New Booking Engine and More From Consortia, Host Agencies

It’s been a busy last few months for the travel industry’s consortia and host agencies, and they’re pushing ahead into fall and beyond with a number of conferences and new initiatives. Here’s an overview.

NEW BOOKING ENGINE: Signature Travel Network has launched its new consumer-facing hotel booking engine. The platform, an initiative created in partnership with Freedom Travel Technologies, includes all of Signature’s 1,000-plus preferred hotel and resort partners. This will allow an agency’s clients to book their own travel through consultants’ websites while still guaranteeing the amenities and commission.

Consumers booking their hotel stay at one of Signature’s partner hotels and resorts around the world will receive benefits such as breakfast for two daily, a dining or resort credit, spa credits, complimentary round of golf, airport transfers and welcome amenities.

The need for Signature’s hotel booking engine derived from the trend of consumers booking travel online themselves through third-party affiliates. With this new tool, consumers have access to all the information while still working with the consultants to receive the additional benefits and be aware of any restrictions outright.

ENSEMBLE ASSEMBLES IN BAHAMAS: To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Ensemble Travel Group will be holding its annual conference at Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in Nassau, the Bahamas, from October 24-28, 2018. This is the organization’s first such event to take place outside North America in more than 10 years. Ensemble agents will gather there with the knowledge that their efforts on behalf of their clients have not gone unnoticed. According to the consortium’s own Ensemble Agents Make A Difference Survey, travel agents’ expertise and know-how far outweigh price when it comes to what their customers appreciate most. (See Trend Watch, page 6.)

Speaking of appreciation, in June, Ensemble recognized its newest class of “Ensemble Elite” members with a special celebration at the Club Med Marrakech La Palmeraie in Morocco. This annual event recognizes the organization’s top-producing members in the U.S. and Canada based on Ensemble preferred supplier sales in the previous year. Included in this year’s fete were a number of customized sightseeing, culinary, and shopping excursions exclusively created by Club Med for the Ensemble agents in concert with the consortium’s newest partners — Sahara Experience and Morocco National Tourist Office. 

A SYMPOSIUM DOWN UNDER: Virtuoso is heading to Australia for its 2019 Symposium. The luxury travel event will be held in Melbourne, May 7–11, and will mark the second time Australia has hosted the annual event, the first being in Sydney in 2009. Only Hong Kong and Spain have also hosted it on two different occasions.

The Virtuoso Symposium will bring approximately 500 luxury travel advisors and executives to Australia for a week-long conference that includes business meetings, networking events and experiences that highlight the destination. Approximately 50 percent of the Symposium attendees will be travel agency owners or managers. Tourism Australia, along with Visit Victoria, are sponsoring the event. 

Virtuoso Chairman and CEO Matthew D. Upchurch said in a written statement that, since the organization began operating in Australia in 2004, it has grown to 89 travel agency locations in the country, and that Virtuoso is expecting further growth. Tourism Australia has worked with Virtuoso in North America since 2015 with the aim of building a greater connection between the international luxury market and Australia’s luxury offering.

FROM THE “EDGE” TO THE “APEX”: Travel Leaders Group and American Express are launching a new travel benefit program to select Gold Card members in the U.S. and expanding opportunities for all card members to redeem loyalty points. The news was revealed to media at the Travel Leaders Group EDGE Conference that was held in Las Vegas in June. Under the program, dubbed APEX, Travel Leaders Group is introducing “The Travel Collection by Travel Leaders Group,” a special benefit for Gold Card Members.

It works like this, according to officials: U.S. Consumer Gold and Business Gold Card members can gain access to The Travel Collection by calling a Travel Leaders Group agent. The Travel Collection will provide discount offers on flights, value-added benefits at select lodging establishments, shipboard credits on cruises and discounts on escorted and vacation packages.

An important component of the program is that Travel Leaders Group agents will be able to book select American Express travel services, and also redeem Membership Rewards points on behalf of their clients, and earn a commission doing so. A select number of travel agents are beta-testing the program right now; it is expected to be launched to additional Travel Leaders Group agents later this year.

WORKSHOPS AT SEA: Agents who are attending the CoNexion 2018 conference onboard Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas, Sept. 22-29, will have nearly four dozen workshops to choose to attend. Among these are “Best Practices that Close More Sales & Increase Your Bottom Line,” “Learn the Fundamentals of Social Media for Travel Professionals,” “LGBTQ Travel and Tourism - The What, Why, Where and How,” and “Family Travel onboard Royal Caribbean with Vicki Freed,” among others. There will also be a variety of guest speakers, roundtables, panel discussions, networking opportunities and a supplier partner trade show. 

BIG PLANS FOR AMEX REP: As it launches “Avoya 2025,” a new seven-year innovation plan, Avoya Travel, an American Express Travel Representative, plans to navigate into the future in a bigger, bolder way. That includes everything from securing a new technology patent, tackling the negative impact of rebating on agencies, and streamlining communications so its independent member agencies can sell more efficiently and also interact with suppliers in new ways.   

Travel Agent learned about the ambitious plans from executives speaking to 500 attendees, including independent agencies in the Avoya Network, industry leaders, supplier partners and support staff, during the group’s recent conference in Long Beach, CA. To celebrate its 50th anniversary, Ensemble Travel Group will be holding its annual conference at Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in Nassau, the Bahamas, from October 24-28, 2018.

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