Top Highlights From the Avoya Travel Conference

(Photo by Susan J. Young)

As it launches “Avoya 2025,” a new seven-year innovation plan, Avoya Travel plans to navigate into the future in a bigger, bolder way. That includes everything from securing a new technology patent, tackling the negative impact of rebating on agencies, and streamlining communications so its independent member agencies can sell more efficiently and also interact with suppliers in new ways.   

Travel Agent learned about the ambitious plans from executives speaking to 500 attendees, including independent agencies in the Avoya Network, industry leaders, supplier partners and support staff, during the group’s conference at the Hotel Maya in Long Beach, CA, this week. Other information was provided to reporters at a subsequent press conference. 

“We’re radically poised to change the way that we’ve been operating for the better,” said Jeff Anderson, executive vice president, Avoya Travel. “There are too many times when I sit back and I wonder or not if we have been too passive. And the answer has been ‘yes.’

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“It’s time for us to get our vision focused on the future,” he said, emphasizing “there is nothing outside of our reach.”

A Third Patent

Highlights from the conference discussions? First, Avoya is developing new cutting-edge technology. While the company already holds two U.S. patents for its innovative, lead generation data base technology, Travel Agent has learned that Avoya has applied for a third patent for its proprietary technology. Timing? It could take about a year and a half or so for patent approval.

Second, Avoya plans to streamline and smooth processes for its independent agency network. The goal is for agents to spend more time selling, not embroiled in unnecessary back-and-forth communications steps with suppliers, as well as to gain new text and voice mail capabilities so they can interact with travelers.

Third, Avoya is going after rebating in a big way, by tracking and compiling data to show the specific impact it’s having on independent agents in its network. Officials told reporters that while cruise lines say publicly they don’t like rebating, some don’t do enough to stop it, and may simply not understand the enormity of the lost revenue to agents. 

So, the company is now tracking (1) commission dollars lost by independent agencies; (2) Avoya having to match or beat an offer from another agency using rebates; and (3) discounts to take the booking. Independent agencies in the Avoya Travel Network forced to rebate to save a booking usually will recover some of their lost rebated commissions through the Avoya Offer Match program. 

Anderson says Avoya plans to share lost commission transaction details with suppliers to help them better understand both the financial impact and how rebating also eats up significant time, which is nonproductive for Avoya, agents and the suppliers too.  

Avoya also hopes to interest others in the industry in bringing “one voice” to the rebating issue.

Launching Avoya 2025

Anderson, who says he’s obsessed with all things that are focused on space, Tesla, technology and so on, called the new Avoya 2025 initiative the company’s “Mars shot,” a comparison to John F. Kennedy’s 1960s-era futuristic decision to go for a Moon shot when it seemed almost impossible.

He started out by explaining that Avoya is a platform company with three important parts – travelers, suppliers and independent agents, all of whom come together in that platform. He gave the technology companies Uber and Amazon as examples of platform companies. 

“We have incredible technology,” he said, noting that the group has been doing things that “most people have spent hundreds of millions of dollars [on] and still haven’t done it.”

In addition, the platform has high performing independent agents. “We are having an extraordinary year,” said Anderson, noting that 2017 was the best year ever. In addition, results look very positive for this year thus far.

Year-to-date statistics through April show Avoya agents booked 52,292 travelers this year, compared to 46,159 in 2016 and 47,857 for 2017, when comparing the same periods..

Gross sales for the last 12 months through April have burgeoned to $434 million, up from $356 million and $383 million posted during the previous two 12-month periods.  

“We are radically outperforming this year’s marks that we are trying to hit,” he stressed. In fact, Avoya is almost doubling the growth rate it planned.

Where is Avoya now headed? Anderson then showed the agent audience a slide, which relayed that travelers are explorers, adventurers and pioneers, “so let’s reimagine vacation planning.”

By 2025, Avoya wants to become the number one vacation platform, he said, describing a platform as an assemblance of services that people tap into. Anderson laid out the timeline for how Avoya plans to get there, although he did not give a lot of detail about the specifics involved.

He said Phase One will begin in June 2018 and continue through November 2019. Phases of 18 months are designed to begin and end during two important periods – first, the start of the cruise industry’s annual Wave Season, and second, the time frame of the organization’s annual conference.

Here’s a look at the other phases.

  • Phase Two:  December 2019 to May 2021
  • Phase Three: June 2021 to November 2022
  • Phase Four: December 2022 to May 2024
  • Phase Five: June 2024 to November 2025

Introducing Phase One

So what’s happening in Phase One? Anderson says the goals are four-fold: to build deep collaboration with partners; to inspire everyone to explore more; to create life-giving technologies; and to provide distinct experiences for Avoya travelers.

“By the end of Phase Five, this is what we need to say we have accomplished,” he stressed.

In terms of Avoya’s three-part platform, he said that means striving to offer travelers more premium and modern experiences and to demonstrate the value of Avoya’s independent travel experts.

For the independent agents, it will mean increasing their sales intelligence and developing workflow enhancements.

And for suppliers, Phase One will mean building collaboration and communication apps for analysis and action.

Agents Sell More

Avoya now has more than 1,000 independent travel agency affiliates, up from 500 a few years back. But not only are there more independent agents in the Avoya Travel Network than in the past, they’re more skilled sellers.

This year, when Avoya put up the listings of its top-tier agents, based on 2017 sales, there were more of them in all the top producer categories, including those with annual sales of $500,000, one million dollars, two millions dollars and so on.

Separately, in past years, Avoya opened up its annual conference to a larger contingent of agents, but this year decided on a bit smaller format, which Anderson said was designed to help the attending agents better connect with each other and suppliers.

As a result, the conference slots sold out in 30 days, about eight months earlier than in the past. Anderson said he hoped the agents would “use this as an opportunity not to judge us by size of our headcount, but by the work of our hands and the lives we touch.”

Travel Agent felt the conference group of more than 500 attendees seemed eager to learn and interested in networking. The trade show on Thursday was packed.

“At the end of the day, it’s all of you working with travelers,” said Anderson. “It’s all about you.”

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