After a challenging year of transitioning to the Vax VacationAccess platform, Travel Impressions is making changes to improve its groups department and add more diverse product. Travel Agent spoke with company executives at the Best of the Best conference, which drew 153 top-performing travel agencies to the Secrets Maroma Beach Riviera Cancun November 21 – 23 in Riviera Maya, Mexico.
“We were asking a lot [from travel agents] to learn a new system and adopt it,” Travel Impressions President Scott Wiseman tells Travel Agent of this year’s transition to Vax. “No matter how you plan for the perfect integration with technology, it’s always going to have some bumps in the road.” One year into using the new system, however, Wiseman notes that bookings are up and advisors are earning more as they take advantage of Vax’s improved commission tools.
One particular pain point for travel advisors during the transition has been groups.
“We called it our shining star until the merger, and we took a step back because of a few things,” says Jacqueline Marks, executive vice president, Apple Leisure Group, and the person responsible for “all things travel agent” at Travel Impressions. “Through the transition of taking on three different departments, there were some big changes, and we saw a lot of attrition and some people were not able to move as quickly as we’d like.”
Going forward, Travel Impressions is making a number of personnel moves to bring its groups performance back up. Jeff Mullen, who had been overseeing the groups department among his responsibilities, will now transition to focusing entirely on Amstar. The groups department will now fall under Marks’ portfolio, and reporting to her will be Mike Ehlers, who will move from his current role as senior vice president of sales to running the groups department. Justin Battiste, currently the senior director of groups, will leave the organization in mid-January.
“We also just recently launched two really incredible tech enhancements,” Marks says. In September, Travel Impressions launched the capability for agents to add their own air to group bookings; previously, this had been a manual process. In a similar vein, new autodeviation process will allow agents to handle booking deviations on their own as well.
Finally, Marks says that the company is investing more in training and leadership in its call center. Travel Impressions has added 200 more people to the call center since last year’s conference, and it is currently recruiting for a new senior vice president of the call center.
“We’re committed to getting a leader in there,” Marks said during the opening General Session.
Another big focus for Travel Impressions has been diversifying its product beyond the traditional sun-and-sand all-inclusives. The company has particularly added new options in Europe, where its portfolio has grown 23 percent, as well as in the U.S., where it has grown inventory 65 percent. Of particular note is the addition of U.S. National Parks.
“Travel Impressions is becoming a true one-stop-shop for agents in a way it hadn’t been before,” Marks says. “We’ve really been able to keep them from feeling like they have to go to three or four different vendors to get what we’re offering.”
Charter sales have also been on the rise, particularly in luxury – a segment that had traditionally been skeptical of the product, Wiseman says. “If you use the word charter, they would say, ‘Oh, our clients would never do a charter,’” he says. “But some of them are up 13, 14, 15, 16 percent, so they’re saying, ‘Wait a minute, maybe we should be talking about this.’ We’ve busted some myths and shown that, even at the high end, all products matter.”
On the opposite end of the spectrum, as of January, Travel Impressions will add the ability to book basic economy airfares in Vax – but the company is doing it in such a way that it will still allow agents options.
“There’s been a lot of buzz around basic economy,” Marks says of the no-frills-but-affordable fare type. “But we realized that some travel agents absolutely did not want to see that in their feed.”
So, while travel agents will have the option of booking basic economy through Vax, they will also be able to block it from their system entirely.
“If you want it it’s there, and it allows them to compete against the OTAs,” says Marks. “But if it’s outside your niche you don’t need to see it.”