Travel agency owners and managers who buckled down and adapted to the new business realities in 2009 and 2010 are finding themselves in a very positive position in today’s marketplace, according to Lindsay Pearlman, executive vice president and general manager of Ensemble Travel Group.
Speaking before an audience of more than 800 Ensemble Travel Group members, preferred suppliers, and guests gathered at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress for the organization’s annual conference, Pearlman believes for many Ensemble agencies, business is back on par with the glory days of 2007-08.
“Those who focused on the business of travel as opposed to the travel business are doing quite well,” said Pearlman. “In order to sustain that momentum, though, and help members become more profitable, Ensemble Travel Group is strategically evaluating programs and services to ensure they meet one of two criteria – either they generate revenue or save costs for members.”
He cited new Ensemble initiatives such as South Pacific Specialist Program – launched earlier this year for both U.S. and Canadian members – as a homerun when it comes to revenue generators. “We hit this one out of the ballpark,” Pearlman says, adding that 49 percent of those members participating in the Tahiti, Fiji, and Australia familiarizations trips this spring reported overall revenue growth from the hands-on experience. Sales activity averaged three bookings per agent. “This fully integrated program delivers not only higher commission levels, but also sets our members apart from the masses in the marketplace.”
In terms of cost savings, Ensemble Travel Group marketing programs such as the new Ensemble Boutique program is far less expensive for members to tap into than doing it on their own. This program, which will first be launched in Canada, provides a platform for ordering business services – such as printing and magazines – by leveraging the organization’s North American buying power while significantly lowering the final cost for members.
With about a 50-50 split of members in the U.S. and Canada, Ensemble Travel Group is “North American-izing” its business where it makes strategic sense. “Yes, we do operate ‘per market’ in certain cases,” notes Pearlman, “but where we can maximize efficiencies and leverage both our infrastructure costs internally plus generate new opportunities because of our unique cross-border synergy, we will continue to do so in a big way. Our goal is to develop North American platforms that will drive incremental business and new customers to our members. Again, the Ensemble South Pacific Specialist Program is a prime example of that. Instead of developing programs that were fundamentally retention tools, we’ve ramped it up to create platforms that first successfully attract new clients and then build agent-customer loyalty for the long haul. Simply put, we’ve moved from retention-based to an acquisition- and retention-driven strategy.”
This two-pronged strategy requires a multi-channel approach when it comes marketing with both traditional print and social media components being key. “Social media is an evolution of standardized marketing,” says Pearlman. “Keep in mind that marketing is more about relationships than selling. Sure, you still need to sell your products, but it’s more about developing a knowledge-based trust with that customer. If members can build that trust through these different tools, they’ll end up going to market with a fully integrated strategy.”
Ensemble also said that to support members’ efforts in marketing and other areas, the Ensemble business development and customer care teams are becoming more focused on helping agency owners critically analyze and grow their business with a hands-on, consultative approach. “This means going in and working with each agency’s management team to assure that, indeed, business is being built,” adds Pearlman. “It all goes back to helping members truly be in the business of travel as opposed to being in the travel business. It’s more than just semantics; it’s about surviving. And I’m confident that Ensemble Travel Group members have what it takes to survive – and thrive – in the coming years.”