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Consortia Can Be an Agent's Best FriendJuly 7, 2008 By: George Dooley Travel Agent
Travel agency consortia—including the franchisers and agency-owned cooperatives—are indispensable to professional travel agents and are today at the heart of the agency distribution system. Consortia benefit corporate and leisure agencies, large and small, as well as host agencies. And they deliver a needed brand identification while adding real value to agencies and agents.
Steven McGillivray, vice president marketing for Vacation.com, underscored this during his presentation at the company’s recent Annual Conference in Las Vegas. McGillivray noted Vacation.com’s 10-year history of innovation, which includes integrated marketing and technology programs that directly contribute to member agencies’ productivity and profitability. Vacation.com took risks and invested in its 5,100 agency members. This includes breaking new ground in the education and training of travel agents.
McGillivray’s annual marketing report to the members also cited Vacation.com’s AgentNet desktop, launched in 2000, and Vacation.com’s “Engagement” marketing program, begun in 2004, illustrating Vacation.com’s record of innovation in support of its members.
Vacation.com’s performance is praiseworthy, as is the support of its parent company, Amadeus. But so, too, is the performance of other agency groups ranging from AAA and American Express’ Representative Network to MAST, Virtuoso, Signature and Ensemble. The consortia are consistently pioneering, innovating and encouraging agents and agencies to exploit every professional opportunity.
Each agency group has a claim to uniqueness and innovation. TRAVELSAVERS, for example, early on recognized the importance of independent home-based agents with its NEST host agency. It pioneered an international network. Carlson Wagonlit—now the Travel Acquisitions Group—broke new ground with its Results! Travel unit, as did Cruise Holidays and its SeaMaster cruise franchise. Uniglobe initiated its corporate and hosting programs, including the Uniglobe V program with Vacation.com. Sabre’s Leisure TMA network has always been competitive.
True, much of the success of consortia is due to the suppliers. The higher commission levels, overrides and incentives that they offer agents through the consortia partnerships are formidable. To some agents, the benefits of consortia membership make the difference between profit and loss. As the Vacation.com conference made clear, consortia membership helps agents remain competitive. And agents earn the suppliers’ support. Both deliver value to each other.
All About Integration
Noteworthy during the Vacation.com conference was integration: the ability of consortia to pull together the disparate marketing and technology tools with high-quality professional education and training. In Vacation.com’s “Experience” room, for example, agents saw an interactive showcase of marketing and technology tools—and earned rewards for implementing the programs in their own businesses. Participants included American Express, TRAMS, Passport Online and Amadeus to name a few.
Agents were also able to get hands-on demonstrations of Vacation.com’s new EZguider booking tool and a clear presentation of how the new EZguider would work with existing technologies and with established marketing systems.
Steve Tracas, president and CEO of Vacation.com also made it clear that Vacation.com’s history of innovation is far from over. At the conference—in addition to the centerpiece introduction of EZguider—Vacation.com launched a new hotel program (Hotel Elite), a new destination-receptive services capability (World Connect) and an even stronger hosted-cruise program. This is in addition to what is expected to be a steady pace of innovation in EZguider itself.
Vacation.com’s Hotel Elite program offers agents contracted space with negotiated rates and higher commission payments ranging from 13 percent to 15 percent. Travelers booked through Hotel Elite will receive an enhanced experience at approximately 100 of the world’s most luxurious properties including room upgrades, free breakfast, early/late check-in when available and local offices in nearly every major city to assist vacationers.
“Affluent customers are the best clients as they tend to remain loyal to an agent who serves them well,” said Tracas. “Hotel Elite is designed to stack the cards in our members’ favor by exceeding client expectations, while increasing the agent’s commission as well.”
While far from the oldest of the agency groups, Vacation.com certainly deserves recognition as one of the best, delivering outstanding value to its 5,100 agency members. Armed with superb managers and professional staff, Vacation.com is investing time, talent and hard cash in the professional agency distribution system and its future. Without consortia like Vacation.com, today’s travel agents would be less competitive and less able to serve the traveling public with integrity.