Home Counsel

If you are a sales-minded independent agent in need of a sleek, new state-of-the-art computer, Peter Rasmussen has a great deal for you. Best of all, it’s free—at least if you are a Travel Counsellors home-based member agent.

Rasmussen, a 27-year industry veteran and president of Travel Counsellors USA, says the computer is part of Travel Counsellors’ uniquely comprehensive program of support to jump-start sales for new agents.

Travel Counsellors USA

The Travel Counsellors USA's executive team (from left): Peter Rasmussen, president; Joanie Ogg, senior vice president of global sales and industry relations; and Darya Camacci, senior vice president of operations.

The new computers are preloaded with the proprietary software that Travel Counsellors’ agents need to link up with the company’s global network of 900 agents, serve their clients and take advantage of all Travel Counsellors’ resources.

“We want to provide our agents with the very best in technology, marketing, training and support,” says Rasmussen. “All are keys to our agents’ success. Giving our new agents a computer saves them time and money and gets them up to speed quickly.”

Superlative support of its member agents has been a major reason for Travel Counsellors’ growth in the U.K., where it is headquartered. Rasmussen believes that support will also lay the groundwork for Travel Counsellors’ expansion in the U.S.

Worldwide sales this year will hit $520 million, he estimates, with the total number of independent agents hitting the 1,000 mark or greater. Given the importance and growth potential of the U.S. travel market, sparking the expansion of Travel Counsellors USA is a top priority.

Computers and top-of-the-line technology are just one component in Travel Counsellors’ program, which may well rank as one of the most extensive in the industry. A checklist of support features totals more than 80 items backed by Travel Counsellors’ award-winning history of innovation.


Making Moves
While a new “brand” to many U.S. agents, Rasmussen and Travel Counsellors Founder and Chairman David Speakman are well on their way to forming a powerful marketing and management team that will spearhead the company’s expansion in the U.S.

The most dramatic of Travel Counsellors’ recent moves was the appointment of Joanie Ogg, the founder and president of the National Association of Commissioned Travel Agents (NACTA), to Travel Counsellors’ executive ranks.

Ogg, widely acknowledged as a pioneer in the home-based sector of the travel industry, will serve as senior vice president of global sales and industry relations for Travel Counsellors USA and join Rasmussen to build Travel Counsellors’ U.S. network.

“We see tremendous opportunity in the U.S. market, especially in cruise and tour sales,” says Rasmussen. “We have strong management and financial support, as well as a proven, tested, award-winning business model that assures the success of our travel counselors—or TCs, as we call them.”

Along with Ogg—who was recently named to CLIA’s Hall of Fame for her achievements—Rasmussen has added Darya Camacci as senior vice president of operations, USA. The three executives have the support of 30 staffers who will be headquartered in Saddle Brook, N.J.

Uniquely, Travel Counsellors wants to exploit the synergies of a global network linked by technology and quality agents. Based in Bolton, England, Travel Counsellors sees opportunity ahead—especially for its professional agents who envision the future in worldwide marketing.

With nearly 900 full-time professional agents in seven countries, Travel Counsellors lays claim to the title of world’s largest independent home-based travel company, with a history of year-over-year growth in sales and the number and productivity of independent agents.

Travel Counsellors’ primary focus is on the expansion of leisure-travel sales, but it has a strong corporate travel capability as well. Increasing cruise sales is a primary goal—especially in the U.S., where Travel Counsellors expects a 20-percent increase in cruise sales for 2008 over the $56 million reported in 2007.

“We see tremendous opportunity in the U.S. market, especially in cruise and tour sales,” says Rasmussen. “We have strong management and financial support, as well as a proven, tested, award-winning business model that assures the success of our travel counselors—or TCs, as we call them.”


Experience Counts
Travel Counsellors’ timing could not be better, with Ogg and Camacci joining the management team at a critical juncture. Home-based travel agents increasingly dominate the industry, and host agencies have become marketing powerhouses driving multimillion-dollar sales in cruises and tours.

“Competition for qualified agents is intense,” says Ogg. “Especially for the experienced, full-time, professional, sales-minded agents Travel Counsellors is looking for. But the combination of corporate resources and the quality of personalized one-on-one support gives us real advantages.”

For the typical TC, the stats are interesting: 83 percent of agents are women, 77 percent have children, 71 percent are aged between 31 and 50. Before joining Travel Counsellors, 60 percent were managers, deputy managers or owners of retail travel agencies. An impressive 97 percent would not return to their previous jobs, and 87 percent said their work/life balance has improved since joining.

Travel Counsellors’ commitment to professionalism is another asset cited by Ogg. Agents are encouraged to get a CTC or MCC designation (or both), and Travel Counsellors will pick up the costs, including recurring dues and renewal fees.

“Our travel agents own the client, not Travel Counsellors,” says Camacci. “We have a very high retention rate of 97 percent and a very low attrition rate. Our TCs enjoy strong repeat business from customers, and independent research shows very high client satisfaction levels.”

The move underscores the value Travel Counsellors places on professional education, as well as its selectivity. “We focus on recruiting experienced sales agents who have made a full-time commitment to travel sales,” Ogg says. Travel Counsellors will also expand its roster of preferred suppliers to serve U.S. agents.

Travel Counsellors’ checklist of marketing, sales, administrative and training/support services ranges from E&O insurance to central support staff, ARC reporting, commission tracking and billing support to customer-relationship management and individual websites.

Perhaps most important is the agents’ ability to build a business of their own that increases in value. Agents can launch their own branded business, develop staff and build equity. In short, Travel Counsellors wants to be ranked among the most successful host-agency franchises, offering agents a decisive difference in building a profitable business.

“Our travel agents own the client, not Travel Counsellors,” says Comacci. “We have a very high retention rate of 97 percent and a very low attrition rate. Our TCs enjoy strong repeat business from customers, and independent research shows very high client satisfaction levels.”

Dynamic packaging is another feature. Ogg, Rasmussen and Camacci believe Travel Counsellors’ Phenix technology base for dynamic packaging empowers agents. The Travel Counsellors agent can offer clients access to an array of cruise, tour, air and hotel products while using net pricing options. The process is fully automated.

“Travel Counsellors’ technology puts agents in control of pricing and their own profitability. At the same time, it enhances their sales productivity,” Ogg says, noting that Travel Counsellors not only has its own proprietary technology but also is compatible with third-party systems, such as TRAMS ClientBase.

Still another plus for Ogg is the international dimension of Travel Counsellors. Backed by a state-of-the-art web-based communications platform—including a companywide intranet, an extranet for suppliers, live weekly webcasts via TCTV and the use of web cams—the Travel Counsellors agent becomes part of a global team, all supported by a headquarters staff of 200.

Personal relationships are critical to Travel Counsellors’ success. Agents served more than 280,000 clients last year and enjoyed an average 65 percent repeat booking rate—double the industry average. Travel Counsellors stresses the need for agents to build “lifetime” relationships with clients and supports their efforts with both personalized direct and e-mail programs.

“Travel Counsellors communicates with its agents with a highly effective intranet and online webcasts,” Rasmussen says. “The traditional isolation of the home-based agent has ended, and we are determined to maintain the ratio of one staff member to every four agents.”


Looking Forward
Rasmussen joined Travel Counsellors in 2007 and is bullish on the future—but he wants measured growth in sales per agent rather than sheer numbers. “We want the best agent-retention level in the industry and stress quality over quantity,” he says. “We seek long-term relationships and incremental growth with our agents and with an expanded preferred supplier base.”

He also has confidence in the Travel Counsellors business model. Acknowledging the diversity of offers available to today’s home-based agent in the U.S., he sees this model as clearly superior.

From Rasmussen’s perspective, the idea of hosted or home-based agents has been around for decades. But there are dramatic distinctions today between hosts and the levels of service provided to their agents. Many are referral or part-time agents—both valuable and important—but with different needs from the full-time Travel Counsellors agent who wants to build a viable business.

“Since we were founded in 1994, Travel Counsellors has broken new ground,” he says. “Our model is tested in the world’s most competitive markets and has won awards for its innovation, value and integrity. Our selection criteria is stringent, but we welcome inquiries from success-minded U.S. travel agents who share our vision of a dynamic future for themselves and for the travel industry.”

For information: www.travelcounsellors.com/join

Travel Counsellors' Bragging Rights

Industry Recognition
One indication of the quality of the Travel Counsellors program is the number (and prestige) of awards the company has earned since its founding in 1994. This includes the Queen’s Award for Enterprise (2003-2008), recognizing the quality of customer service, innovative technology and business performance.

In 2005, Travel Counsellors received the CBI Growing Business Award from Dell for its groundbreaking global intranet. David Speakman, Travel Counsellors’ founder, has also won multiple awards for travel agent of the year and for his lifetime achievements. In 2007, Travel Counsellors won the Accenture Innovation Award for its revolutionary franchise agreement enabling home-based agents to build value and equity in their own travel businesses.

Joanie Ogg Joins TC
Joanie Ogg is a heroine to thousands of home-based travel agents and more than a few suppliers. With her husband Tom, Joanie built the National Association of Commissioned Agents (NACTA) from ground zero. For 15 years she served as a champion, defender and advocate of home-based agents against skeptics and critics. And in the end, she won big time, with home-based agents now recognized as major players in the travel-distribution system.

Her new affiliation with Travel Counsellors is in many ways a logical extension of her success with NACTA. She has the chance to champion the entrepreneurial opportunities of franchise home-based agents, backed by the resources of Travel Counsellors, which introduced the model of a home-based franchise in the U.K. The praise given Ogg by ASTA, CLIA and a host of travel agents and colleagues is fully deserved.

Goals and Targets
Integrated marketing programs make a decisive contribution to travel agents’ success and Travel Counsellors is determined to give its agents outstanding tools. Backed by a superior technology platform—including Travel Counsellors’ own IT staff—agents benefit from segmented direct-mail programs from a database of 280,000 clients. There is also e-mail marketing that targets specific groups, all carefully measured for effectiveness, in addition to e-postcards, websites with advertising, trade show and conference support and an e-zine all tailored to specific markets and agents’ needs. The goal is to educate and equip Travel Counsellors’ agents with proven sales and marketing tools that build business.

Need a fast update on security at Heathrow? Or help with a hotel reservation in Las Vegas? Client hand-holding for a river cruise tour in Germany? Or help with a tour in Australia’s Outback? Travel Counsellors’ global network of full-time professional agents provides virtually instant answers. And more.

Travel Counsellors’ intranet has scores of features that places each agent in the Travel Counsellors network in constant touch with others, putting a virtual end to the most common complaint of the individual home-based agent—isolation. The homepage of the intranet offers a message board with instant help, a unique system of sharing inquiries, testimonials and access to marketing materials. There is even a listing of top-producing agents. Agents can get daily updates on TCTV as well as take advantage of a professional support staff of 190-plus people.

Travel Counsellors also participates in Microsoft’s Office communications program, which enables home-based agents to communicate via web cam face to face. There is also a company extranet for suppliers. Travel Counsellors invites prospective agents to fully explore the technology resources that make active interaction, networking and ongoing training a reality at www.travelcounsellors.com.


Education and Training

Travel Counsellors views professional development, education and training as vital elements to success in a very competitive industry. This includes not just product knowledge but expertise in destinations, changing cruise and tour options and how to effectively manage a business and market it successfully. Travel Counsellors’ education program is extensive and ongoing. It  starts with onsite training at Travel Counsellors U.S. headquarters and continues with mentoring and development tailored to the needs of the individual agent. Travel Counsellors offers a personal development plan and an experienced staff member to help the individual agent grow his or her business.

Travel Counsellors agents get a portfolio of training options including sales and marking training and education on how to deliver outstanding customer services. Peter Rasmussen Travel Counsellors president, says that the organization will not only use their own corporate training and development resources, but also encourage agents to use other travel industry resources as needed.

This includes the programs of the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), which offers the ACC/MCC designations and The Travel Institute, offering the CTA/CTC designations. Travel Counsellors membership includes annual dues and examination costs, a policy that underscores its commitment to professional excellence. Travel Counsellors agents have instant support from Travel Counsellors staff, who in turn are supported by technology that keeps agents fully informed and in constant contact with other experienced Travel Counsellors agents. The program includes fam trips and online weekly training with one central support staffer for every five agents, according to the company.


Highlights of Travel Counsellors

Membership in ASTA, OSSN, CLIA, NACTA and IATA, illustrating a long-term commitment to industry growth.

• E&O insurance and 24-hour help desk for clients. Seller of travel licenses in all states where required.
• Expeditious ticket and invoice checking and payment handling and commission processing.
• The technology solutions needed for effective home-based agency operations and superior client service.
• No additional charges for ticket wallets and luggage labels, ticket mailings and paperwork. No "nickel and dime-ing" of agents.
• Consistently high levels of client service and satisfaction.
• Technology platform includes online training, GDS access at no cost and 24/7/365 technical support.
• Exclusive intranet and extranet resources.
• Fully informed agents with daily updated personal performance statistics on sales and margins.
• Consistent recognition of achievements by peers.
• Wide range of marketing support including CRM database and promotion management.
• Personalized e-mails, an e-magazine and an individual agent website.
• Honeymoon and Bridal Registry services. Group and niche marketing support.
• Public relations support and consumer sales promotions.
• A strong sense of Travel Counsellors community is fostered, including an informative weekly webcast and message-board advice from other Travel Counsellors agents.
• Subsidized conferences and invitations for partners and spouses. Mini-conferences.
• Sales incentives and a system to bid for inquiries.
• Strong, competitive supplier deals, including fast-growing cruise programs. The ability to serve mass and luxury market segments.
• Support of business, as well as leisure travel including proposal support.
• Access to Amadeus Cruise. Hotel program with 50,000 properties worldwide.
• Personal development and counseling.
• Dynamic packaging and tracking tools to enable agents to design programs to client needs with net pricing options.
• Encouragement to build "branded" businesses with a strong customer base that increases in market value to the agency owner.
• Experienced and professional U.S management team.


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