The launch of ARC’s Helix program testifies to ARC’s confidence and commitment to the travel agency distribution system, according to Christopher Flores, Helix and Verified Travel Consultant (VTC) program director.
Flores, an industry veteran with stints at ASTA and Vacation.com, told Travel Agent that he sees Helix fulfilling a need in a changing industry. “We bring a fresh perspective and resources to a segment of the business that is highly competitive. By doing so, we are investing in the agency distribution channel.“
Launched in February, Helix provides home-based and retail travel agencies competitive supplier offerings, multiple business services, and professional education and training that Flores believes agents need to operate more efficiently and become more profitable. Helix now has nearly 300 members.
To get Helix started, ARC negotiated partner agreements with some of the industry’s key suppliers, including Carnival Cruise Lines, Globus family of brands, Avalon Waterways, Insight Vacations, Travel Impressions, Funjet Vacations and Southwest Airlines Vacations. At present, Helix now has over 30 preferred suppliers.
“With Helix our members can build relationships directly and independently with suppliers and receive 100 percent of the commissions to which they are entitled,” Flores notes, pledging the selective addition of preferred suppliers as the Helix program matures. Helix agencies will have access to enhanced and, in some cases, exclusive commissions.
Education and training is a vital part of the Helix program, Flores reports, with a host of online business courses, webinars, as well as destination and regional symposiums available for members. Flores and Helix have been working closely with Joanie Ogg, a well-known and respected educator and travel agency advocate, on education and training initiatives and will continue to build on that foundation.
Helix members will also benefit from an array of business services with exclusive products and services offered by service providers in the industry, Flores says.
This includes ClientEase, the internet-based customer relationship management (CRM) tool, Travel 42, an online resource for reviews, destination guides, and travel alerts, including Star Services Online, Weissmann Reports, Official Cruise Guide and Intelliguide.
Helix also offers a Membership ID Card available to all agents employed by a Helix member agency. The Helix ID Card may be used with participating Helix Preferred Suppliers.
Flores sees Helix as a “consortium”. He notes that Helix members must be ARC participants, either as a ticketing agency or as a VTC agency. VTCs, which equate to 1,500 agencies, can still book air, rail, and/or bus, but cannot issue the tickets. Now going into its fourth year the VTC program continues to grow as agents continue to have an interest in building their own brands and independence, Flores says.
Earlier this year Helix launched the Helix Regional Symposiums series. The Philadelphia, Chicago and Las Vegas Symposiums were well attended by agents and supported by Helix preferred supplier partners. The Symposiums featured presentations by Ogg, and other motivational speakers including Nolan Burris, and Stuart Cohen.
The next Helix Symposium will be held Oct. 31 – Nov. 1, 2011 at the Sheraton Fort Lauderdale Beach Hotel in Fort Lauderdale.
Flores says the Helix Symposium Series will be continued in 2012. “The regional symposiums have been extremely successful. They are filled with content relevant to a travel professional’s business. Our supplier partners have an opportunity to really understand an attendee’s business and present their value propositions, and the level of personal touch the agents receive at our events has been one of the biggest positive reviews.”
While the creation of ARC’s Helix program has drawn flack from some industry groups who question ARC’s formation of a stand-alone agency group, Flores sees Helix as filling a need.
“Travel professionals want choice and options with who they affiliate and Helix can compete in its own right. There is more than one business model and Helix will continue to be attractive to those that see us as a good fit for what they’re trying to accomplish.”
Flores says that he expects Helix to continue its growth in 2012 and to deliver value to member agencies.
He stresses that Helix enables travel agencies to operate independently and directly with preferred suppliers and provides members with the ability to maximize business profitability with turn-key products, services, and training.
Flores notes that an agency joining Helix, will not have to "give-up" association memberships but dual consortia membership will not be permitted, which is an industry standard. The agency can be both a Helix member, as well as an independent contractor to the host agency.
For more information about Helix and the regional symposiums, visit www.joinhelix.com. ARC participating agencies can join Helix risk free and not pay for membership until 2012.
For more information about ARC participation, visit www.arccorp.com/join/travel-agency-participation.jsp