Montvale, N.J.-based Liberty Travel is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year. It just relaunched its Get Carried Away vacation packages that recall the company's deep history. Christina Pedroni, senior vice president of Liberty Travel, spoke to senior editor Jamie Biesiada about the packages, modernizing operations and the future.
Q: Bringing back packages during your anniversary is a fun idea.
A: It's been a long couple of years, and we have something to celebrate with a big birthday and also relaunching these Get Carried Away packages, which really plays to our history of Liberty Travel. Our founders [the late Gilbert Haroche and Fred Kassner] back in the early '50s, they're credited as the pioneers of the vacation package. They really started selling these all-in-one trips and making travel affordable and accessible to the average American, which I think is something we're continuing to do 70 years later. It just speaks to our history as a brand, and it feels like a good time to do this. We're focused on the Caribbean and Mexico to start. We've really seen the demand to those destinations, particularly the all-inclusive hotel product in those destinations.
Q: How does this fit into your goal of modernizing the business?
A: The past few years have certainly been challenging for everyone in the industry. But it's allowed us the opportunity to reevaluate our business model and make some decisions that were probably sped up by Covid. We had a lot of real estate, a lot of locations, physical storefronts, pre-Covid. We were on a path to downsizing them before the pandemic, but we definitely made a significant paring of our physical locations, retaining just a few. But we've always had the travel consultant as the center of our world, providing that service to a customer and just really making it a great booking experience. And we want to continue that, but we know we needed to invest in some different places, and that comes in the form of technology.
We've just launched a booking platform called Helio, and this is intended to make our travel consultants far more productive in the long run, but it also will allow us to deliver further online capability, making these packages that we're creating more easily searchable and bookable online. As we're launching Get Carried Away, we have a team of travel consultants in a call center model, as opposed to a physical location, that are dedicated to just these packages.
Q: Before the pandemic you had 125 storefronts. In the summer of 2020, Liberty announced plans to reduce that footprint to around 25 hubs. Has that changed?
A: Yes, we did pare back more significantly than that. We have four locations: two in Pennsylvania, one in New York and one in New Jersey. All of our consultants are attached to one of those hubs, and most of them are in a hybrid work model where they'll spend a couple of days in the locations, meeting customers, setting appointments and then working the balance of the week from home.
Q: How is that working?
A: It's definitely been a change for us, not to be in every town in the Northeast, but the consultants that are in the business are definitely becoming more productive. They have more customers. It's just been a shift in their working model.
Q: Will this strategy continue?
A: We definitely will keep the travel consultant as the backbone of our business. That's what the Liberty brand has grown with. It's been that personal connection, that personal touch and recommendations that we give. We're focusing on business models where we know there's a lot of growth opportunity. We spoke about Get Carried Away. We do have the hub model. We've also invested heavily in both our independent contractor model, which has been growing over the past two years in both number of agents and sales volume, and then our groups, as well. We had a fast-growing groups business pre-Covid, and that focus has remained throughout the past few years, that destination wedding and that social group market, which is so big and lucrative in the leisure travel space. We're investing in new technology for that business, and it's done quite well. It's actually, at this point, exceeding 2019 numbers.