17 FEB 2014:  Vacation.com is on the fast track to showcase travel agents in a new way and is banking on online enhancements in what company insiders describe as more options to help them.

Preparations are currently underway to provide member agents with more online tools to help build customer retention and to promote agents through a new consumer facing website known as “Agent Snapshots.”

The Agent Snapshot concept introduced last June is currently being created with a team of writers working directly with each agent to showcase the agent’s agency brand, their travel specialties and other information through this new online tool that is expected to be launched in April at the company’s upcoming international conference and trade show aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas.

Senior executives from Vacation.com and its parent company Travel Leaders Group, which is America’s largest travel agency company, released these details including 2015 forecasts and business updates at a recent press conference.  

Now for the checklist:

Survey says - In a recent internal survey 95% of Canadian members report their 2015 bookings are on par or greater than the same time last year, and 99% of them feel their clients will spend the same or more on travel this year compared to last year.

Agent Snapshot

Come spring, Vacation.com member agents will be able to showcase on Vacation.com’s new consumer facing website their specialties, destination expertise, contact info and other relevant travel information to help optimize the agent’s SEO (search optimization) through the new Agent Snapshot.

Members are currently invited to visit AgentUniverse.com and click on the Agent Snapshot to input their details. Tiffany Glass, chief operating officer with Travel Leaders Group and Vacation.com overseeing the website project, explained a team of writers are working in tandem with agents to produce this new slick agent profile which includes an agent photo.  

“We don’t sell travel, we sell travel agents,” noted Stephen McGillivray, chief marketing officer with Travel Leaders Group who explained the big ah-ha moment was in selling their constituents (travel agents). “Our members are our greatest asset,” reinforced Glass discussing the agent’s value in enhancing their travel product expertise through this future website feature.

Vacation.com is scheduled to launch the new website at sea during its 8-day conference aboard the Royal Caribbean’s Quantum of the Seas Cruise which takes place April 24-May 2.

Agent members will also have an opportunity to collaborate with writers during the conference through 30-minute sessions which will be conducted at the stadium-size Experience Room. “The agent will go back to their room, write their profile and the hope is to have them finish their online persona,” explained McGillivray about the inspiring bios that inevitably will contribute to consumer ratings and reviews. “The more the agent ratings, the higher they will appear (in the Internet results page) because they are peer certified,” added Glass.

For more details on the new agent profiles visit AgentUniverse.com

On Cue

Busy travel agents with good intentions on the follow through might not always have the time to reconnect with their clients. Maybe you missed a birthday or intended to remind them about their passport expiring or maybe you just wanted to see how your client enjoyed their trip.  

Enter Vacation.com’s new automated, customized client outreach programme called On Cue which launched in January. Members in the Engagement Select programme can opt-in to the On Cue programme for $29 per month.

What do you get in the monthly rate?

Customized automated emails with your agency’s logo, location and email address sent to your clients. This tool, the company reports, is to help ensure your agency remains top-of-mind with existing and potential clients.

The automated emails can include birthday and anniversary greetings, new client welcomes, referral thank-yous and much more.

So next time you ask yourself: “Did I remember to welcome home my clients from their world cruise?” Vacation.com will have you covered.

2015 Forecast

Optimism is in the air.

The company reports growth compared to this time last year despite the weakened Canadian dollar against the US Dollar. “It really hasn’t impacted bookings. We are up,” said Christine James, vice-president of Vacation.com in Canada about the bookings and further explained how their package tour partners are locked-in with the currency commitment. “(This is) because there is an upside in fuel decreases and it will offset any currency surcharges.”  

James explained how the “Sun Fun” business and the Caribbean and Mexico continue to be big markets. However on the Caribbean cruise side, McGillivray explained on the cruise space, the Caribbean is the biggest challenge.

“One out of every four cruises go to the Caribbean  so it’s a huge chunk and that’s where the competition is but the yields are holding,” he said but cautioned cruise companies need to consider agent commissions in their pricing. “If the demand isn’t there, they (cruise companies) are going to fill their ships and when they fill them that’s when the price deteriorates and then it’s not profitable for the retailer.”

World Events

What happens when there’s a crisis in the world?

Take the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa. “We certainly had challenges but with Vacation.com being part of Travel Leaders Group we had the size, scope and vitality to withstand downturns. With some other standalone networks, a downturn could have catastrophic effects,” McGillivray said and added, “We sell the world so when something happens in an area it doesn’t cripple us.”

James explained, in fact, the company has been seeing a steady uptick in the safari business. “A lot of preferred partners are offering two-for-one promotions which generated a lot of activity in the fall.”

What about the challenges in Europe?

McGillivray observed because of the challenges in the European economy, Mediterranean and Baltic cruises which typically rely on European passengers are turning to the North American market. “You’ll find better promotions, better incentives to the consumer, and better incentives to the travel agents to book that product,” he noted.  “To me it’s always good when the cruise lines and operators look to fill the motor coaches and cruise ships – good incentives for the agents like enhanced commissions are all the good things that motivate them to sell.”

The escorted tour side definitely saw double digit growth explained James referring to recent Terrorism attacks that hasn’t impacted Canadian numbers. “We haven’t had one of our members say their agent has cancelled a boat cruise or a trip to Belgium or France.”

Vacation.com and top North American destinations in the Canadian market

Las Vegas
Hawaii – “double digit growth this year”
New York City

Vacation.com and top International destinations in the Canadian market

Mediterranean cruises
Mexico, east and west
European river cruises “You can’t dig enough rivers to get the river boats in to fill the demand,” said James.

Those exotic niche countries like Hawaii, Australia, and the Caribbean are doing well due to “consumers relying more on retailers for guidance” observed McGillivray.

Vacation.com reports the Caribbean continues remain at the top of the international destinations list. Travel Industry Today heard escorted tours remain strong with a projected 10%-12% in revenue growth across all their supplier partners.

Europe, in particular Italy, also remains a top seller with strong sales trends occurring for exotic regions like China, Australia and Vietnam.    

The Vacation.com demographic a.k.a. customer

Half of the Vacation.com database is aged 50-plus with lucrative income.

Meanwhile the Millennials (the generation born between the 1980s to the early 2000s) are scoring high on the agent side. “They are turning to agents at a higher pace than their parents,” said McGillivray, “This is the generation that want and seek reviews. The travel agents validate the choice on what they found online. This upcoming generation still look for guidance,” he noted.

Millennials are also great travellers. Based on their Boomer relatives taking them on trips as infants, Millennials have developed a huge taste for travel. “Now as young people they get exposed to a great travel product and that becomes their hurdle bar as Millennials.”

Millennials want local, personalized experience and inspired travel.

On the macro level, Boomers have more lucrative income. Their parents saved but this generation are going to spend it and not leave it for their kids. For the travel space its “fantastic.”  “The trends are off the charts. They are going into retirement with inheritance.”

“Our biggest asset is our members,” concluded Glass.

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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