Travel Agent was on hand Sunday night for the kickoff of the American Express Travel U.S. Representative Network Conference, which drew a whopping 92 percent of the network, compared to the 52 percent that attended last year's event, and plenty of news.
Perhaps the biggest news of the night was when American Express (AmEx) Travel announced its new partnership with Orbitz to power the American Express Travel online webs. With this new collaboration, Orbitz's extensive hotel program, which represents 85,000 hotel properties across the globe will be made available to the American Express Retail Travel Network. This will allow network members to take part in price-match guarantees as well as give them access to low rates. This is a multi-year agreement and guarantees agents a 12-percent commission.
"We are raising the bar and you should want every person sitting next to you to raise the bar as well," says Ellen Bettridge, vice president of the American Express U.S. Retail Travel Network.
The conference, themed "Take Charge," began with a general session that attracted nearly 1,000 agents and industry professionals. It was highlighted by opening remarks by Bettridge and Claire Bennett, senior vice president and general manager of American Express Consumer Travel Network, U.S.
Bettridge told attendees that American Express U.S. Retail Travel Network saw a 20-percent attrition in 2011, but only four percent represented the company's sales. In fact, sales on the retail side were up seven percent this year and will represent $5.4 billion by the end of the year.
"We will continue to look for new strategies and continue to leverage new partnerships," Bettridge says. "The more you leverage someone else for something that they have built, the more it makes you stronger."
And she backed up her words with other crucial announcements.
Here's a recap of the other news we learned from Sunday night:
The Fine Hotel & Resorts program is exclusively for American Express Platinum and Centurion Card Members. This special program offers up to $450 complimentary benefits with every stay at more than 700 luxury hotels around the world and more. Currently, the ability to book this hotel program directly is available only via Sabre GDS systems. Beginning January 1, this capability will be available via all GDS systems - exclusively for AmEx Rep Travel office.
Complementing the already successful American Express Travel Specialist program, the Travel Insiders program is a fee based service that combines custom itineraries, Membership Reward Points and other customer interactions an touch pints. Since the soft launching this year, the site has had more than 40,000 unique visits and is a sign that, "We are beginning to migrate away from the specialist program," says Bettridge.
The newly created Retail Travel Hub provides members with key information on car ember travel benefits, services and special limited offers available by booking exclusively with an American Express Travel office. This "White Label" version is available to link directly to the Member Network 's own website, as an additional tool for drubbing business into their office.
Andrew Harper, a nationally recognized travel company, joined the American Express Representative Travel Network this year. The network will be partnering with them and leveraging many of their travel assets for customers. These assets include among others: The Andrew Harper Hideaway report, access to their travel content and the availability to leverage their membership packages for clients. Currently they have more than 15,000 subscribers. American Express also announced the additions of two other travel agencies -- Brickell Travel Management in Miami and VIP Travel in New York City.
American Express OPEN will work to match Business Platinum Card members with qualifying representatives to provide customized travel management services for their businesses and leisure travel needs. There will be specific eligibility requirements for representatives to participate in this program.
Keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com for updates fro the conference, which runs through Wednesday.