In the past six months, Global Travel Collection (GTC) has added 70 new independent contractors (ICs) to its ranks, growing at "a more aggressive clip than we were in regular times," said GTC president Angie Licea.
But Licea's aim is not to make GTC bigger. She wants the Internova Travel Group luxury division to be more influential.
"For us, this isn't really about growth. We're not trying to be bigger," Licea said. "We're trying to build our influence. As we're bringing in advisors, we're looking at what is this advisor potentially bringing to the company?"
In many cases, GTC is onboarding experienced advisors. The question, Licea said, is, "Can their volume help us leverage?"
When it becomes possible to gather again, a top priority for GTC will be holding a symposium to connect with its top suppliers, Licea said. GTC and the suppliers will work together to figure out what advisors and their consumers most need and how they can collaborate to get travelers on the move again.
Licea's personal belief is that, going forward, preferred suppliers will become even more important to agencies.
"I do believe that agencies will start to narrow a bit on their focus of their preferred suppliers," she said. "We cannot be the master of all. Nobody can."
But in addition to experienced advisors, GTC is also onboarding newbies.
With no book of business, how can that help advance the goal of becoming more influential?
"That," Licea said, "is our personal investment in the industry."
Many who find their way to the industry stay in it for life. As Licea pointed out, it's a common joke that, once you're in travel, it's hard to get out.
"We want to invest to ensure that our environment, travel agencies, are here for the long term," she said. "That is our investment in our company, in the industry, to help grow people into advisors so that when the next group of advisors retire, we have the infrastructure and that bench set up so people can step in."
While a number of advisors have left the industry during the pandemic, either by choice or by furlough or layoff, still others have been joining as advisors, despite the current travel environment.
Licea described it as "kind of like the stock market, where you're hedging your bet. I think a lot of people have been displaced out of their industries and they're saying, what can I do?"
A number of people also probably got used to working from home and decided to look for careers that would enable them to keep home offices.
GTC has a number of brands advisors can choose: Protravel International, Tzell Travel Group, Colletts Travel, Andrew Harper, In the Know Experiences, All Star Travel Group and R. Crusoe & Son.
Its ICs choose the brand that most resonates with them. Licea said a number of ICs are actually choosing to use the GTC branding, something she welcomes.
Bookings, especially for 2022, have been returning, Licea said. Spring dates and the holiday season for 2021 have also been popular. Andrew Harper, for instance, had what was likely its best month in January since March 2020, when the pandemic hit, doing 50% of its 2019 volume.
One word comes to Licea's mind when she thinks about travel advisors in recent months: nimble.
For instance, Mexico was selling well recently, until the CDC required all travelers entering the U.S. to provide proof of a negative coronavirus test. Cancellations abounded, but there was a silver lining -- instead of canceling travel altogether, Licea said, travelers shifted to Hawaii, part of the U.S. and therefore exempt of the testing requirement upon return.
She is bullish on the return of travel as borders open and restrictions are lifted.
"Our segmentation, we're fortunate -- we have pent-up demand," she said. "People want to travel, they just want to travel safely and with set protocol."