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Travel Planners International Sustains GrowthMay 3, 2009 By: George Dooley
The launch of Travel Planners International’s (TPI) new Mentor Program is the latest in a series of initiatives, including a new lead generation program that is designed to sustain TPI’s leadership position among host agencies, Ken Gagliano, president of the 21-year-old agency said in an interview with Travel Agent.
Gagliano, a veteran travel agent and with his father Tony Gagliano the founder of TPI and CEO, sees the new mentor program as a key to attract and retain entry-level agents. After a prospective travel agent signs up for TPI’s online training course through TPI’s ItsMyTravelBiz.com site, they will be assigned an experienced mentor to provide hands on training.
“Based on our 21 years of experience, we know that a textbook will only teach you a limited amount of travel knowledge,” said Gagliano. “In practicality, agents need real-time, hands-on training and guidance of a mentor. We also know that the first few travel bookings can be a real challenge - even intimidating to some. As a host agency, want our agents to know that they are not alone and because of this, we have a Mentor Program.”
TPI’s mentors have at least five years of experience in the travel industry and will help their trainee every step of the way, Gagliano says. This includes setting up their business, creating a company name, developing a marketing plan and a niche market to making bookings and invoicing.
Another attraction is TPI’s “Earn-While-You-Learn” policy. Agents will be able to book travel with the assistance of their mentor and earn a 50 percent commission. After completion of the online training program and full completion of 10 cruise and/or tour bookings, the commission level will increase according to each individual contract.
While important, TPI’s mentoring program is only the tip of the iceberg. TPI, based in Maitland, FL, is a full service host agency with an estimated 1,500+ agents and sales in excess of $125 million. It offers tiered 70 to 100 percent commission programs, help desk support and strong marketing and business development programs, including lead generation through MyVacationExperts.com.
Commissions are paid twice monthly and productive agents have free access to a range of TPI programs including TRAMS ClientBase, access to all four GDS system, a consumer website, free E&O coverage and no ticketing fees. In combination, TPI’s program offers the independent agent – new or experienced – what Gagliano believes is the best available program and a key to TPI’s success. TPI agents serve both leisure and corporate markets with a strong group component.
Gagliano is proud of TPI’s growth but equally proud that TPI is a family business that has kept its roots. Tony Gagliano, Jr., Ken’s brother, is a vice president of TPI and responsible for TravelAgentCampus.com, a new training program that TPI packages with their ItsMyTravelBiz.com program and also available to other host agencies.
Evolving from a tour company serving the inbound market to a retail outbound agency, the Gagliano’s were quick to see the advantages of building an independent sales force driven by earned commission’s rather salaried staffs. Recruiting more independent contractors and expanding the business became a priority, but with solid financing, operational integrity and a commitment to superior client services remaining constant.
What makes TPI different? Among many features Gagliano believes TPI’s membership in Vacation.com, the 5,000 plus agency network, provides a distinct advantage for TPI and its agents – new or experienced.
Not only do TPI agents benefit from Vacation.com’s preferred supplier programs but win from use of Vacation.com technology such as AgentNet and its new EZguider desktop. TPI agents also benefit from Vacation.com marketing programs such as the Engagement and eEngagement programs.
“Depending on their needs our agents have access to virtually all Vacation.com programs and we believe this gives us a competitive edge,” Gagliano says. He also serves on Vacation.com’s Advisory Board.
Developing specialized niches where the agent’s expertise and focus pays dividends is another vital difference that pays off in improved productivity. TPI has 16 different niches served by professional agents. “Building agent productivity is the key to growth and profitability for thee agent and for TPI.”
Another difference is TPI’s use of technology to amplify the marketing and sales power of the TPI agent. Depending on needs, agents can get web sites and all four GDS systems, direct mail and email support, TRAMS ClientBase and more, including Customer Relations Management (CRM) tools. All supported by continuous training and by a professional staff of 25.
Travel Planners International fully participates in the industry with memberships in ARC, IATAN, CLIA, ASTA, OSSN, NACTA and other major associations. Noteworthy is TPI’s support of the Professional Association of Travel Hosts (PATH), which has taken a leadership position on hosting. Tony Gagliano Sr. is a member of PATHS board of directors.
Ken Gagliano sees continued strong growth for host agencies that can deliver value to independent agents backed by financial integrity and solid management. “Agents must use care in selecting a host agency to affiliate with. As the well publicized problems of Joystar/Travelstar and YTB International have made clear, all host agency’s are not equal.”
“TPI is profoundly against any travel host that operates in any unprofessional manner that can be damaging to the hosting industry including any "card mills" and 'multilevel marketing' organizations,” Gagliano said. TPI is also active in industry issues such as urging changes to benefit agents in ARC rules governing credit card/merchant agreements.
Like other industry leaders, Gagliano expects a tough 2009 ahead, but TPI has come off a record 2008 performance and reports year to date gains of 5 percent plus. TPI will also move into its new headquarters in June and has announced its 2nd Annual Conference at Sea onboard the Carnival Glory, August 29 to September 5.
For experienced agents or new entrants looking for a career opportunity, Gagliano urges them to explore TPI's program. He believes that Travel Planners International offers an exceptionally strong value proposition even in the midst of an economic downturn. The proof is in TPI’s gains in the productivity of independent agents, growing preferred supplier sales and the diversity of business building programs. Most critical, TPI has maintained the loyalty of its agent base and organizational integrity for 21 years.