One lesson learned from Marg Mulholland's 30-year career in the travel industry is the value of professional travel agents. As President of GOGO Vacations her respect and support of professional agents is core to GOGO’s pro-agent policy and practice.
"We are seeing new sources of competition for agents’ loyalty and travel consultants must be wary of suppliers who seek to bypass them to deal directly with consumers. The professional agent owns their clients and suppliers must respect this," Mulholland told Travel Agent.
Support and nurturing of travel agents has been basic to GOGO's success over the past 60-plus years and Mulholland believes it will serve GOGO - and its 8,000 agent partners- well in the future. “Despite the competition from online travel sellers (OTA’s) the knowledgeable, professional agent is here to stay and prosper. People want to do business with people. Personal connections can never be replaced by an online connection.”
"GOGO Vacations is committed to remaining agent only. This is the way it has been for over 60 years and the only way we know, or want to know, how to run an increasingly competitive business. We are growing and continue to grow with our agents with innovative programs, training and offerings," Mulholland said. “Agents add tremendous value to sales.”
Travel agents' relations with their clients must also be protected, Mulholland said. "The relations between wholesaler and travel agent is built on trust, mutual respect and a solid relationship - between agents and wholesalers, wholesalers and suppliers, agents and clients. It is the breadth and depth of relationships that has kept GOGO in a leading role for over six decades."
Mulholland has doubts about the impact of mergers and acquisitions in the industry and the effects on the agency distribution system. “The sale of Travel Impressions – and other elements of American Express’ tour operator business - to Apple Leisure Group earlier this year is changing the competitive balance. Agents must pay attention to the changes now underway – there is more coming.”
GOGO's philosophy extends to basic booking resources: travel agents who prefer to book by phone and deal with an experienced GOGO staffer are welcomed. Commissions for phone or online bookings are the same and Mulholland believes this is a vital asset as value added extras and amenities are increasingly important to clients.
“We have a range of commissions, as high as 16 percent in some cases. GOGO does not differentiate on web or phone bookings- we pay agents the same. We want agents to call us and use our expertise. Many wholesalers will pay phone bookings less or charge you if you call them. GOGO encourages calls. A phone booking offers more likelihood of converting the sale and more dollars per transaction. Agents get help selling up.”
GOGO also offers strong support of independent home based agents, with Mulholland estimating about 40 percent may be attached to a marketing group, such as NEST or Nexion. “New home based agents are a key to GOGO's future - we want to help build their business whether they are new consultants or experienced. With our knowledge/product range plus an imbedded 'customer sales experience' expected on each call we can make a difference to whether agents get the sale.”
GOGO's agents have 24/7 access to a live, knowledgeable GOGO staffers who are empowered to make decisions. “Price is a critical component in the sales but not the only one and in many cases where value added amenities are important to clients, not the decisive one. There are more destinations and properties to select from.”
Mulholland also is a strong supporter of agent’s consortia and franchisers, who, she believes, have helped strengthen and empower the agency community and partner suppliers. GOGO now has solid partnerships with many groups. “Consortia have proven their value to motivate agents and increase their productivity and profitability.”
GOGO’s agency partners also benefit from GOGO’s cooperative advertising programs and annual GOGO Learning Conferences and Worldwide Showcases. The goal, Mulholland says, is to ensure that agents stay in front of clients with the most relevant and up-to-date products and information.
Another asset is the global power of GOGO Vacations parent FC USA Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Australia based Flight Centre Limited. Flight Centre acquired GOGO in 2008.
FC USA includes 10 brands spanning retail, wholesale and corporate travel, include Liberty Travel, GOGO Vacations, Worldwide Traveler, FCm Travel Solutions, Corporate Traveler, Stage and Screen Travel Services, Travel Associates, DiscountCruises.com and FlightCenter.com.
Both GOGO and FC USA are headquartered in Ramsey, NJ.
“GOGO has enjoyed strong, consistent year over year growth and remains a major player in a combative, competitive arena. We are optimistic about the future and the future of our agency partners and remain convinced that relationships are the key,” Mulholland said. “We are 100 percent behind our agents. We are people doing business with people and we want agents relationship with GOGO to be meaningful and valued.”