After focusing on its consumer-facing brand, Great Value Vacations, in recent years, DH Enterprise & Associates has quietly reacquired Sceptre Vacations and is embracing travel agents with a new technology platform for booking packages to Europe.

DH grew out of Global Consolidated Services (GCS), the company that originally operated the Sceptre brand, said CEO Ben Block. Today, DH is the holding company that owns Great Value, Sceptre and GCS, a travel company offering white-label solutions in the areas of technology, management and operations. It also manages Journeys Connect and the Aer Lingus Vacation Store.

For the past five years, DH has mostly focused on Great Value, Block said. He was brought on as CEO in 2016 after being on DH's board for two years. Under him, Great Value's sales grew 40% year over year. But Block knew DH would have to do "something fundamentally different" to keep up that pace. 

That something turned out to be refocusing on agent sales. In 2016, DH sold Sceptre to Marc Kavanagh, founder and president of Journeys Connect. DH bought back Sceptre in July.

"By de-emphasizing [the] trade, we were leaving a massive opportunity on the table," Block said. Citing Phocuswright research, he said that "over 65% of leisure vacation packages sold by companies like ours are sold through the trade. Ignoring that is at your own peril."

Block said interviews with agents guided DH in developing a new vision for Sceptre based on five principles gleaned from what agents said they wanted: ease of transaction, strong commissions, destination expertise in a tour operator; well-treated clients, and ownership of customers. Sceptre developed a pledge to agents, including a tenet that the company will not reach out to agents' clients without agents' permission.

Sceptre also developed technology designed to help agents engage their clients with content, get quotes out faster and close bookings.

The agent-only platform has three main components: travel inspiration, prebuilt itineraries and PerfectFIT, a dynamic-packaging engine that enables agents to fully customize trips. Agents must log in to the platform to use it; it is not available for public perusal.

On the travel-inspiration front, Sceptre has created proprietary content about particular destinations (for example, lists of must-see sights in a city). Today, Block said, there are over 600 pieces of content. Using a share button, an agent can easily send a piece of content to a client and include a personalized email message. Any replies to things sent from Sceptre (whether content or itinerary) go directly to the agent's email address.

Sceptre is also offering over 450 pre-built itineraries that agents can send to clients. The pre-built itineraries include destinations in more than 40 countries.

PerfectFIT enables agents to build custom trips that are almost instantly quoted based on costs and available inventory. Custom trips can be built to destinations in Ireland, Italy, France, the U.K., Greece, Spain and Portugal.

All content and itineraries agents send to clients are branded to the agent, not Sceptre, and include the agent's contact information. Agents also have the ability to use Sceptre's platform to see whether or not a client has opened a particular piece of content or itinerary. Booking fees can be added to itineraries if the agent charges one. The platform is mobile friendly.

The technology Sceptre uses was built by DH's internal team, and gives real-time pricing on hotels, flight transfers and activities. Because it was built internally, Block said, it can easily be modified and enhanced going forward.

As an incentive to use the new platform, Sceptre is offering agents who complete a booking online by Nov. 15 a $50 Amazon gift card.

The platform was scheduled to go live Oct. 15. So far, agents testing it have given Sceptre positive feedback, according to Block, who also said agents' views will continue to be used to shape the platform.

"We're going to be in constant contact with our agent partners," Block said. "We think about this as the first chapter in the new Sceptre, and we expect agents to write the subsequent chapters."

Sceptre’s historic strength is in Ireland, and Block believes the company is the leader in Irish packages sold to North Americans. But Sceptre is making inroads in other countries, as well. He pointed to Italy, where Sceptre has operated for 10 years, and Greece, as particular strengths. Sceptre also offers custom trips to France, the U.K., Spain and Portugal, as well as pre-built itineraries to more than 40 destinations around the world including Southeast Asia and Latin America.  

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