Host agency execs define their differences

By Kate Rice
CruiseWorld and Home Based Agent ShowFORT LAUDERDALE -- When given the challenge of describing their host agencies in a single word, the heads of four major hosts chose words such as "enable," "aspire" and "limitless." And one chose "cruisitude," its now-copyrighted contribution to the English language.

The heads of Avoya Travel /American Express, CruiseOne & Cruises Inc., Cruise Planners/American Express and Nexion participated in a host agency panel that was part of the first general session of the Travel Weekly CruiseWorld & Home Based Agent Show being held here this week.

Joanie Ogg, panel co-moderator and home-based agent pioneer, told agents attending the session that each of the host agencies offered certain fundamentals -- state-of-the-art technology platforms, turnkey marketing, business development support and conventions and seminars at sea -- but that she and her co-moderator, Mary Pat Sullivan, president of Sullivan Marketing Advisors, had given host agency heads the assignment of showing what differentiates them in the marketplace.

Nexion President Jackie Friedman said that "enabler" best described Nexion, because it's designed to give its members the products, services and tools they need to operate the own brand.

Nexion is in the background, although she added that it is backed by a larger entity, Travel Leaders Group, which represents about 32% of the industry in terms of travel agency desktops. That means Nexion members get the benefit of clout with suppliers. She said that Nexion focuses heavily on air and has contracts with 70 airlines that agents can book by using GDSs or its SNAP booking tool for non-GDS agents

Michelle Fee, president of Cruise Planners/American Express, said that "cruisitude," a word that Cruise Planners created and copyrighted, reflects the Cruise Planner attitude of enthusiasm and passion, not just about selling travel but about life.

She said its American Express affiliation brings credibility to home-based agents as well as the ability to let clients pay for travel with reward points and take advantage of things like the Mariner's Club, 600 group sailings that include special shore excursions. This is a product that she said helps agents compete with groups such as Virtuoso.

Finally, the Cruise Planner ERez technology platform is designed to be accessed in a variety of ways, including smartphones. She said that means an agent talking to a mother at a baseball game can pull up travel options on her phone right there. The MyTrips section of the Cruise Planners' website enables clients to book their own travel as well as purchase shore excursions and other third-party products.

"They book it, you make money," Fee said. Finally, she said a "share" function enables clients to invite friends to join them on trips, making clients an agency's sales force.

Dwain Wall, senior vice president and general manager of CruiseOne & Cruises Inc., said "aspire" describes those two companies as well as their parent company, World Travel Holdings.

He said that the companies' core values are pride, passion, teamwork and velocity. CruiseOne & Cruises Inc. work to help agents increase their business with a technology platform that the company has invested $40 million in over the years. It offers agents sites with a live booking. It has started fully funding promotions such as free shore excursions and free hotels.

"One reason we can do that is because we are part of World Travel Holdings, one of the world's largest sellers of cruises," he said. It also offers co-op programs.

CruiseOne & Cruises Inc. has a program to drive leads to its agents; it pays the same commissions on sales from these leads as it pays agents on sales generated by the agents' only leads. CruiseOne & Cruises Inc. offers regional training and a national conference where agents hear from top executives from all cruise lines and can also network with their peers.

Scott Koepf, vice president of sales for Avoya Travel/American Express, chose the word "limitless" to define Avoya. He said that Avoya wants agents looking for business success. Avoya's goal is to break through what Koepf called the myth that there are limits to being a travel agent. That means limitless technology, with a technology platform that handles CRM, booking and follow-up. "When all of that is in one place, that breaks down the limits that are on you and the income you can earn," Koepf said.

Avoya's goal is to break through income limits. "We have over 500 affiliates. We're not looking for thousands and thousands, we are looking for the best who want to make a tremendous income doing what they love to do," Koepf said.

Avoya independent affiliates, as Avoya calls the agents it hosts, produce 10 to 20 times more sales than the average home-based agent.

"That comes down to our No. 1 differentiator, and that is our limitless Live Leads program," Koepf said. The lead program delivers leads to agents by phone, Web or text. Avoya pays a lower commission on sales that come from commissions generated by its Live Leads program than it does on commissions on sales that come from an agent's own leads.

Follow Kate Rice on Twitter @krtravelweekly.  
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