The Brave New World of Travel
Nothing Succeeds Like Success
Welcome to the world of Travel Centres, Ireland’s leading retail travel grouping and champion of the independent travel agent. Founded in 2005,Travel Centres has experienced tremendous growth since then, a growth rate that we intend to maintain for the foreseeable future.
Travel Centres was founded on a simple premise: ‘To maximise the profitability of its member agents through a combination of: Negotiating optimum commercial terms with preferred suppliers, thus increasing agents gross margins Identifying third party service providers where similar ‘deals’ could be struck, thus minimising operating overheads Researching various technology offerings in order to recommend ‘Best in Breed’ solutions and/or methodologies that maximise agent productivity.
The secret of our success has been due in large part to a combination of our willingness to ‘think outside the box’; providing an exceptional 24/7 service to our member agents and constantly adding to the range of benefits that those members enjoy. In a market environment that is constantly changing (and not always for the better), we feel that it is also important to have a clear vision of where you’re going and what you need to do in order to get there. Travel Centres has always been focused on figuring out how its members can both re-invent and re-position themselves in order to capitalise on both new trends that are beginning to emerge in travel and changing consumer habits. In effect, being a member of Travel Centres is like having an additional senior staff member looking after your business without the downside of having to pay them a salary. Whether you are an agent that is currently affiliated to another consortium or a stand-alone one that is still plowing its own furrow, you owe it to yourself and your staff to at least consider the possible benefits of aligning your business with Travel Centres. Joining us does not compromise your existing independence in any way - conversely; it actually reinforces it through the simple mechanism of enabling you to make more profit out of your existing sales, whilst providing you with multiple opportunities to grow that profit margin even further by placing discretionary sales in a more strategic manner. No brochure or piece of marketing collateral such as this can ever encapsulate the entirety of what it means to be a Travel Centresaffiliated agent but what we have tried to do here is at least highlight some of the more obviously beneficial ‘goodies’ that you can expect to enjoy from the day that you choose to join our swelling ranks! Sincerely,
Dominic Burke, Managing Director
The Brave New World of Travel If you’ve worked in our industry for any length of time then you will no doubt agree that we have experienced more change in the retail travel landscape in the past five years than in the 30 that preceded it. Most of this change can be attributed to just one single phenomenon - the Internet. As a travel agent, you have seen huge chunks of your business turnover leak away to the ‘Net’ and we both know that a lot of that business has probably gone for good. In an ideal world each travel agent would, by now, have developed a skill set that encompasses SEO, social media networks, Google Analytics, cloud computing etc. The reality - not surprisingly - is somewhat different. Ask yourself the following questions: 1. Do you feel you possess the necessary skill set to properly address the Internet threat? 2. Have you got the financial resources to build a fully functional, feature-rich and user-friendly web site? 3. Are you concerned about the sufficiency of your online marketing budget to properly promote your existing web site presence in the manner and on the scale that it probably deserves? 4. Would you like someone to help you to address some/all of the above issues?
Travel Bug is the new consumer-facing web site of Travel Centres. The web sites’ sole function is to drive new business through the doors, phones, email addresses and web sites of member agents located throughout the country. It does this in a number of ways:
By replicating the methodology by which travel agents build up a composite picture of what a potential clients’ needs and wants are through a progressive Q & A process.
By circulating details of either all quotes requested through the web site internally (within the group) or selectively, based on agents own declared preferences (e.g. agents may only wish to quote for long-haul, weddings, groups etc.)
By acting as a user-friendly portal to potential consumers of your travel agency services, where they can research their provisional travel plans, utilising some of the features of the site such as the online travel guides, user-generated photos and videos which are categorised by destination, downloadable travel advisory pdf’s and searchable database of travel consultant profiles. By leveraging the power of social media channels such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and regular blogs.
• By clearly highlighting every agent’s contact details, hours of opening and physical location through the creative exploitation of Google mapping software. • By constantly promoting the web sites’ existence through a combination of ongoing SEO, press releases, adword campaigns and social media-driven competitions etc.
The brave new world of travel
‘We believe more than ever now that one needs to be part of Travel Centres. One has more clout and there is always Dominic at the helm to help out and put the best case forward for all aspects of the travel business.There is strength in numbers and it is time other travel agents realised that to be part of a bigger picture gives them more strength’ Caroline O’Connor, Creation Travel Limerick
Enhanced Commercial Agreements The cornerstone of any consortium’s raison d’être is its ability to negotiate extra commissions, bigger rebates and achievable incentives on behalf of its member agencies.Travel Centres enjoys such enhanced trading terms with over 40 key suppliers covering all the important niche markets such as; Cruising (10) Long haul (5) Airlines (2) Car hire (2) Bed banks (3) Tour operators (9) Consolidators GDS Attractions Transfers (2)
Excursions Coach tours Ferries (2) Adventure travel (2) Travel insurance Personal medical insurance Villas IT support Telecoms Credit card processing
Some of these enhanced commercial agreements give you access to commission levels up to 70% more than what you would normally expect to earn and in most cases at least 20% more. Many of these terms are guaranteed; without target and paid out on invoice so you don’t have to wait for retrospective payments. Taken in isolation, this benefit of membership does more to impact positively on your bottom line than any other single feature and is the reason why — once agents join — they never leave! Don’t just take our word for it though. Read the testimonials of just some of our members, elsewhere in this brochure.
With travel agents often working with minimum staffing levels, it has become increasingly difficult for most of them to release staff in order to attend outside training events such as workshops, seminars etc. Introduced in 2010, Travel Centres now deploys its own webinar platform using state-of-the-art German technology. This has enabled us to conduct weekly webinars in conjunction with our preferred supplier partners in order that agency staff can learn, up skill and generally brush up on their product knowledge without leaving the comfort of their own desks. With zero costs involved and taking up just 30-45 minutes each week, our webinar series has proved a big hit with owners and consultants alike, thus ensuring that members continue to grow sales, hit targets and maximise rebate rewards.
Being competitive is often a euphemism for simply being cheaper and Travel Centres has never believed in engaging in a race to the bottom that ultimately no one wins. Instead, we have always tried to ensure that members are empowered in their efforts to be more competitive by regularly negotiating deals with supplier partners that are exclusive to the group — thus ensuring that members not only grow their sales but grow them with profitable margins.
Reduced Overheads We all know that every euro saved as an overhead is roughly equivalent to a gross sale worth €100*, hence the critical importance of reducing or eliminating such overheads whenever possible. Travel Centres has negotiated some of the best rates around with a leading international bank in respect of credit card processing charges and a Tier 1 telecoms provider in respect of landline costs. Members have saved literally thousands of euros per annum after signing up to both deals, thereby adding significantly to their bottom lines. We have also built up a great partnership with a leading Irish IT company who now provide many members within the grouping with a wide range of services such as hardware maintenance and procurement; email hosting and spam filtering; cloud computing and remote diagnostic services — all at a fraction of what is normally charged within the industry. We have also negotiated a special deal with an Irish-based web development company that provides professional-looking web sites straight out of the box for just €1,000 — a fraction of what such projects would normally cost. *i.e. gross commission of €10 but just €1 in net profit after costs of sale.
â€˜ I have owned and managed a Travel Agency in Donegal since 2002. As in any business many decisions and choices have to be made in the continuing effort to grow and nurture the business and I firmly believe that my decision to join the Travel Centres consortium was one of my better moves. As members, we enjoy the following benefits: Opportunity to earn additional commission; Stronger buying power in the market place; Shared information from a pool of experienced and knowledgeable members; Help and valuable advice from the CEO; Assistance when things go wrong !; Up to date news of developments in the industry; The latest in staff training from suppliers; Value for money - low fee membership;The sense that you are not alone! I would urge any agency to join up and would be happy to talk to anyone considering the move. â€˜ Carolyn Davis, Liberty Travel Letterkenny
Monthly Sales Metrics
Travel Centres’ deliberations are guided by an advisory board that comprises six member agents who meet two or three times a year to discuss the selection/retention of preferred suppliers; overall strategy and reaction to market developments. It also acts as a filter for members who wish to contribute opinions/make criticisms anonymously. Board members give generously of their time on a
Sales are the lifeblood of any company and travel agencies are no different in that respect. In order to help members maintain their focus on sales so that they regularly meet or exceed targets — and, by extension, generous bonus payments — Travel Centres provides members with monthly (sometimes weekly) reports that catalogue individual agency performances* and how they compare to the equivalent period in the previous year, together with other data that shows them how far they are away from reaching a critical target that will trigger a bonus payment.
purely voluntary basis.
Regular Surveys There’s not much point in being a member of a common interest group if you can’t exploit that benefit in numbers by conducting regular surveys on a wide range of topics that help individual members gauge whether or not they are out of sync with their colleagues in the industry. Recent examples of such surveys conducted over the course of the last 18 months include: audit/ accountancy fee comparisons, back office systems, bonding, brochure disposal, credit card/debit card processing charges, internet banking, quarterly market activity reviews, agent specialization in niche markets, office opening hours, product training, professional indemnity/public liability insurance cover, social media channels, staff salary levels, technology, travel for the disabled, vat processing-best practice, webinars.
Customised Travel Guides Every Travel Centres member agent is provided with their own branded version of Word Travels which enables them to email or print off customizable travel guides for all major countries, cities, beach resorts, ski resorts, ports of call and airports throughout the world. Each guide (which contains the agents’ logo and full contact details) can be fully customised across a broad range of criteria, depending on the level of detail required by the traveller.
Year-Round Promotions Travel Centres actively engages with supplier partners in order to deliver regular product promotions through its agency network whereby clients enjoy special pricing, exclusive discounts and/or extra benefits, thus helping members to differentiate themselves from others in the marketplace, thereby providing them with a competitive edge. *each agent only receives sales stats relating to their own agency.
Problem Resolution One of the greatest benefits of being Ireland’s largest travel agency grouping is the leverage that it gives us and the influence that we can bring to bear on supplier partners — particularly when things go wrong. We constantly pick up the gauntlet on behalf of members and fight on their behalf in respect of contentious issues such as ADM’s, overbookings, litigious clients, cancellations, administrative errors and a whole host of other matters that invariably have a considerable cost consequence if not dealt with judiciously, professionally and — above all — promptly.
Online Archive At Travel Centres we are constantly trawling the Net for White Papers, Technology Reviews and Annual Reports that address a wide variety of relevant subject matter such as marketing, public relations, search engine optimisation, social media trends etc. Much of this material is free but we also subscribe to paid for publications such as The Genesys Annual Technology Review and Official Steamship Guide so that members don’t have to pay subscription fees.
‘The services and benefits associated with being a member of Travel Centres far outweigh the cost involved. Having someone like Dominic working continually on our behalf and representing us on a national basis is an enormous asset for any travel agency. It would not be possible for an individual travel agency to obtain the commercial terms we have with suppliers. I very much appreciate the efforts made by Dominic on our behalf…’ Eileen Tuite, Corrib Travel Galway
Internal Networking Being the country’s largest network of independently owned and managed travel agencies means that members enjoy plenty of networking opportunities, not only at annual conferences but also on a daily basis through the medium of our daily email communiqués. Members can offload distressed inventory such as cancelled seats or packages through the agency network or market internally to fellow members if they happen to have a niche product or service that they wish to promote.
Marketing Collateral We regularly produce A2 posters, A4 and DL double-sided flyers (all in full colour) either promoting specific offers or sometimes just in order to stimulate incremental sales in a more general sense in niche markets that agents sometimes find more difficult to penetrate. Previous projects have included the joint publication of a 16-page brochure in conjunction with one of the UK’s leading (and award-winning) specialist cruise agents. Internal marketing collateral includes A3 desk pads, mouse pads and free standing desktop calendars, all of which actively promote sales for preferred suppliers.
Supplier Workshops If regular feedback from both suppliers and agents alike are to be believed, we operate the best product training workshops in the industry. This annual event is always hugely anticipated — not least for the dozens of prizes that are won each year and which range from cruises and all inclusive holidays to laptops, BT Vouchers, digital cameras, video camcorders and practically every other electronic consumer gadget that you can think of!
Annual Conference We host a conference every single year as we believe it is vital that members come together to review the year just gone and analyze what worked and what didn’t so that we can improve our collective performance in the year to come. These immersive events also include inspirational, informative and entertaining presentations on a hugely diverse range of subject matter. Presentations at recent conferences have included talks from the Garda Fraud Squad on credit card scams; demographic insights into the changing Ireland of today, presented by the Central Statistics Office and insightful seminars from the likes of the Commission for Aviation Regulation.
Ongoing Initiatives ‘Time waits for no man’ as the saying goes and it more or less encapsulates the philosophy that Travel Centres has always tried to adhere to in constantly re-evaluating what we do and how we do it in order to take cognisance of changing market conditions, emerging trends and the latest developments in, and application of, new technologies. Having been the first grouping to establish its own VAT help desk and consumer-facing web site, we are already looking at the feasibility of creating our own mobile apps for both the iPhone and Android platforms. We manage our own webinar portal and have recently invested in new video technology that will effectively enable us to create a virtual tv studio which we hope to use for training/ communication purposes in the not-too-distant future. In short, we are constantly trying to push the boundaries of what is doable so that our members have all the tools and services at their disposal to help them be the best they can be.
Each year, members receive an annual report which provides them with a summary of notable achievements made and challenges faced in the year just gone and which also sets out a road map for the year to come. These reports act as a kind of blueprint so that members have a clear vision of where the group as a whole is going and the part they can play in bringing such plans to fruition.
When all is said and done, we are in the selling business and good, effective selling is always about product knowledge. Conference calls, cheat sheets, webinars and supplier workshops all have their place but there can never be a substitute for actually experiencing a product or destination up close and personal. That’s why we have always put a lot of effort into securing as many places as possible on as many educationals as possible for our members and their staff. It is not unusual therefore to find that as much as 40% of some fam groups are comprised of Travel Centres member agents.
Marketing Trends One of the many problems that agents face in working at the coalface day after day is that it is often difficult to see the proverbial ‘wood for the trees’. Travel Centres endeavours to address such anomalies by constantly reviewing hundreds of papers, reports and blogs from around the world in order to identify patterns or trends before they achieve critical mass in the marketplace. A perfect example of such deliberations was our early identification of the cruising sector as a major growth market and we put a coordinated plan in place to assist in up-skilling member agency staff so that they could tap into that market and develop sales ahead of the industry in general. As a result of this initiative in identifying an emerging market trend ahead of our competition, we now enjoy an unrivalled position with aggregate cruise sales growing by over 30% per annum!
Technology Digests Technology is one of those things — you either love it or you hate it! Your eyes light up or glaze over, depending on your particular disposition. Our experience has always been that most people (with some notable exceptions) are not generally comfortable when it comes to dealing with technology issues, whether they be in relation to web sites and their marketing, back office systems or software solutions in general. It is a very confusing world out there and we recognise the fact that most agents don’t have the time (or even the inclination) to adequately keep in touch with what’s out there or what’s good and what’s not fit for purpose. For these reasons alone, Travel Centres keeps a keen eye on what’s going on in technology circles — particularly when it relates in any way to the travel environment — and we evaluate these product/software offerings by engaging in a due diligence process in order to identify what we believe to represent ‘Best in Breed’.
‘We were drawn to Travel Centres as a necessity to finding substance in a myriad of marketing schemes.Travel Centres has to date stood up extremely well in our due diligence as to what we wanted from a travel grouping.We analysed marketing strength, standing with suppliers, and something you can’t buy - integrity. In all cases we have found Travel Centres to shine.We very much look forward to continuing to grow our business with the help of Travel Centres to the betterment of our clients, our suppliers and our business’ Tom Britton, Marble City Travel Kilkenny
Contact Irelandâ€™s leading retail travel grouping
Dominic Burke Managing Director email@example.com www.travelbug.ie Travel Centres, 14 The Fairways, Golf Links Road, Dunmore East, County Waterford, Ireland Tel: 00353 (0)51 383 622 Fax: 00353 (0)51 810003