GOGO Worldwide Vacations has spent 2008 renewing its commitment to the travel agency community while using new synergies to expand its product offering.
Flight Centre Limited's acquisition of GOGO will enable agents to have more access to Australia and Pacific Asia product.
Flight Centre Limited, a giant global retailer based in Australia, announced it had agreed to purchase Ramsey, NJ-based LibGo last year, which includes wholesaler GOGO and its corresponding retail travel agency arm, Liberty Travel, late last year. The transaction included the purchase of 193 retail travel locations along the East Coast, Chicago and Florida and 40 wholesale locations in 22 states. When Flight Centre revealed the purchase to the Australian Securities Exchange, it noted that the combination of the Liberty and Flight Centre businesses would exceed an anticipated $2 billion a year.
New GOGO president, Dean Smith
“We’re under quite a lot of direction to make positive change quickly. We’re talking about a company that's got a 50-plus-year legacy and we want to honor that. The only way that we can honor it is by making it bigger and better and pushing it forward,” says Dean Smith, GOGO’s new president. Smith most recently headed up Flight Centre’s wholesale business in Australia.
Travel agents can look forward to a more robust global destination product portfolio by GOGO, which already has tremendously strong offerings for the Caribbean, Mexico and the Americas. Smith says that over the coming months, Flight Centre and GOGO will go to a single-distribution platform, which will enable agents in the U.S. to have access to the entire Flight Centre Australia-Pacific/Asia product range that it contracts in Australia. Agents in the Flight Centre network will likewise have access to GOGO’s substantial, core Caribbean, Mexico and Americas product.
“A big part of the whole rationale for the GOGO acquisition for Flight Centre Limited was certainly both the retail and wholesale footprint, but the global product supply position is also very important,” says Smith.
Tom Hayden, VP of sales of GOGO Worldwide Vacations
“Once we're all on that platform, we can all access the product, which is loaded once in one location, but is sold to multiple businesses anywhere in our distribution around the world,” he adds, noting that the company is working from a hub philosophy.
“One hub is Brisbane, Australia, for the southern hemisphere product and Asia; the second one is in New Jersey, for all of the Americas. Plans are to have a European hub as well.”
“Our vision is being able to give people the vacations to the destinations they want to go,” says Tom Hayden, GOGO’s vice president of sales. “Imagine the capabilities we're going to have with a global footprint, to extend to them destinations that they may never have thought of us for before.”
While the volumes of scale wrought by the combined purchasing power of two giants—GOGO and Flight Centre—may seem daunting, Smith is keen to assure the travel agency community that it remains its single distribution channel.
“We absolutely believe in the travel industry; it’s one of the fastest-growing, largest industries in the world,” he tells Travel Agent. “As it grows, as destinations open and people start to travel more, there's always going to be a future for the travel industry and travel industry professionals. We believe in retailing, we believe in bricks and mortar, we believe that people want to go into a travel agent. They want to deal with a human being, not a computer, especially as the product gets more diverse. People are looking for more than just a hotel room, they’re looking for an experience. As a result, they're looking for knowledge, they're looking for that expertise.”
The bottom line, says Smith, is that “GOGO won't go directly to the customer and that is the message that we really are embracing. We are in partnership with the agent to secure the customer. There is only one customer; we don't talk about the travel agent as our customer. We talk about them as our partner, to secure the customer, and they own the customer. We have a responsibility to work with our partners to ensure they get the sale and satisfy the customer. We also understand they have a choice of partners, so our job is to be the best to ensure that they choose us to be their partner. They can choose whoever they like. We don't have any choice, they're it.”
Because of this strong commitment, Smith earlier this year, just after taking on his new post at GOGO, published an open letter to the travel agency community, pledging the company’s commitment to a high level of service. The pledge was made after electronically surveying the agency community in April.
“Our pledge is simply to provide you with fast, friendly, knowledgeable, helpful and reliable service. Trust me, I know that it may sound simple, but I understand that on occasion you may not have experienced service that lives up to these goals. I can assure you that each and every sales agent at GOGO is committed to this pledge and they have promised to do all possible to go one better and exceed your expectations.”
The pledge involved much more than an open letter. Smith had put the entire company behind the promise.
Los Cabos, Mexico, one of GOGO's popular destinations
Prior to publishing the pledge, Smith held a conference that was attended by the 40 managers of GOGO’s branch offices (res centers). “A lot of these were business development managers (BDMs) as well as their senior regional leaders. We worked for three days on putting the pledge together,” says Smith. “So the [basis for the] pledge came from the feedback from the agent network; it was then composed by our managers and BDMs. It was then communicated to every living and breathing person in the company. So we haven't just sat down and written it up ourselves.”
Communicating the pledge to all of GOGO’s employees was another big commitment. The first step was to pull together the company’s 500-plus sales consultants operating from its 40 branch locations. “These are the folks who interact with our agents every day,” says Smith. They attended a selection of three conferences over the course of two weeks—two in New Jersey, the other in Las Vegas. Twenty-one business development managers out in the field also attended.
“We spent a whole half-day of the conference working through the partnership pledge, answering their questions, giving them the training and skills to be able to honor the pledge, and then had them sign up and agree that that's what they're going to do.”
Plans are to grow the new GOGO/Flight Centre empire, and along with that goal will come a commitment to training its reservations staff.
“We're a growth company and we acquired this business to grow it. So you'll certainly be seeing growth,” says Smith. “We also believe in knowledge, so the training and the education of our people will be significant. We've already changed our process for how we train new consultants at GOGO, we’ve also changed our policy on fams for them. We actively have a level of fams that we expect them to take within a year.”
Hayden concurs. “We want our sales consultants, our BDMs—anybody who touches the customer—to have the ability to be knowledgeable so that we can be the best travel wholesaler. You can't talk about it if you don't know it.”
Hayden says that another key change is that managers within the system will be asked to go back to selling, a practice they may have been promoted out of. “To lead by example, the manager of the branch has to pick up the phone and make the call and give the good customer service. We’ve even changed their titles; we don't talk about them being managers, we talk about them being team leaders. They have to be the leader of that team, to grow it and to make it more successful. So, immediately we'll have 40 more people picking up the phones, taking the calls.
“We are walking the talk,” says Hayden.