While customer relations management technology is indispensable, successful travel agents are going beyond technology solutions to develop personalized relationships with their client base.
They are also relying on their agency consortia to deliver cost-effective CRM tools, including agency-branded promotions that deliver profitable sales, Jack Mannix, president and CEO of Ensemble Travel Group, believes.
Jack Mannix (right) poses with Christine Thurlow of Holland America Line and Richard Molander of Travel of America at Ensemble's annual conference in October.
“Today’s CRM program goes beyond technology to use every means by which agents can build sales,” he says. “They are building client confidence and trust, nurturing perceptions of reliability and preference for their agency’s services. Technology is the means—the client’s satisfaction and repeat patronage is the end.”
Now in his seventh year at Ensemble, Mannix sees Ensemble member agents succeeding in a highly competitive business, in part due to their ability to serve clients effectively. Last year was a record-breaking one for the company and its nearly 1,000 member agents in the U.S. and Canada.
Mannix is also hopeful that Ensemble will grow in sales and productivity in 2008, despite widespread concerns with the overall U.S. economy. Ensemble added 13 new member agencies in the first quarter, he notes, and reports across-the-board gains in member productivity.
He is also convinced that Ensemble member agents are benefiting from a full range of Ensemble programs. This includes new sales and promotional materials, new technologies and new networking opportunities. “Ensemble members continue to focus on consumers and are finding innovative ways to meet their needs. The payoff is in sales,” Mannix said.
New Web Presence
Among Ensemble’s initiatives is the rollout of a totally new consumer website program that will drive business to Ensemble agents. Mannix said the program was the first redesign of Ensemble’s Client Sites program in four years.
More than 400 Ensemble agents use the hosted program that will include Web 2.0 tools such as blogging capabilities, photo sharing and in-depth information on over 322 markets.
Another initiative is the launch of a new full-blown Ensemble Lifestyles Magazine, focused on the luxury market. Ensemble members can use the magazine to reach luxury travelers and complement the existing Ensemble Vacations magazine. According to Mannix, “This will position us to help build luxury travel sales—one of the fastest-growing portions of our agents business.”
Mannix also reports strong growth in cruise and tour sales. “As an agent-owned cooperative, we don’t release sales figures but it is in the billions. Our emphasis is on productivity, not sheer number of agency locations. This has delivered growth for our shareholders and suppliers.”
One indication of Ensemble’s growth is its Inspired Journeys program that has grown to 350 escorted programs and another 650 departures involving amenities. “This success underscores our determination to provide Ensemble agencies [with] tools that differentiate them in the market and deliver value to consumers,” he says.
Ensemble Travel Group marks its 40th anniversary this year, and will celebrate the milestone at its annual conference October 15-19 at the Red Rock Casino in Las Vegas. Regional Marketing meetings are also slated for April 25-26 in San Francisco and May 2-3 in Fort Lauderdale, FL.
“The bottom line is serving the traveling public and their needs and getting them to buy. Ensemble members are focused on the consumer and giving them compelling offers that can’t be matched elsewhere. As Ensemble listens to our agents, our agents listen to consumers,” Mannix said.
For more information on Ensemble, visit www.ensembletravel.com.