SOUTH BEND -- In 1991, the University of Notre Dame was looking for a travel agency with the personal touch. Anthony Travel, founded by 1986 graduate John Anthony in Dallas in 1989, opened a campus office to fill the need.
In 2012, the university was looking for a best-in-class travel agency with world-class solutions. Anthony Travel was still the answer.
The Notre Dame connection equipped the agency to thrive through two decades that saw the demise of half the travel agencies in the country, Anthony says.
"It's an example of how you can get big by going small -- focus on Notre Dame, take really, really good care of them, find out what a great partner they are, what their needs are," he says. "It was our first university client. From that has grown virtually everything."
That includes connections that started with Disney Sports and grew to include the University of North Carolina, Purdue, Stanford, Duke and now 44 schools around the country.
Anthony Travel has been named North America's Leading Travel Agency at the World Travel Awards three times and listed as one of the 100 fastest-growing privately held companies in North Texas 10 times.
It won the local Small Business of the Year Award in 2009 and the Samaritan Award for supporting work-life balance in 2008. Recently, the Indiana Economic Development Corp. listed Anthony Travel as a Company to Watch.
The firm employs some 150 people around the United States, including 45 in the South Bend area.
"It all has grown from the Notre Dame partnership and by taking really close care of them," Anthony says. "You figure out what they like and what a customer wants. You try to replicate that.
"It's not just on the client side. It's the personnel side, too. We've grown our employee base in South Bend quite a bit in the last seven years in particular. A lot of it is people that are only here because of Notre Dame."
When other agencies were shutting down in the late 1990s, Notre Dame and Anthony Travel agreed on a new model for athletic travel.
"It was the first one to go to that structure," Anthony says. "That structure is really the right way to do it but nobody had done it before."
Other universities have signed on to the model -- a dozen will send representatives to campus in August for a conference on best practices -- and Notre Dame has expanded a version of the model campuswide with its travelND program.
"Now the other schools are wanting that, too," he says. "In our case, what Notre Dame has meant to us has been a foundation we've built this thing around. It's a service that they really need because they've got such a significant enterprise with so much going on. This is a major spend category for them.
"We were lucky that in 1991 they were looking for somebody that would give them personal attention. Now they're such a large enterprise they have to be looking for best-in-class, world-class solutions."