Linda Furry, president of USACA, outlines key factors agents should look for when choosing an air consolidator
If you are worried about the current airline crisis and the effects of soaring oil costs on airlines and the travel industry, you are not alone. The combination of lower capacity (fewer seats and flights), higher fares and deteriorating service quality will impact every agent and traveler.
It’s also going to impact airline consolidators and the United States Air Consolidation Association (USACA) members. Linda Furry, president of the 12-member association and executive vice president, sales and marketing for Centrav Inc., a major consolidator, predicts that changes are coming.
“The forecast is for lower capacity and higher fares. Therefore, agents need to continue to find ways to bring value to the traveler with their greater knowledge and expertise. Agents’ professional services become more valuable with higher prices and fewer seats,” Furry said in an interview with Travel Agent.
“Also, it’s vitally important for agents to have a relationship with a trusted consolidator. This relationship is crucial when selling international air tickets and gaining access to deeply discounted airfares. Finally, an agent needs to take advantage of the high-tech booking tools that are offered by some consolidators that help agents find the best airfares.”
What to Look For
Furry notes that air consolidators are a vital part of the industry, with USACA members representing about $5 billion in annual sales. “Do not take a risk when choosing a consolidator,” she advises. “Your consolidator must be financially sound, be a long-term contributor, reputable in the industry and generate a high volume of sales.They must have a favorable reputation. Book with a prime consolidator, not a reseller—make sure they have direct contracts with airlines.”
Furry wants to build agents’ awareness of the tools that USACA offers to understand and master air consolidation. “We encourage agents to become familiar with how to increase their revenues by using consolidators,” she says. “Our online tutorial is a good place to start. The online quiz is simple and provides an overview of how USACA members can help travel agents achieve their objectives. It’s useful for home-based independent agents as well.”
USACA has carefully screened members ranking among the best and brightest consolidators in the U.S. Members are screened and monitored for financial security, customer service, air contracts, reliability, size and more. As USACA members must have $20 million in sales, they can provide a key for increased profitability and client service quality.
“Like travel agents, air consolidators will need to remain flexible to remain viable in the market,” Furry says. “What works today may not even be applicable tomorrow. And air consolidators need to stay very much in tune with the travel agent community to always keep abreast of current needs and trends so that we can best serve them.
“Consolidators will expect travel agents to have a basic understanding of airline and travel terminology and concepts,” she continues. “But we realize that most travel agents will not be experts in air travel because of the diversity of their job. Air travel is the majority of what many of us do, and so we can come alongside the travel agent and offer that piece of experience and helpfulness.”
Furry, a 30-year veteran, believes the current airline crisis is slowing down sales for most agents and consolidators. However, Centrav has actually seen an increase in sales due to many travel agents responding to the unique booking tools Centrav offers online.
Centrav is a founding member of USACA and well established in the travel industry. Celebrating 20 years of service to travel agents, Centrav’s proprietary software offers simplicity, speed and high-tech booking tools to enable travel agents to easily sell air tickets for higher profit.
Centrav’s unique approach is to display both private (consolidator) fares and published fares on one web page for easy comparison. A Best Fare Finder tool quickly searches all fares at the same time and then displays them in price order.
Travel agents can explore USACA’s program and get access to the tutorial and other resources online at www.usaca.com. Included are member profiles and a search engine to find a USACA consolidator or airline.