Hindered by a weak European economy, Carlson Wagonlit Travel saw sales fall 1.1 percent last year after a robust 2011.
CWT, the travel management unit of Minnetonka-based Carlson, on Thursday reported sales of $27.7 billion in 2012, down from $28 billion a year earlier.
The company said a 21 percent gain in transactions from Latin America coupled with a 2.3 percent gain in North America were offset by a 4.4 percent drop in Europe, Africa and the Middle East and a 2.4 percent decline in the Asia-Pacific region.
"2012 was a good year with one exception — Western Europe," CWT Chief Executive Douglas Anderson said in an interview Thursday. "During the first half of last year we were concerned about the challenges in growing our business in Europe, and we were right. But things seem to have bottomed out and we sense less pessimism. I'm feeling a lot better going into 2013 than I was going into 2012."
CWT, which counts gross sales in its financial results, said its specialty divisions performed well last year. The energy services unit, clients in the oil and gas exploration and drilling business, grew by 22 percent while its travel consulting arm increased by 17 percent. Meetings and events activity was up 10 percent.
"These are rapidly developing mini-companies," Anderson said. "We see opportunities across those companies."
In 2011, CWT showed financial results that brought the company back to levels it experienced in 2007, the last year before the Great Recession.
Anderson said CWT expects to see low-single-digit growth in 2013.
"In five or six years, the Asia Pacific area will be the largest travel region in the world. Latin America will grow too," Anderson said. "The question in Europe is how long will that economy bounce along the bottom. We hope it is not for an extended period. We're not ringing the bells yet but we think 2013 will be better than 2012."