Travel Agent's One-on-One with Ensemble's Joe Jiffo

Travel Agent recently had the chance to speak with Joe Jiffo, the new vice president of business development for the Ensemble Travel Group. Jiffo shed some light on what's in store for the agent consortium that manages approximately 850 agencies in North America.

"I don't know if there is any other industry you can really and truly enjoy," Jiffo said. "It's one of those industries where we've gone through tough times, from 9-11 to the economy to oil prices going through the roof. And yet people are still willing to travel. We're lucky in that sense that we are in an industry where people still need vacations and to decompress."

The position was created specifically for Jiffo, who believes that it will do tremendous work for the relationship between Ensemble and its members.

"There was really no sales leadership position in the previous regime, not that there was anything wrong with that, but the whole objective and goal for the board of directors was that we grow the current membership and that we become more engaged with their members," he told Travel Agent. "There was a need for my role to come in and establish a sales structure as well as a sales pattern that involved reaching out to our members frequently."

Ensemble is a revenue sharing organization, which is one of the main highlights of being a member of the consortium. Jiffo is devoted to growing the current member business and helping them retain revenues.

"Ensemble is very important, but it is more of an industry brand and not a consumer brand. Part of the value proposition that we offer to members is that we are here to grow their revenue and business and we do that with tools that they need," said Jiffo.

One of his other goals is to focus on suppliers, which he feels is key. Jiffo is a veteran of the cruise industry, and it is here that his resources and skills will be a major asset. He began his work with Celebrity Cruises in 1991, where he eventually went on to start, and become the director of, the national accounts department. In 1997, when Celebrity merged with Royal Caribbean, the sales forces were brought together and Jiffo was on the task force team to fuse each company's best practices as one. From there Jiffo went on to work with Carnival Cruise Line as well as Norwegian Cruise Line.

"Part of my role is working closely with cruise line suppliers," he said. "Our current supplier relations team still does what they do, but because of my experience in cruises I have a lot of relationships with executives of cruise lines, including presidents, executive vice presidents, senior vice presidents, etc. We can have strategic conversations that I can take back to my sales team and relay to them what we need to focus on."

Jiffo comes to this new position having to battle some hefty industry challenges. In his opinion, one of the biggest obstacles is educating the consumer more on Mexico.

"Because Mexico is a very strong destination for a lot of land-only members, we need to do a better job about educating the consumer on the situation. If they hear there is crime on the border cities, they will change their vacation or stay away from booking Cancun or Cozumel or Riviera Maya, which are so far from the border. We need to make the analogy that, if there was violence in Los Angeles, would you not make a trip to Chicago?"

Another industry challenge is an overabundance of inventory in Europe. Consumers booking European cruises are finding that their airfare is costing more than the cruise itself. Alaska, on the other hand, is doing very well for cruise lines.

But Jiffo is confident that with his new team and the support he has from Co-Presidents Lindsay Pearlman and Elizabeth "Libbie" Rice.

"We have a whole new kind of look on life with our new senior leadership team," said Jiffo. "Lindsay has been around for quite some time and is more engaged with suppliers in the U.S. and more engaged with our members. He's really a great public face for our organization from a supplier standpoint. Libbie brings a wealth of knowledge with technology and marketing." The two presidents together can concentrate their efforts on different parts of the business, making Ensemble as a whole more engaged and differentiating it from its competitors.

"We've gotten calls from some of our members who are so excited and so energized about what they heard from all of us," Jiffo said. "I think what that is going to do for us is retain membership and most importantly help us go out and get new members."


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