LAS VEGAS ENTREPRENEUR PURCHASES MORRIS TRAVEL

Published: Thursday, Aug. 17 1995 12:00 a.m. MDT

The 2002 Olympics and chances to tap into Utah's healthy ski and tourist industry apparently have prompted Las Vegas entrepreneur Gene Yamagata to buy Morris Travel, one of Utah's largest travel agencies with a reputed $150 million in gross annual sales.

Morris announced Wednesday that its board of directors and shareholders had signed a letter of intent to sell the stock at an undisclosed price to Yamagata Enterprises, a Nevada corporation owned by Yamagata. The closing date is expected to be Aug. 31.Morris Travel is privately held by 18 shareholders, including president and CEO Mark Slack.

Slack said Wednesday that the sale will not change the 25-year-old agency created by June Morris in 1970. June Morris also started Morris Air in 1984 and spun off the two companies into separate corporations in 1985. She sold Morris Travel to Slack and others in 1988 and sold Morris Air to Southwest Airlines in 1993.

Slack said he and his management team expect to continue in their jobs and that Morris Travel will remain a Utah corporation.

"We are pleased to be teamed up with Yamagata Enterprises. They will provide us with the necessary capitalization to further develop state-of-the-art automation systems and enhance our highly trained sales and support teams," Slack said. "In addition, the new ownership brings great stability for the future of Morris Travel, including the opportunity to expand into new markets."

Last month, Morris Travel acquired Diamond Travel of Seattle and in the future hopes to expand further into the Pacific Northwest, particularly the Portland area.

The company also wants to bring more tours into Utah to take advantage of expected new skiing business sparked by Salt Lake City winning the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Morris Travel operates more than 60 locations in Utah, Idaho, Oregon and Washington.

Among Yamagata's companies is Vegas Eagle Canyon Airlines, which offers ground and air tours over the Grand Canyon.

Yamagata, who was raised on a farm at Jerome, Idaho, also operates Forever Living Products of Japan, the 55th largest U.S. company doing business in Japan.

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