|LTX consortia panel, from left: Alyse Cori, Travelwize (Virtuoso); Kate Murphy, Wings Travel Group (Vacation.com); Greg DeClemente, Courtyard Travel (Signature); Jill Romano, Dimensions in Travel (Ensemble); and moderator John McMahon, Travel Agent magazine.|
The “Consortia Decision: An Advisor’s Point of View” was the topic of a panel presented at Luxury Travel Exchange in Las Vegas last month. John McMahon, EVP and Group Publisher, Travel Agent magazine moderated the panel of travel advisors who represented their networks before an audience of LTX attendees.
Greg DeClemente, general manager/COO of Courtyard Travel, represented Signature Travel Network; Kate Murphy, president of Wings Travel Group, represented Vacation.com; Alyse Cori, owner of Travelwize, represented Virtuoso; and Jill Romano, owner of Dimensions in Travel, represented Ensemble Travel Group.
Following is just a portion of the discussion.
John McMahon, Travel Agent magazine: You all work at different and very well respected consortia. Tell us why did you consider that it’s important to belong to a consortium and how did you make your choice?
Jill Romano, Dimensions in Travel: As we’re all owners in the room, I’ll direct it to that point; we did look at all of the consortia, and for us what we found with Ensemble which was unique and fit our business model is we are actually shareholders in the organization; and we felt that, with our brand and our unique position in the market, that suited us best. We wanted an ownership control and a louder voice in terms of our consortia.
It is a fantastic organization in terms of the support that it gives to the owners as well as the front line. I could go through the whole list of resources that are similar to all of them, but for us I think the key to it was the ownership levels; to be a shareholder in your organization, the preferred supplier relationships, the year-end profit sharing, those were key to us.
Greg DeClemente, Courtyard Travel: We looked at a number of things; I brought a bit of a unique perspective to our agency in that I had the privilege of being with both Ensemble and Virtuoso before becoming a member of Signature; again it was a matter of matching what our business base is like to the consortia’s benefits.
We looked at member branding, preferred supplier portfolios, marketing and service campaigns, technology, things of that nature; and when we did analysis of all the top quality consortia we felt that the Signature Travel Network was the best one for us.
Kate Murphy, Wings Travel Group: First of all, I should say that I highly respect the other three consortia represented on this panel because I’ve spoken to all of them, and I’m very respectful of them. But I think this is the case where “bigger is better;” Vacation.com is the largest leisure consortium in North America, and basically we’re a travel marketing organization; that’s how we see ourselves, and I say ourselves because every member feels invested and you’re a part of the organization and part of the family.
Truthfully about every two years I look at everyone else, just to make sure that I’m happy where I am and I’m getting what I need from our company, and I’m always pleased to say that I am.
Alyse Cori, Travelwize: I also have done a lot of research on consortia, and one of the reasons why I wanted to go with Virtuoso is because as an agency owner, you can only produce so much business yourself. And in marketing Virtuoso supports our independent contractors. You can only grow so much as an individual, but when you have a team of people who are proud of what they represent, that’s how your business grows.
I’m a very active traveler person and Virtuoso has something called VAST, which is the Virtuoso’s Active Specialty Travel division, which also appealed to me, which none of the consortia had to offer to me.
John McMahon, Travel Agent Magazine: Great. Well, now that’s kind of a general view, let’s cut it down a little bit more to specifics; Jill, what’s so special about Ensemble and what is your favorite benefit that you would like to share. What’s that one thing you’d say, “Damn this is great about Ensemble!”
Jill Romano, Dimensions in Travel: Wow, so many choices. What always comes back to me time and time again is the member networking. I feel we are a unique organization in the sense that there is a true bonding and connecting, and I know the word networking is a bit overused, but it truly does represent the Ensemble Travel Group.
I have found in my particular business, year after year, the relationships that I’m building with other members have helped me in various ways, both from individual bookings, preferred supplier relationships, marketing ideas, et cetera. And it’s been a wonderful tool that isn’t really on the list, so to speak; but it’s something that we value greatly.
Greg DeClemente, Courtyard Travel: From our point of view, Signature is about the identity of the member, which I think is important but the preferred supplier network and the hotel and resort collection, those are some really powerful things that we use to our advantage. Also, we have the ability to select what marketing programs we’re going to send out to clients, it’s a little tricky in that we have a very large base; we have over 45 independent contractors plus the house staff. So you folks who have independent contractors know that you can direct them to a certain extent, but you can’t really tell them what to do.
With the marketing, we have Sabre in the agency, we use TRAMS, and ClientBase tied into it, and as long as the information is put in correctly, you actually build a database, which then is managed to a certain extent by us and by Signature. And we send out tactical promotions throughout the year that generate significant inquiries on the part of the clients.
Kate Murphy, Wings Travel Group: We all have the same things truthfully; we offer a lot of the same product because, as I said, they’re great consortia, but I like Vacation.com’s engagement pieces, whether it’s engagement on the e-mails or the direct mail pieces, and I can put a little personal story to that: my husband and I took an Oceania cruise not long ago from Athens to Rome, and one of my agents said to me “we have three other clients on your same sailing,” and I said, “Oh, great. Can you give me their name and their cabin numbers.”
I got on the ship and I waited and it was only the 10-night sailing, I waited maybe till the second or third night, and I called each cabin and I just said, “I don’t want to bother your vacation, but I wanted to thank you for your business and to tell you that the owners of the agency are on the same cruise as you, and if you have time, I would love to meet you in the bar for a drink.”
Two of the three couples told me that the direct mail pieces that we had sent to them, they literally took a magnet and put them on their refrigerator.
Alyse Cori, Travelwize: One of the things that I liked about Virtuoso was their marketing material; people are not going to throw that away; they’re going to keep it on their coffee table and people are going to come to their house and see it. I also like Virtuoso because they’re on the cutting edge, they’re always promoting something that’s new, and they’re always just a step ahead.
Consortia and Training
Here’s what the “Consortia Decision” panelists at the Luxury Travel Exchange had to say about training programs for travel advisors.
Alyse Cori, Travelwize: The training for [Virtuoso] agents is by far the most amazing thing ever. There are constant e-mails about webinars, about training and incentives for the agents to participate in. The only way that you’re going to grow is by growing your team; and they’re very team friendly and that’s why I went with Virtuoso.
Jill Romano, Dimensions in Travel: What I like about Ensemble’s webinars; you have introduction, you have a webinar, and then there’s a follow-up three or four weeks later to refresh and to go over it all. It’s not just one-day crash course. To me it’s an invaluable tool and it helps to grow your professionalism, your knowledge about the product and the update.
Kate Murphy, Wings Travel Group: We [Vacation.com] have the same thing; we have a lot of training courses that we can take through every time a new IC comes to work with us, so we hire a new staff member, we put them on Agent Universe, which is the proprietary site of Vacation.com, and there are all kinds of webinars you can sign up for, and they’re recorded so you can go back and then listen to them.
Greg DeClemente, Courtyard Travel: We [Signature] have sales meetings, we have a trade show, we have an owners’ meeting, we have regional owners’ meetings, we’ve got regional training for travel consultants, we got Summer clubs, Horizon Club, Member Appreciation, it goes on and on and on and on and on. These are really four good consortia, so it depends on where you think you’re going to get some benefits. If you’re carriage trade and you don’t do a lot of marketing and your business is referral, then maybe the marketing programs of any of these consortia don’t work for you.