Blue Sky Tours, the Mark Travel Corp.’s Hawaii-only wholesale brand, launched a new Flex program in late September, hoping to offer its travel agent partners more options when competing with online travel agencies (OTA).
“It was really developed after listening to agents who were often having issues losing clients to the OTAs because of price,” Jorn Kaae, Mark Travel’s senior vice president of relationship management, told Travel Weekly. “And we finally said, ‘Let’s come up with something that will help agents never have to lose another booking to an OTA, or one of these private membership clubs, that sell Hawaii.’”
According to Kaae, the Flex program is essentially a promo code agents can attach to any price in the Blue Sky system, either through the wholesaler’s online VAX booking engine or over the phone with a reservations agent, that will reduce the overall package price “considerably.”
“We are pretty sure, from all the research we’ve done, that it will bring the price down to or just below any OTA price out there,” Kaae said.
“Obviously we cut our margins,” he continued. “And it’s no secret that we also ask the agent to take part in the pain and their commission is lowered.”
Agents will receive a 7% commission on the land portion of a Blue Sky Flex program booking and 3% on the air component.
Kaae said he’s heard many stories from agents about clients who’ve gone with an OTA because of price and never come back.
“We’re certainly not advocating that agents sell on price alone but sell instead based on their great experience and the memorable vacation they can put together for travelers that an OTA certainly can’t,” he continued. “Obviously, that’s what we would prefer they do, but when they have the risk of losing a client to an OTA because of price, Blue Sky Tours has an answer with the new Flex program.”
Bookings this year have apparently been good for Blue Sky, which sells its Aloha State packages exclusively through travel agents. According to Kaae, the company’s business is “up significantly over last year.”
Kaae attributed the growth, in part, to the company’s move to the VAX booking platform in 2012.
“We certainly had some learning curves after doing that,” he said. “When you change a platform, there are always things that have to be ironed out. But being on that new platform has opened up Blue Sky to a lot of travel agents that may not have heard about Blue Sky before in certain parts of the country.”
Mark Travel’s other Hawaii-serving vacation brands have also done well to the destination in 2014, Kaae said, noting that Funjet, United Vacations and Blue Sky all enjoyed year-over-year growth to the destination even before a number of summer and fall airfare sales to the Islands helped boost domestic arrivals across the Aloha State.
An improving U.S. economy has likely played an important role in some of that increased business, as well.
“Consumer confidence now is probably the highest it’s been since 2008,” Kaae said of the U.S. market. “And when consumer confidence goes up, the travelers’ intent to travel more is there and they spend more and so on, so there’s no doubt that helps.”