NASSAU -- Ensemble Travel Group is continuing to fine-tune its Navigate and Aviate booking platforms, and it recently unveiled several updates to both technology products.
The consortium launched the air-booking platform Aviate in 2016, followed last year by the integrated booking platform Navigate, which offers a cruise-booking vertical. The pair have had somewhat slow starts, with Ensemble co-president Libbie Rice admitting at the Ensemble 2017 conference in Dallas that Navigate's launch, in particular, hadn't "gone as smoothly as expected."
At Ensemble's conference at the Grand Hyatt Baha Mar resort here last month, however, Rice was optimistic about improvements made to both platforms. She said that all members interested in joining Navigate would be on the platform by the end of the year and that new tools had been added to the program.
"In Canada, the insurance beta test is underway, and members can now purchase Manulife insurance via Navigate as part of the cruise-booking process," Rice said. "And what's more, it will soon become available as a standalone product in our system. We believe this will make it even easier to sell this high-margin product to clients."
Ensemble expects to add its U.S. insurance partners to the mix in 2019, and it plans to significantly ramp up its focus on Aviate this year.
Co-president Lindsay Pearlman said, "We're on course to expand our air program, and we have added more key focus to this area. This includes the ability for members to add their own air contracts. And for those also using Navigate, members will soon be offered flight options when you book a cruise that align with the client's sailing dates."
Rice added that some of Aviate's issues center on complexities inherent in the air-booking process. In order to make onboarding easier, Aviate is introducing a user-friendly design that promises to be more intuitive and to better guide members through the booking process.
"With air, we have everything from people with their own air contracts to members who wouldn't know the difference between Y, J and F fares," she said. "In the airline world, for example, if you sell the bottom fare bucket in U.S. carriers, that's basic economy. Well, that might mean no seat assignment and, depending on the carrier, no access to overhead bins. As a travel adviser, you don't want to sell that, because that's a disservice to your clients. So there's a lot of education that needs to go on with air that's different from other verticals."
Past three years 'best on record'
Ensemble's efforts to bolster its booking platforms come as the group celebrates both its 50th anniversary and a third consecutive year of record growth.
According to Pearlman, Ensemble's "financial performance has been off the charts," with the past three years being the "best on record for the organization."
The consortium's progress has been largely driven by its core U.S. and Canada businesses, which collectively have a membership of around 850, split evenly across the two markets. Ensemble also operates in Australia and New Zealand, where it has approximately 30 members. Pearlman added that Ensemble's next expansion could be a foray into Asia.
"The natural route of expansion out of Australia would be to go into Asia," he said. "You want to do that through Australia because the Aussies know how to do business in Asia. We actually already have members now that have offices in Asia, so it's not such a stretch, but we're in no rush."