If it really does take money to make money, that means innovation may never be more important than in down times like these. So Outrigger Hotels & Resorts is spending more of its bucks where business can be generated: with its cadre of existing travel agents, newcomers and wannabes.
Outrigger on Dec. 1 launched a new resources and rewards program to provide incentives, rewards and education for agents who sell Outrigger Enterprises Group's collection of some 35 resort and hotel properties. For the first time in the group's history, the incentives enable agents to redeem reward points for cash.
"We want to give travel agents something that makes taking the time to learn about Outrigger properties and the selling bookings worthwhile and to let them know we appreciate them," said Lois Shore, Outrigger's vice president of distribution.
Providing support to travel agents is essential as Outrigger continues to upgrade and grow its properties, she added.
Agents front and center
The Outrigger agent program comprises two core initiatives:
• The Outrigger Hospitality Specialist Program enables certified travel agents to earn reward points redeemable for cash and gift certificates on Amazon.com.
Other key features of the specialist program include: personalized welcome amenities for clients delivered in agents' names, for minimum stays of three days (down from four-plus nights in the former program); online forms prepopulated with the information from agents' online profiles; higher per-night point earnings plus more points for upscale properties; online command center to manage accounts and profiles, report bookings, request amenities, redeem points and take optional educational courses; a monthly e-newsletter; and a hotline at (866) 585-6579.
• OutriggerAgent.com, Outrigger's first travel agent-only website. It offers exclusive information and tips on all Outrigger-owned, -managed and -affiliated hotels, resorts and condominiums. One section of the website is open to all accredited travel agents with an active IATA or ARC number. The other section of the website is for certified Outrigger Hospitality Specialists only.
Under Outrigger's previous travel agent program, nearly 10 years old, specialists qualified via a written sales manual. In 2004, the program went online. One major drawback was that, in some instances, consumers were able to access proprietary information geared to agents. "That wasn't appropriate," Shore said.
The former program had about 5,000 active agents, primarily in the U.S., Canada and Australia, responsible for several Outrigger bookings in the last year, Shore said. Some 13,000 agents have entered the program since 1998.
"Now we want to bring those same active agents and new agents into the program now that it has so many new incentives," Shore said.
The certification course is an overview of Outrigger Hospitality, an umbrella for all the company's properties. Outrigger also will have six people in the U.S. and Canada who train agents on the new program.