happened This Week’, featuring a new headline (and a new chance to win!) every week from Travelweek’s 50 years of travel industry news coverage.

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