Uniglobe Wins New International Partners. Plans U.S. Expansion

Uniglobe Travel International will increase the number of its owned agencies in 2010, according to U. Gary Carlwood, chair and CEO of the Vancouver based firm. The move will be combined with expansion of Uniglobe’s U.S. independent franchise network, including new entrants into the agency business.

In an interview with Travel Agent, Charlwood said that while the economic recovery might be slow, Uniglobe saw opportunity. “We intend to expand both in the U.S as well as internationally.  We are today a global company with franchises in 50 countries, including high growth areas such as China and India.”

Uniglobe is on a roll, Charlwood said. It has added new partnerships in Russia, Turkey and Australia in recent months, most within the $30 to $50 million sales range. He expects more to join the network in 2010. Uniglobe now has 700 plus locations. This includes some new franchises with annual sales in the $200 million range.

A veteran of the industry who founded Uniglobe in 1980, Charlwood sees Uniglobe in global terms competing successfully with other branded international giants such as American Express Travel and Carlson Wagonlit.  Uniglobe’s global brand is a major attraction, he notes. Total Uniglobe sales are pegged at C$ 3 billion.

In addition to branding, new member agencies find the attractions of global networking and Uniglobe’s approach to coaching and its structure to support account networking attractive, Charlwood said.

Uniglobe’ approach to technology – Uniglobe does not have proprietary systems but aggregates the best available systems at well negotiated bulk prices - is also a plus, giving partner agencies needed flexibility.

The owned agency decision started earlier this year when Uniglobe Travel USA announced the acquisition of Uniglobe Way To Go Travel and Uniglobe South Coast Travel, both located in Orange County, Calif.

The move represents the first direct-to-client agency acquisition for Uniglobe that has traditionally been focused on agency franchising.

“The acquisitions fulfilled our intention to own agencies and have direct corporate clients.  We understand that a top concern of our franchisees is a path to a seamless exit strategy in the event of retirement,” Charlwood said.

The key to future company owned agencies in the U.S. will be Uniglobe Travel Partners (UTP) formed in 2007.  Nine of the leading Uniglobe Travel agencies in the U.S. then merged with a division of the franchisor, to create one of the top 50 large travel agencies in the US. Uniglobe Travel Partners president is Marie Magliano.

As both UNIGLOBE Travel USA and Magliano are shareholders in the UNIGLOBE Travel Partners (UTP) organization, the new joint venture operates under the UTP brand name. UTP has sales estimated at $200 million.

The partnership will provide direct operational management while the staff will be co-located in Uniglobe Travel USA’s offices in Irvine, Calif.

In 2010 Charlwood expects substantial emphasis on Uniglobe’s Global Partner Program. This offers select travel management companies and business travel agencies worldwide to affiliate through a direct relationship with Uniglobe in Vancouver.

Charlwood believes the Global Partners model allows agencies in countries not presently covered by a Regional Master Franchise to take advantage of Uniglobe’s worldwide network of franchisees without having to get into the business of franchising themselves.

 The program is open to top-performing, high profile agencies in countries not presently covered by a Regional Master Franchise. Sales volumes will vary from market to market, but the sophistication, size and location of an agency will also determine an agency's eligibility.

John L. Henry, Senior Vice President, Global Development, is spearheading the Global Partner Program.  His son, Andrew Henry, is Vice President, US Operations & Industry Relations.

Also going strong is the strategic alliance between Uniglobe Travel and Vacation.com, the agency consortia in the U.S.  Launched in 2003 the Uniglobe “V” program allows Vacation.com agents to link up with Uniglobe to serve corporate clients while Uniglobe agents can tap into Vacation.com’s leisure program expertise. Uniglobe has long focused on small and medium sized businesses.

UTC, or Uniglobe USA, offers a diversity of tested programs designed for the U.S. market, including a mentorship program for new independent agents, a premier program for leisure agents and a Pro Program for experienced agents. Uniglobe InHouse has a program for agents specializing in corporate travel. Uniglobe was among the first to identify and support independent agents.

Charlwood, recently honored by ASTA with its Hall of Fame Award, is actively championing agents causes. He was instrumental in helping ASTA to form the Corporate Advisory Council (CAC) within ASTA. This reflects Charlwood’s concerns with the ongoing economic, legislative and regulatory challenges faced by travel agents.

The CAC includes virtually all major consortia and franchisers in the industry. “The CAC’s membership has grown and ASTA has done a great job of addressing industry issues. The industry needs one voice to be effective. That’s what the CAC was created for: its added clout to travel agents.“

Less well known to travel agents is Charlwood’s entrepreneurial role in the real estate industry in Canada.  He acquired the master franchisor rights to Century 21 Canada in 1975. Since, Century 21 Canada has grown into a powerhouse and in 2004 Charlwood expanded the real estate franchise to key Asia/Pacific markets. He has the master franchisor rights for Century 21 in the region in partnership with Ronald Wang of Taiwan.

Still another of Charlwood’s interests is CENTUM, a Canadian network of independently owned and operated mortgage broker firms. Since its inception five years ago, CENTUM has grown into one of the top three Canadian mortgage broker networks with access to preferred rates from more than 30 lending institutions. Mortgage services are provided exclusively by CENTUM Franchisees operated locally throughout Canada.

Better known to U.S agents is Uniglobe Travel USA, Central Processing Unit, or CPU based in Irvine CA. The CPU provides hosting services to home-based and non-ARC appointed agencies.

Charlwood also founded the family-owned Charlwood Pacific Group (CPG) with his sons, Martin and Christopher Charlwood.  Martin currently serves as President of Uniglobe Travel International LP, and Christopher is a Member of the Board of Directors and oversees the family's property development wing.

The Charlwood Pacific Group (CPG) owns the master and/or territory franchise rights to leading brands in travel (Uniglobe), real estate (Century 21) and mortgage brokerage businesses (CENTUM) in Canada and around the world.  CPG has franchise companies comprising 1,500 outlets and employs more than 13,000 people worldwide.

Noteworthy is that Charlwood is the only Canadian to be inducted into both the ASTA and International Franchise Association (IFA) Halls of Fame. The IFA inducted Charlwood in 2007, where he joined franchising legends such as Ray Kroc (McDonald’s), Henry Block (H&R Block) and Dave Thomas (Wendy’s). 

Despite the current economic downturn, Charlwood is optimistic about the recovery in 2010 and the long-term growth of the travel industry stressing the need for strong leadership.  He sees Uniglobe well positioned for growth in diverse global markets and remains bullish on the future of travel agents.