For the first time in over a decade MAST Vacation Partners membership has topped the 200-member agency mark according to John Werner, president of the agency owned group.
“MAST is clearly demonstrating value to existing members and attracting new agencies to its ranks. This will continue,” Werner, who has headed MAST for over a decade, told Travel Agent.
MAST’s growth has been controlled, Werner said, focusing on a cadre of core members who value MAST’s size with 203 members in nine states and one in Canada.
Most MAST members range in size between $1.5 to $3.5 million in annual sales. Consortia wide, MAST has an estimated $729 million in gross sales.
“MAST members operate in an extremely competitive environment,” Werner says. “This includes other retail locations and online travel sellers. Supplier direct sales are also a matter of concern to our members.”
Another major concern of MAST agents is state tax laws that will damage retail sales, Werner notes.
Among the key values of MAST are strong supplier agreements that directly benefit members bottom lines, he notes. “Like our member agents our suppliers are loyal and supportive. They are delivering excellent branded products and the extra incentives and perks essential to effective sales.”
Another asset of MAST cited by Werner is MAST’s ability to help members be more productive and profitability. “Our members and our suppliers are under real pressure to contain costs. We have found that by encouraging a dialogue between members and suppliers and constructive interaction between members that we can contribute.”
MAST’s size also helps MAST deliver quality education and training to members. “Our agents share best practices and we are increasingly able to tailor training to specific agency needs. We have taken training to the local level helping agency by agency.”
Werner believes retail agents must step-up marketing efforts and MAST has developed a number of successful programs to help – including personalized direct marketing.
A major concern is recruitment of new staff. Werner said that this was not only partly a result of low salaries but also an image and perception problem. “Many, many retail agents are highly successful, profitable and represent real opportunities to grow professionally. There is enormous opportunity in travel.”
Skilled professionals are also essential if agencies are to respond to consumers who are increasingly knowledgeable and well informed.
“Travelers are more knowledgeable and it takes more time to help them sort out the many options and opportunities to travel. The agent must develop real expertise to handle this welcomed business.”
Leisure travelers –the major part of MAST member agents business – are looking for perks and incentives as well as good pricing. “As the traveling public becomes more knowledgeable – so must the agent improve expertise. This is a knowledge intensive industry that should be practiced with pride.”