We were delighted recently to receive so many quality responses to a simple question we asked on TravelAgentCentral.com: “What do you think of your consortium?” The answers just flooded in. We were pleased because the high number of responses confirmed that the travel agency community feels that TravelAgentCentral.com is the place where they can voice their opinions and where they can read what their colleagues think. Every one of our online articles, in fact, has a “comments” section in it, making it easy for you to speak out and to read what others are saying.
But, back to the consortium issue. If truth be told, some agency groups were much more vocal than others, including Signature, Virtuoso, Ensemble, Travel Leaders and Results!, but all told, we seem to have heard from nearly every group out there.
The common positive traits that drew praise from our travel agency community included marketing tools, supplier relationships, education and technology and support.
For example, Ben Catalina told us: “I was treated so well as a client of Cruises Inc. that I joined the company in 1997. I searched long and hard for the ‘right consortium’ to join. I made the right decision then and it remains the best one now. The tools, technology and teamwork are superb!”
As a new agent, Tina Cook feels that Travelsavers is serving her small agency well. “Travelsavers has been a lifeline for generating new business in this hard time,” she says. “My rep, Kathie DeVincenco, offers tons of support from advertising opportunities to specials (highest commissions for partner suppliers), so I know I’m always offering the best for my clients and getting the best in return.”
Michele Keeley says that she feels Travel Leaders has assisted her well on the public relations front: “When I started in the industry 17 years ago, I worked for two small independent agencies. A few years into my travel career, the TAI agency at which I was working was purchased by Carlson Wagonlit Travel (now Travel Leaders). For the first time, I saw what it could mean to me as an agent to be able to have the support and training opportunities that this organization offered. When it was time for me to move across the country I knew I wanted to remain with them. Travel Leaders not only provides fantastic networking, education opportunities and innovative marketing programs, but they also have given me many media opportunities that have resulted in many new clients from across the country for me.”
Others felt a member-owned infrastructure worked best for them. For example, John Nigro wrote that “After being associated with two consortia and being a franchisee, I have to say that Signature Travel Network is the best organization of its kind. Its marketing programs, commission structure and education and training are fabulous and come with minimal expense on our part. But more important is the sharing of profits as Signature is a cooperative and owned by its member agencies—unlike the consortia.”
Chuck Maida of All Seasons Travel is also a fan of the member-owned structure. “When we switched to Ensemble in 2000,” he says, “we did so because of its emphasis on marketing and the quality of its marketing programs. The direct mail, website and e-mail promotions produced and distributed by Ensemble under the names of its member agencies are both professional and effective. And it’s easy! As a member, we provide our client list and Ensemble takes it from there, leaving us time to do what we do best—sell!
“Ensemble is unique among consortia in that it is member-owned,” he continues. “This means that all of its profits go right back into the hands of the member agencies responsible for generating them, meaning more money for all of us.”
Doug Risser feels that American Express provides great value: “American Express offers programs for both leisure and business travel, which is important to us, and it offers great networking opportunities. One or two programs alone more than pay the annual fee.”
Linda Kahn-Ferrell is another Signature fan. A member for 20 years, she says that “Signature is constantly keeping the agents up to date with technology and customer service. They are like a big sister or brother.”
Liane Lance echoed the family feel. As a member of SeaMaster Cruises, she says, “I get wonderful support from both our corporate structure as well as fellow franchise owners. We are a ‘family’ and we look out for each other and help each other, and our corporate folks live to make us successful selling cruise travel.”
Along those same lines, Donna Dykstra feels that for her, a small association works well. “I am with Results! I was previously with a ‘mega’ consortia and I must say...wow, what a difference.” Mark DeGonda is another happy member: “The relationship with Results! Travel has been invaluable. Exceptional marketing tools, webinar class training, vendor relations, communication on market trends and advanced business techniques training in addition to the relationships built with Results! staff and members.”
Value of Relationships
Amanda Klimak of Largay Travel feels that Virtuoso offers her agency a strong value proposition, particularly in the luxury sector: “The Virtuoso network empowers me and my entire organization to offer our clients the best experiences and most value possible,” she says. “The relationships that are built within the Virtuoso network far surpass anything we could do on our own and the network gives us the tools we need to succeed. I truly believe that there is no network in our industry that supports the luxury travel advisor and agency any better.”
Dave Leck says that Vacation.com’s Engagement program “allows agencies to participate in national and regional promotions by providing material at a significant savings. And, the development of EZCruise and EZGuider will ultimately allow agencies to quickly access and book preferred wholesalers. [Steve] Tracas and company are at the forefront of program development!”
Merrie Ligon, a self-described industry “warrior” of 40 years, has spent the past 11 years as a full-time home-based agent. “I joined Vacation.com when I established my home-based operation and have never looked back,” she says. “They have a great direct-mail program that costs me pennies and minimum time involvement compared to doing it on my own. They seem to have great support for one another and the agent’s position in the industry. We all need to feel the support of others, especially in the current economic climate.”
How do you feel about your consortium? Join the dialogue at www.TravelAgentCentral.com/consortia/rate-your-consortium-12856 and speak out!!