MAST Executive Wary of ARC Helix Impact

ARC’s decision to launch its new Helix program for ARC’s VTC member agents continues to raise questions about its impact on existing agency consortia, franchisers and hosts.

"The concerns I have include trust, use of data and who sees it, and competitive issues that could be far more serious than just 'unfair.'" John Werner, president and COO of MAST Vacation Partners told Travel Agent.

MAST, an established agency-managed group of 170 plus agencies in the Midwest and headquartered in Oakbrook Terrace, Ill., could be among the agency groups impacted by ARC’s Helix program that was announced this week.

"I think ARC's premise that VTC agents, especially, need ARC to fulfill unmet needs is faulty," said Werner, who is a former agent and a 10-year veteran at MAST's helm. "Every host agency offers consortia programs and benefits. The consortia and agency groups available to travel agencies, both home-based and store-front, offer a wide-range of services packaged in different ways to suit different needs. There are many great organizations in the marketplace already for agencies to select which business model, programs, and benefits are the best fit.

"Recent news articles have reported that airlines plan to derive much more income from the sale of non-air products and ancillary services than in the past. What's been missing is their ability to connect more directly with the passenger and be in the position to fulfill other travel needs at the time the passenger is ready to purchase them."

ARC Verified Travel Consultants (VTC) and ticketing agencies can join Helix, and ARC will waive the first annual membership fee of $179 until 2012. This, ARC says, will provide agents with the opportunity to experience Helix benefits risk free, and to see how Helix will help grow their businesses. ARC reported 1,243 VTC locations in December 2010.

"Helix represents our commitment to continually add valued services for ARC’s participants," said Lauri Reishus, ARC's vice president of operations. "This exclusive program not only provides better access to a host of competitive offerings, it also supplies the tools agencies need to stay ahead of the curve and continue to prosper. Maximizing improvements in margin and revenue generation is the cornerstone of any successful business; we think Helix will do just that, and encourage all agencies, especially those unaffiliated with another program, to become Helix members."

Core elements of the Helix program include "competitive supplier offerings, multiple business services, and the professional education and training needed to operate more efficiently and become more profitable."

ARC reports it has negotiated partner agreements with premier suppliers, including Carnival Cruise Lines, Globus Family of Brands, Avalon Waterways, Insight Vacations, Travel Impressions, Marriott International, Funjet Vacations and Southwest Airlines Vacations, among others. As a result of the preferred supplier agreements, Helix agencies will have access to enhanced and, in some cases, exclusive commissions, ARC said.

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