Morris Travel and Beehive Travel have merged to create the third largest travel agency in the Intermountain West and the 15th largest agency in the United States.

Morris made $145 million and Beehive made $43 million in gross annual sales last year.The new Morris-Beehive Travel will be headquartered at 240 E. Morris Ave., and employees began answering phones Friday morning with the new title.

"It's been an obvious marriage that we've been pursuing on both sides for some time. The timing is excellent for the marriage to happen," said Clifford Snyder, Jr., the former CEO of Beehive Travel who will continue as a consultant with the new agency.

"With the way the travel industry is heading, and the way many industries are heading, synergy and strength of operations are critical for future strategies," Snyder said. "These two highly successful companies combining will create a terrific and powerful force in the Western United States."

Agency officials said consumers will benefit because a larger and more powerful company could possibly negotiate more favorable rates with airlines, hotels, cruise operators, tour companies and other travel suppliers.

As for the new company itself, the merger will offer a more balanced mix of corporate and vacation travel. Previously, both firms focused primarily on corporate travel, which is profitable, but has fairly narrow profit margins.

Randall Hunt, a former Morris employee who now is vice president of sales and services for Morris-Beehive Travel, said plans are under way to expand into new markets and bolster existing markets.

The new agency now operates in six states, and Hunt said any expansion will be done on a highly selected basis.

For example, Morris Travel acquired another agency on Friday - Corporate Travel Service in Seattle that earned $7 million in gross sales. This complements last year's acquisition of Diamond Travel of Seattle, which focuses mainly on vacation travel.

As for travel agency employees, some changes may be in the offing. Morris employs 400 people and Beehive 150.

"As with most mergers, a consolidation of offices and employees will take place. We're reviewing that," Hunt said, adding that most adjustments have already occurred.