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It began as an in-house operation for Rich Products’ with just five employees, and has evolved into an independent travel management company with a staff of 120, serving more than 400 corporate clients.

Over the years, the Travel Team expanded its offerings and customer base with a more comprehensive approach to travel management, including a medical evacuation insurance program with the Cleveland Clinic.

And now with a new smartphone language translation application, the Buffalo-based company is attempting to further broaden its customer base and services.

The InterpreTravel app can be uploaded to Androids and iPhones and used by travelers to improve communication and foster cultural immersion in foreign countries. “There are multiple applications for it,” said Ron Luczak, the travel agency’s vice president for business development. “It’s really designed for students studying abroad, the leisure traveler and the business traveler.”

The Travel Team sees universities, leisure travelers and businesses as potential customers.

Last year, The Travel Team partnered with Language Services Associates of Horsham, Pa., to develop the app, which debuted in August. It can assist English speakers in communicating in 20 languages via a live interpreter in a variety of situations – from medical emergencies to ordering dinner.

“Based on what we do and from talking to our clients, we saw this need across our base,” said Joel A. Cristall, vice president of strategic technology for the Travel Team. “We made this app not just for us, not just for the Travel Team clients, but it’s an application any traveler can use.”

Most other translation apps and services are speech-to-text with no connection to a live person, and the few with live telephonic interpreters have limited language pairs, with one or two languages. Cristall said InterpreTravel is the only app with multiple languages.

The company believes IntrepreTravel could be a breakthrough product.

“Its potential is huge,” Cristall said. “Our responsibility is obviously to get eyes on it.”

It costs $2.99 to upload the app to smartphones, and users can tap buttons on the screen to connect to interpreters for $2.89 per minute. Minutes can also be prepaid. Since the app just hit the market, it’s too early to gauge how many have been purchased or minutes sold but “the response has been very positive,” he said.

“A lot of technology comes out and really doesn’t solve a problem; it just looks cool or feels cool,” Cristall said. “But InterpreTravel solves a fundamental problem, and anything that solves a fundamental problem is usually a strong product. And we are getting that strong response when we talk to people. The response has been very positive.”

The company projects a sale of 500,000 to 1 million minutes for 2013. The average length of call to an interpreter, which are provided by Language Services Associates, is 5 to 15 minutes long. While there are 20 languages built in the app, Language Associates offers interpreters for more than 238 languages, so callers will access to the entire pool. He added that the app is flexible and scalable and future updates will include more language pairs based on demand.

The new app is the latest boon for a business that has experienced continual success. “We keep growing our business and head count and looking for different markets to develop,” Luczak said. “Over the past years we have grown through acquisitions of travel companies that we bought – acquiring new accounts and travel agencies. We’ve done that in Canada and throughout the U.S.”

The company, which is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rich Products, began as an office to coordinate travel plans for Rich’s employees. It went independent in 1989 as Rich attempted to broaden its entertainment division. The Travel Team is a American Express representative and has offices in Albany, Erie, St. Catharines, Ont., and two locations in Tampa, Fla.

In 2011, it teamed up with the Cleveland Clinic to offer its Global Care program, which promises to transport patients back to the clinic or the hospital of their choice if they become seriously ill or injured while traveling anywhere in the world. Through the program, it coordinates critical-care, air-rescue and evacuation service for the Cleveland Clinic, with a staff of five workers handling the program’s arrangements 24 hours a day.

The company provides travel management services to small, medium and large companies. It was the official travel agency for the Buffalo Bills’ four Super Bowl appearances. Next year, it will coordinate the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra’s visit to Carnegie Hall.

“We are always exploring new avenues; and we pride ourselves on building custom platforms based on what our clients need, both on the corporate and leisure side,” Cristall said.

email: esapong@buffnews.com