The value of consortia membership has always been high, but the economic downturn has underscored the importance of agency groups who are providing critical, profit generating marketing, training and technology support, Steve Tracas, president and CEO of Vacation.com, told agents at the opening of Vacation.com’s 11th Annual Conference in Las Vegas.
Tracas told the 1,100 agents attending the four-day meeting that Vacation.com was dedicated to providing innovative, best of class service and support to its 5,100 member agencies. He said the turn out by agents and hundreds of Vacation.com preferred suppliers was a testimony to members' commitment to survive the current downturn and an endorsement of Vacation.com’s agent focused program.
Praising Amadeus, Vacation.com’s parent company, for both its global leadership in technology and its support of the travel agency distribution channel, Tracas drove home his argument with the launch of still more new services. This includes EZair, a vital new component of Vacation.com’s state of the art EZguider desktop technology, as well as new, sales generating marketing tools.
The official launch of EZair—the air-booking function for its Vacation.com’s leisure sales platform EZguider—will allow members to make stand-alone and add-on bookings from more than 400 airlines without a GDS contract, monthly fees or productivity goals. Powered by Amadeus’ low-fare search tool MasterPricer, EZair uses a simple point and click user interface with no “green screen” commands, making it easier to access GDS air content.
“Our members can now service their clients from start to finish, end-to-end, from the outbound flight, to their cruise or tour, along with third party insurance and return flight, all within the EZguider platform which is included in their Vacation.com membership,” Tracas said.
Key EZair features include earning upfront commissions of up to 23 percent on bookings with preferred airlines Air New Zealand, Mexicana and Virgin Atlantic, plus commissions that may be available on other select carriers. Agents can also add service fees to the transaction and develop a new revenue stream for their agencies.
Another innovation announced to Vacation.com members is EZguider’s cruise-booking functionality that was put to the test in a unique “Book-Off Contest.” The contest was designed to prove that an agent can shop and book a cruise on EZguider at least five times faster than going through supplier channels. The Contest again underlines Vacation.com’s confidence in the value of its new, user friendly booking technology.
On the marketing side of the equation, Tracas announced key enhancements to Engagement, Vacation.com’s direct mail and e-mail marketing program. This includes improvement in QuickEmail, a new convenience that allows members to opt into numerous e-Engagement promotions at one time, and Vacation.com’s ability to send offers only to customers with the discretionary income to travel.
QuickEmail is a free convenience for members who want to automatically participate in future e-Engagement promotions without having to opt-in to each individual email. Those members who qualify can sign up with QuickEmail and authorize the sending of the next 12 month’s worth of e-Engagement promotions to their client list. At the time they subscribe to QuickEmail, members can select the specific Preferred Suppliers they wish to promote through the e-Engagement tool. Vacation.com sends more than 50 e-Engagement promotions a year. About one half of Vaction.com members are participating in the Engagement program.
Earlier this year, Vacation.com incorporated personalized URL addresses, known as PURLs, into select e-Engagement promotions, generating a custom-made e-mail and landing page for each individual recipient. The first e-Engagement to use PURLs doubled both the open and click-through rate, Vacation.com said. Vacation.com carefully tracks results achieved in its marketing programs.
Still another addition is Vacation.com’s new social media initiative. Conference attendees and non-attendees alike could easily follow many conference events online, thanks to the initiative that also has long term marketing potential for agents. Using Twitter, Facebook and a blog, Vacation.com posted, updated and tweeted conference highlights throughout the week, all while educating members on the how to leverage social media tools to their advantage.
Vacation.com also announced that its 2010 Vacation Vignettes schedule will be the largest ever, including 160 departures—38 percent more than 2009’s collection—on preferred cruise suppliers to destinations worldwide. Vacation Vignettes are uniquely-packaged sailings offered only through Vacation.com member agencies. Each voyage includes the services of a concierge host, a “Bon Voyage” cocktail reception and a private shore event on itineraries from Holland America Line, Celebrity Cruises, Azamara Cruises, Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Royal Caribbean International and Viking River Cruises.
Vacation.com said the 2010 schedule differs from previous years due to a greater number of extended itineraries, which were requested by member agents. In response, the new schedule includes 19 voyages of 30-or-more days, such as a 30-night South America cruise with Regent Silver Seas and numerous world cruises with Holland America.
Tracas stressed not only the importance of the retail travel agency distribution channel and its crucial importance to suppliers, but the combined marketing clout of Vacation.com that includes 20,000 plus agents in 5,100 agencies. Tracas urged agents to explore all of the resources available to them, to focus on disciplined sales of preferred supplier product. He noted that Vacation.com’s programs make a decisive difference to agent’s profitability, productivity and professional performance - especially in the current economic downturn.