Despite fears of shortfalls in consumer demand, jobs and economic growth, travel agency marketing groups are booming and plan expansion moves that underscore the value of professional travel agents and agencies.
Several major groups - including agency-owned consortia, franchisers and host agency groups - are reporting plans to expand membership ranks, for example. Others report growth – and program initiatives - in technology applications and hotel and cruise sales.
Signature Travel, for example, reports it has retained Sonia Athan as vice president national sales to spearhead its expansion that includes a new recruitment website. (www.signaturetravelnetwork.com/join).
The site showcases Signature’s business model and member resources, and provides an avenue for potential candidates to start a conversation with the long established network, Signature notes.
Signature said it is interested in enlisting both agencies (targeting agency owners), as well as individual travel consultants who would be matched with the most compatible Signature member. This marks the first time that Signature will assist current members with recruiting individual travel consultants, the group notes.
“We are looking for a few ‘right fit’ members to bring into our Signature family. This process is about finding outstanding members where we can provide great value to their business and travel consultants,” says Signature’s Executive Vice President Alex Sharpe, citing the value of targeted growth.
Signature also welcomed four new member agencies. The network now includes 214 member agencies with 414 retail locations throughout U.S. and Canada. Collectively, Signature reports its members generate over $5 billion in annual travel sales.
In a move billed as part of a strategic initiative aimed at attracting more travel agencies and agents to its ranks, Travel Leaders Group also announced the creation of a new post - Vice President of Agency Acquisitions - and filled the position with industry veteran Shary Dyer, who most recently spent four years as vice president of national sales for the Signature Travel Network, where she achieved $1.2 billion in sales. Prior to that, Dyer achieved approximately $1.5 billion in sales serving as sales/account development director for American Express Travel, which she joined in 2003.
With the addition of Dyer the group will have opportunities to demonstrate the value Travel Leaders offers leading agencies, noted Travel Leaders Group CEO Barry Liben."We are confident that our business units will grow as agency owners discover the added benefits and pathways to profits Travel Leaders Group can provide.”
Stressing the importance of technology, Ensemble Travel Group named Marc Jacobsen as senior director of information technology for its 850 member agencies in the U.S. and Canada.
He will be responsible for creating a long-term technology strategy for Ensemble and support needs of members and Ensemble’s travel partners. Jacobsen will also implement enhancements to the organization’s Client Sites (Ensemble-developed and hosted consumer website for member agencies), Internal agent portal, and social media platforms.
Another initiative is a private-label version of CCRA’s proprietary hotel booking engine and the linking of Ensemble member agencies to the CCRA rate code in all major GDS. The move gives Ensemble members access to over 180,000 hotels worldwide, with bias for the more than 500 properties in Ensemble’s Hotel & Resort Collection, Ensemble says.
Ensemble also reported the addition of 11 new Ensemble On Location partners. New to the program: Abercrombie & Kent Southeast Asia/Thailand, Peru, Morocco, Kenya, and Tanzania; Aloschi & Bassani Group (Italy); Bespoke Excursions (worldwide); Elite Travel LTD (Croatia); Cruise Services (Monaco and France); SMS Travel (Malta) and VIP Hanse Touring (Germany).
The On Location program has grown to nearly 80 in-destination partners, said Suzanne Hall, senior director, marketing and development, land products.
Not to be outdone, Vacation.com announced its 2013 cruise program including Amenity Departure Dates, Vacation Vignettes and the Culinary Collection. Vacation.com reports it will offer more than 500 Amenity Departure Dates and more than 200 Vacation Vignettes next year, in addition to the continuation of its Culinary Collection cruises, the consortia says.
Vacation.com also reports partnering with Royal Caribbean International and Norwegian Cruise Lines on Vacation Vignettes and Azamara Club Cruises on its Amenity Departure Dates. And, for the first time, Vacation.com says, it is partnering with a river cruise company, Avalon Waterways, on its Amenity Departure Dates.
“Our cruise programs continue to be among the most valued member benefits, offering our members an opportunity to stand out from their competitors by providing these one-of-a-kind values,” said Vacation.com President John Lovell.
Travel Leaders Group also reports that second quarter bookings through Stream, its prepaid hotel program, which was launched last year, are up 42 percent over the first quarter 2012. As well, the number of participating travel agencies increased by 13 percent in the second quarter.
The group also reports enhancements to the program including: a low inventory alert, strike-through pricing allowing agents to clearly see specials, average guest ratings, and a “Maximize Your Commission” calculator.
Stream offers agents guaranteed 12 percent commission levels for over 70,000 competitively priced properties worldwide and the ability to add opaque markups, the group says.
Travel Leaders Group’s Stream is now available to all of the company’s wholly owned, franchised and affiliated travel agencies and agents, including Cruise Holidays, Luxury Travel Network, Nexion, Results! Travel, Travel Leaders, Tzell Travel Group and Vacation.com.
Nexion, another Travel Leaders unit and a major host agency, reports a successful first year for its SNAP! (Simple Nexion Air Program), including an 85 percent increase in air, car, and hotel bookings to date through SNAP! .
Nexion says its overall year-over-year air sales are up over 13 percent and that SNAP! has been well received among agents. SNAP! was officially launched in September 2011 and offers agents a non-GDS booking platform for air, car, hotel and rail.
Nexion is a wholly-owned branch of Tzell Travel Group (a Travel Leaders Group company), and a host agency since 1995.
More initiatives are coming, including Virtuoso’s 24th annual conference, recently renamed ‘Virtuoso Travel Week’ slated for the Bellagio in Las Vegas from August 12-17. Virtuoso Travel Week will bring together thousands of Virtuoso’s member travel advisors and offer new insights into the dynamic luxury travel market.