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Seizing the Silver Lining, Ensemble Agents Stay the CourseOctober 23, 2009 By: Lark Ellen Gould Travel Agent
Ensemble Travel Group CEO Jack Mannix
It’s been a good year for agents at Ensemble Travel Group, despite the fact that it has also been the most challenging. More agents joined the member-owned consortium than left it and the boards and committees have been busy finding opportunities through these strange times to build on partnerships, create award-winning promotions and perfect technical offerings.
“People are feeling better than they were six months ago,” Ensemble CEO Jack Mannix, CTC, told the 750 or so attendees at the first general session of the International Ensemble 2009 Conference at the Fairmont Banff Springs in Banff, Canada on Wednesay. “We know the total spend is not going away. Yeah, we had a hiccup and maybe we have a slightly smaller pie. But the pie is not going away. Frankly, this crisis is too great an opportunity to miss!”
Ensemble, which connects some 450 suppliers with some 950 agents in the U.S. and Canada, is focusing on four key areas going forward in its most current strategy: programs and products that separate them from other travel marketing associations; leading edge methods to drive more sales; capitalizing on strengths of being a pan-North American association; and efficient data management that takes advantage of available information to help agents focus sales.
To accomplish these goals, Ensemble is rolling out a number of new programs. Among them is E-Matrix 360, a partnership with TRAMS that offers members flexibility and choice in a completely turnkey e-mail marketing system. Agents have the ability to manage the program themselves, opting in and out of specific promotions as they choose. When a client receives a promotion, the record is tagged in the member’s client base, facilitating follow-up calls by the agent to close the sale and increase repeat business.
Another initiative is called Ensemble Portals. Powered by Travel Bound, the program provides cruise passengers with a healthy choice of two-night pre- and post-cruise packages in ports around the world, capitalizing on preferred supplier relationships with a bevy of pre-packaged stays and touring bundles. It is also launching a commissionable ShoreTrips program using preferred suppliers to give cruise clients a choice beyond the ship menu for their excursions.
The technology advantages debuting at Ensemble include 24/7 online training programs, assistance in social networking and a new website upgrade customized to what agents need in order to get people to their sites and keep them there. The upgraded new ClientSite pages have a fresh and lively look and include special supplier offers and location information from Frommer’s.
Smoothing the way for airline sales, Ensemble launched its air program last month with 13 partners, including Virgin Air, Air New Zealand, Air Tahiti Nui, Scandinavian Airlines, Mexicana, Turkish Airlines, LAN Airlines, Porter Airlines, TAM Brazilian Airlines, South African Airlines, Etihad, Aer Lingus, Qatar Airways and others. The air program complements the land and sea programs already in place.
With a certain confidence, Ensemble is going into 2010 with a sense that “stealth wealth’ is becoming a thing of the past. To put a shot in the arm of travel’s spring slump this year, Ensemble launched a very successful “Vacation Therapy” campaign to get people out of their depressions and thinking about travel again. The multi-pronged campaign centered pithy mailers targeted to various client segments with messages that would appeal to them and an assortment of packages and deals cherry picked for each of the targeted client segments.
“A survey conducted by the American Affluent Research Center found the top 10 percent of wealthy households felt a sense of shame, there was definitely a guilt factor in place," said Carol Black, senior director of strategic marketing. "But that has faded a bit. We found that agents were becoming psychiatrists to their clients and that became the pretext of our campaign. We used strong emotional drivers and we went right for that elephant in the room. The campaign was so successful that we are launching our third version of it this winter.”
“It’s not if; it’s when,” added Mannix, “for pent-up demand sales and recovery. The people surveyed think it will be an 18 to 24 month period and that is probably true but we still have to push the needle.”