So how have travel agent consortia and host agencies gained members during the past year — a time of tough challenges for agents and the travel industry as a whole?
Well, a Travel Courier survey suggests they have used an admirable combination of hard work, detailing what they can offer potential members and creativity to attract more agencies to their ranks.
Among those that have bolstered their memberships is Travel Professionals International, with Colton Chia, director of partnership, reporting that it’s seen impressive growth.
“The movement of independent agencies and advisors we have seen over the past year has been record breaking, although not surprising,” he says. “We are seeing many agencies looking at their options to streamline their business as a necessity. We will talk with each business owner to learn more about their business and the right program at TPI to increase their profitability, efficiency and cut out various (unneeded) business expenses.
“It is now more than ever that our network and new members need our support to persevere and thrive out of this crisis. Our unmatched head office support levels have remained unchanged and in addition, we have implemented different programs and consumer marketing and engagement initiatives to help our members take care of themselves and prepare their business for the rebound. From our industry first AAP (Advisor Assistance Plan) in partnership with Morneau Shepell to our Masterclass Training Series with world-class travel marketer Sandra McLemore to hosted Virtual Consumer Events held weekly, and an abundance of additional automation tools we’ve implemented this year we are helping to position our members’ businesses for success into the future.”
He says TPI’s non-exclusive contracts have been quite popular as an option for many agency owners who want to retain some of their own contracts but have access to TPI programs, team training and support.
“Virtuoso has been a great partner throughout this entire situation to adapt to TPI needs,” Chia continues. “It has redesigned its events and marketing strategy, which has been well received by TPI’s network.”
Chia adds that TPI’s work is far from done membership-wise.
“Our goal is to attract and develop a network of experienced, highly motivated and specialized travel agent and agency owners who share our vision on the new role of a travel advisor, the value of using a travel advisor in today’s travel environment, and the value in developing a long term (3- to 5-year) travel plan in collaboration with their clients.”
Also reporting growth for 2020 – growth that appears to be gaining momentum in 2021 – is Christine James,vice-president of TL Network Canada. James says TL Network has been “highly successful in bringing new members onboard since the pandemic. In fact, we’ve signed up 20 new members in 2020 and 15 new members in 2021 already.”
James credits the growth to a variety of factors.
“We’ve continued to support our existing members throughout the pandemic through virtual events, ongoing training as well as activity lobbying on their behalf with both our suppliers and ACTA and clearly this has paid off,” she reports. “Many of our new members have come to us as referrals through our existing membership, as well as the word getting out there on how supportive and proactive TL Network is in response to the current environment.
“Not only have we far surpassed our expectations in bringing new members on board since April 2020, many have proven not only to be highly engaged and eager to enroll on our programs and solutions but they are also taking advantage of the training sessions we offer to prepare their advisors for the resumption of travel.”
David Harris, CEO of the Ensemble Travel Group, says Ensemble quickly adapted to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Our focus this past year has been on addressing the myriad and immediate needs and challenges of our existing membership. We created several tools and resources to help members tackle issues that included how to get financial relief, the ever-changing protocols for quarantine, rebooking and cancellation policies, etc. We also provided customizable tools to encourage and simplify the ability for members to stay connected with clients. We have had new member queries, and, of course, have responded accordingly, however it has been a much more reactive than proactive effort out of respect for the significant challenges being faced by everyone in this industry.
“As a consortia that had a 50-plus-year history of delivering profits to our member shareholders year over year until the pandemic began, we are confident that by making the more difficult decisions necessitated to ‘right size’ given ongoing consumer supply and demand changes have put us in a position to recover quickly once travel fully restarts. In the meantime, we have also focused our efforts over the past year on launching groundbreaking technology, such as our new OneConnect booking tool that merges three platforms into one, providing better functionality, better customer support and an overall enhanced and streamlined experience.”
Harris says Ensemble believes that focusing on what it actually does and has done for its members is its best growth strategy. “While we all want our respective businesses to be successful and thrive, we have not – nor would we – implement a formalized recruitment strategy during a crisis. Nobody in the travel industry was spared from the devastation from COVID-19 – including our consortia colleagues. And, I believe it would be highly unethical to use the pandemic and the devastation that it has had on all of us as a sales tactic to get new members.”
Meanwhile, Harris says Ensemble has a path it believes leads to success.
“Our creative strategy is to continue to do everything we possibly can to support our current membership, thank them for their continued partnership, friendship and support during this past year and to reaffirm our commitment to providing them with the tools, partners and suppliers, technology, sales/marketing, training and any other resource that will lead to their success in restarting and recovering,” he adds.