Onsite: Travel Counsellors Conference

Onboard Voyager of the Seas, Europe: Travel Agent is attending the annual conference of Travel Counsellors (TC), the first and largest home-based travel company in the UK, which recently opened an Orlando office and has offices in Ireland and the Netherlands, and is expected to expand further in the near future. The conference, which is onboard Royal Caribbean's Voyager of the Seas, runs Nov. 11–14 out of Barcelona, with port calls in Genoa and Marseilles. Approximately 500 home-based agents, suppliers, TC employees—and for the first time, media—are in attendance.

The company, which was started in 1994 by dynamic founder David Speakman, used this platform for reviewing 2006 successes and previewing 2007 initiatives. The item outlined in the conference program that is receiving the most buzz is TC's first TV ad campaign, which Speakman expects will begin airing on digital TV (e.g., Skype) in January in the UK. The 40-second spot features a TC agent, clients on holiday, and the voiceover of actor Sean Bean (best known in the US for his roles in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Patriot Games and Golden Eye), ending with: "A friend, an expert and a smarter way to book your holiday." Other highlights from the conference include: The announcements of double-digit growth each year since the company's 1994 inception, the 2006 launch of a recruitment campaign, the Travel Counsellors magazine, and a "high street" (retail shop) business owner package; 145 new agents in 2006; and the winning of two major UK awards. Reported at the conference, on average, TCs earned 50 percent more than agents on the high street; and TCs sales increased (although by a small margin, 2 percent) whilst industry sales in general went down. And not only did sales increase, but margins did as well, as did commissions and time spent with clients; and discounts decreased. The company, which prides itself on customer service, was proud to announce the results of a customer service questionnaire that asked only one question: "How likely is it that you would recommend Travel Counsellors to your friends and colleagues?" Many companies use this questionnaire; amongst results cited were Southwest, which got a 60 percent score, Apple 66 percent, and previously with the highest score in the history of the test, Harley-Davidson, with 81 percent. Travel Counsellors scored a record 86 percent. In 2007, Travel Counsellors will: focus on increasing its number of business travel counsellors and agency owners, initiate a TripAdvisor—like customer feedback tool and further personalization of communications (e.g., brochures, Deal of the Week, quotes), roll out web cams, and will expand to other unnamed countries (Germany was hinted at). Managing Director Steve Byrne closed his remarks on Sunday describing Travel Counsellors as, "An international company of the very, very best agents worldwide pooling their experience." Referring to recruitment and international expansion, Byrne spoke passionately about TCs, as Travel Counsellor agents are known, saying that when the cream of the crop around the world learn about the "family" and their dedication and professionalism as well as the company's general make up, "They will join us in droves."