The 6,500-member Outside Sales & Support Network, long a potent force in the world of the home-based travel agent, increased its tally of allied suppliers at the end of February when it became a partner of Ireland tour operator Sceptre Tours. Through the agreement, OSSN agents can apply for Emerald Partner status with the tour operator, which brings a number of commission-earning and referral benefits with it.
OSSN President Gary Fee says the new relationship was one of about 170 for OSSN, and that the organization adds partners on a fairly regular basis. "We always welcome additional allied suppliers," he says. "We are excited about their joining the network."
For Sceptre, it was a case of needing to continue to do whatever it could to increase its tally of allied agents, according to Ciaran Barry, the company's director of marketing and sales. This is particularly true since in November 2003, the tour operator—which touts the fact that it sells only vacations to Ireland—decided to sell its products exclusively through travel agents. "We're always trying to generate partners, and work hand-in-hand with individual agents," Barry notes.
It was also a case of doing what it could to distinguish itself in a destination that's rife with competition. "It's such a small destination," Barry says, "but it's a very competitive destination." He says that Sceptre's singular focus on Ireland enables it "to have a great buying power," with the ability to provide insight into a variety of types of Ireland vacations. He says his company provides inventory at 300 hotels and castles. "It allows us to have immediate booking capabilities," he says. "We can customize any type of tour."
The fact that Sceptre has a single sales channel—travel agents—also forces it to be creative, a fact that Barry says plays well to the needs of home-based travel retailers. For its partners, he says, the company can put an Ireland booking right on their web site. Other initiatives have included helping one of the Emerald Partners with setting up a booth at an Irish festival in Colorado—a strategy that netted quite a few bookings for that agent, says Barry.
Emerald Partners, of which Barry says there are now roughly 150, take an online, 10-minute test: an ideal length, he says, "just to get a good feel for what we're doing." Once they've achieved the status, they can be eligible for such perks as 12.5 percent commission through client referrals. And while consumers are able to book through Sceptre's web site, partner agents still get commission automatically through a geographic assignment.
The bottom line, Barry says, is to find and keep those retailers who are as passionate as Sceptre is about the Emerald Isle. "We're looking for those who are really passionate about Ireland," he says. "We want to reward those who are actively promoting it."