Harnessing data and analytics to improve operational efficiency and track business is not only an important factor in an agency's success, but it also elevates agents' professionalism. While a number of productivity tools are at agents' disposal -- some free from the agency networks, others at a scalable price from the likes of GDSs and third-party providers -- most agree that data and analytics are an often overlooked facet of business within the agency community.
But the power of data is undeniable.
About eight months before the Great Recession hit in 2008, members of Travel Agency Management Solutions (TAMS) were given some homework by then-CEO Robert Joselyn, the president and CEO of the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Joselyn Consulting Group, and then-co-facilitator Eric Maryanov, president and CEO of Los Angeles-based All-Travel.com (Maryanov has since become the president and CEO of TAMS, with Joselyn moving into the role of consulting adviser).
TAMS is a paid membership group that provides its agencies with quarterly data on their businesses as well as other similarly sized and focused members for benchmarking purposes. It holds several meetings per year where members share their best practices. Homework -- or coming to a meeting prepared to discuss a certain topic -- is common.
"We raised the question, 'If you lost 25% of your revenue tomorrow, what would you do?'" Maryanov said.
He said Joselyn had been watching economic indicators and saw a proverbial iceberg coming: the Great Recession, which had deleterious effects on leisure travel. But TAMS members had made specific plans for an economic downturn. For example, if the data showed that the answer would be letting an employee go, they were urged to make detailed plans to do so, including identifying the employee and the impact it would have on business.
"When the market crashed [in 2008], while others were floundering, a lot of TAMS members had already thought through in good times [what they would] actually do, and they were able to therefore pull that out of the drawer and start taking [the] action that they said they would," Maryanov said.
Data is underutilized
Agencies have access to a host of data; some would even argue that they have too much data. But tracking things like sales and revenue per employee; identifying top clients and when they last traveled; following how close an agent is to his or her goal with a preferred supplier; and benchmarking an agency against other similar agencies can be the key to streamlining operations and elevating sales.
However, despite the usefulness of data in examining business operations in times of economic hardship or in better times, analytics are underused in the industry, according to Maryanov, Joselyn and others.
"I would say even the majority of the agencies, the money comes in the front door, the money comes out the back door," Joselyn said. "They don't collect information to really analyze and understand their business and what makes it tick."
The agencies that most need to spend time working on their business and digesting data and analytics tend to be small- and midsize, he said, adding that he suspects "there is a direct correlation between agency size and the amount of time and energy owners spend working on their business."
Damian McCabe, CEO of McLean, Va.-based McCabe World Travel, uses Virtuoso Reports, a suite of reports provided to members of the consortium, every day.
"You've got to know what's going on," she said. "You've got to know what you're selling because all of your preferred partners today have goals, and you need to know where you are against your goals if you're to check this on a very regular basis. Then all of a sudden you get to September and realize you're 50% to goal with a particular preferred supplier, and you're not going to make your goals. Therefore, you're going to miss your override potential, your override opportunities."
McCabe said using data to track business also helps elevate an agent's professionalism, and there is a defining line between agents who track their business and those who don't. "It makes you an entrepreneur," she said. "It makes you control your desk, and it makes you more of a businessperson."
Mike McCown, senior vice president of finance and data analytics at Virtuoso, echoed the value of data.
"To me, data is the most valuable asset that an adviser or an agency has," McCown said. "With the consolidation that's been going on in the industry, we've been privy to some of the transactions, and the agencies that have very good data, quite frankly, just sell for more. So to me, the data is the biggest asset that an adviser or an agency has, and you need to make sure that it's accurate, it's correct."
There are a number of ways agents can harness the power of data, whether it's through a solution from their network, from a GDS or from another party entirely.
Networks provide metrics data
For the second year running, Ensemble Travel Group is providing its owner members with access to a dashboard showing their overall business for the current year and three prior years. It also includes a breakdown of what they're selling, such as cruise, hotel, tours, etc., according to Don Kennedy, Ensemble's vice president of business development, North America. Each metric provided, such as the number of cruises sold, is further broken down to compare sales with previous years as well as by preferred suppliers.
Ensemble also provides owners with benchmarks of other member agencies in their region (the U.S. is divided into the West Coast, the Midwest and the East Coast). The data is used when Ensemble employees meet with the members during the year.
"It gives us the opportunity to work with that owner to say, 'If you get too many eggs in one basket here, your pie is really lopsided,'" Kennedy said.
Owners can also use the data to share with frontline agents and, if necessary, work with them to shift business to certain sectors of the industry or certain providers.
The data is provided free each month. Kennedy said the concept of offering metrics arose as Ensemble evaluated ways to help members grow and to support its agencies. Agency owners have reacted positively to the program.
"I think in any of these organizations, your best members are the ones that are the most engaged," he said. "Members that are engaged are constantly looking at the pulse of their business and seeing whether there are opportunities to grow. Those are the ones that will take these analytics and then actually run with it even more."
Signature Travel Network also offers members a monthly engagement report, according to Karen Yeates, executive vice president of information technologies.
The report includes data on marketing campaigns, the number of Res Cards with complete information in ClientBase (used as the basis for email and print marketing campaigns and more), a breakdown of preferred supplier sales complete with benchmarking and goal statistics, comparison to overall Signature averages and more. Members also have access to a dashboard in ClientBase including more metrics on leisure clients and benchmarking information.
The information has been of great use to Cathie Lentz Fryer, president of CTA Travel in Cerritos, Calif. She uses the monthly engagement report to gauge everything that's going on in her business, and she shares the information with her agents.
Fryer, who has seen many changes since she started in the industry in the 1970s, said productivity tools play a large role in her agency today.
"We craft experiences because that's what our job is," she said. "But we need all of these tools to make us better at what we do, to know our customers."
Virtuoso also offers a free solution to its advisers, Virtuoso Reports, which includes sales information, benchmarking, goal setting and more.
"The reports help you work on your business and not in it," McCown said. "Advisers are so busy on a day-to-day basis with clients, traveling, there's always weather issues, this, that and the other. I think the reports allow them to look at a high level of what's going on."
Many Virtuoso programs, like its marketing initiatives, are based on data that agencies have in their system, such as start and end dates to trips. McCown said agents have access to a report that details their data quality.
"If you don't know your data, you can't improve on it, and knowledge is power," he said. "Virtuoso Reports just gives agencies -- and advisers, for that matter -- a big-picture look at their business at any time with the click of a button."
An analytics report from TravelContact, whose CEO, Ricardo Cazorla, is a fourth-generation travel adviser. The platform has multiple functionalities such as marketing capabilities, a client database and data and analytics modules.
Hosts, too, are providing agents with reports detailing their agency's data and productivity. In the case of Avoya Travel, for example, the reports include everything from sales, to commissions, to average commission per Live Lead (Avoya's lead-generation program) and more.
Participants of Mastermind, Avoya's advanced business development program, further benefit from the reports because they are detailed in sessions with coaches, said Tammie Richie, senior director of Mastermind.
Agents can access the reports at any time via Agent Power, Avoya's technology platform. Richie said gross sales are among the most important metrics, followed by the metrics that affect it; things such as close-rate percentage, client retention data, the number of leads claimed and how quickly the leads are closed.
"The more they can understand what their business is doing, where they are today -- and that's what the numbers show, where they are today -- then they can create a road map to where they want to be tomorrow," she said. "But if you don't know where you are today, you don't know what your strengths and weaknesses are. ... Then you have no way to create a strategy to get to your next plateau."
GDSs harness data for reporting
GDSs are also providing agents with productivity tools. For more than 10 years, Sabre Corp. has owned the customer relationship management tool ClientBase, which offers agents a number of reporting capabilities based on the data they have entered (ClientBase itself is GDS-agnostic).
Sharon Meyer, director of product marketing and delivery for Trams and ClientBase products and services, said, "I believe that probably the most important thing about data and analytics and the successful use of it is getting information or insights into the hands of the right people at the right time so that it can actually influence behavior and improve productivity."
A leisure traveler profile in ClientBase, which Sabre has operated for 10 years, and was designed to give agents insights about their customers they can use to both increase productivity and provide more personalized service to clients.
ClientBase is a customer relationship management system that offers multiple reporting options. One of agencies' biggest challenges is the amount of data they have, Meyer said, which can be difficult to leverage. ClientBase was designed to bring that data to frontline agents to access insights about their customers and use it to both increase productivity and provide more personalized service to clients. ClientBase is $60 per month for the first user and $10 per month for each additional user. The price per additional user scales down as the number of users increases.
Amadeus recently introduced a tool of its own, known as Productivity Tracker. Pascal Clement, head of travel intelligence, said about the tool, "This is all about improving performance in the way the organization is going to drive marketing sales and understand where they should put focus."
Productivity Tracker enables agents to see data on what they sell, destinations most in demand and more: "Everything that is basically needed to analyze the performance of the business," Clement said. It is priced on a sliding scale depending on agency size and delivers data in near-real time.
Productivity Tracker offers more than 80 different reports and dashboards. For example, the Consultant Activity Report analyzes bookings made by each agent and the value of tickets they issue, which could help agency managers or owners identify training needs and gives them a clear view of agents' activities.
Clement said Productivity Tracker is part of a larger initiative at Amadeus to provide analytics to its customers. It is designed to help agents make their operations more efficient so they can focus on providing service to their clients.
Third-party productivity tools
Outside agency networks also have offerings in the productivity space.
A prime example is TAMS, for which membership is $595 per quarter, plus the cost of attending meetings. Each quarter, member agencies receive a robust report filled with hundreds of metrics on both their agency and other similarly sized and focused TAMS agencies for benchmarking purposes.
Members also attend three 1 1/2-day compulsory meetings per year to discuss best practices, grouped with similar agencies. Maryanov said there are six groups at the moment, typically with 15 to 20 agencies per group.
A report from Travel Agency Management Solutions (TAMS), a third-party supplier of productivity tools. that provides agencies with quarterly reports that contain numerous metrics on their business and other TAMS members of similar size and focus for comparison. TAMS members meet several times per year to share their best practices.
"That's really where the value comes in," he said. "It's one thing to have the data and to have comparative data, but during the meetings, we really have an opportunity to challenge each other for information, to get a better understanding of our own data and a better understanding of how people got better results than we did ourselves. It really is about members helping members."
To Maryanov, one of the most important metrics agents receive is revenue per full-time employee, which in itself is a gauge of the health of the business. He said presenting numbers as percentages of revenue -- for example, an agency's rent is X percent of its total revenue -- is also a useful form of data TAMS provides, as are benchmarking numbers.
"It's about understanding your numbers, how to compare it to somebody else and understanding where there's opportunity for improvement," he said.
Forty years ago, Jack Revel, president of Travel Computer Systems, used his own agency software to develop TravCom CS. The product tracks agents' businesses, including proactively aggregating commissions due to them, their percentage of the cut, payments due to vendors, reports of volume by the vendor and more. It also has an expense-tracking tool and provides a number of analytical reports.
The software is robust, Revel said, and scalable from small agencies to those doing annual sales in the billions of dollars. The basic TravCom package is $895 per year, while a light version -- which eliminates some features smaller agencies might not need -- is $495 per year.
ARC has also entered the productivity space with several tools: Agency BI, Memo Analyzer and, most recently, Aria, all offered at scalable pricing.
Agency BI was designed to "provide insights into the performance of an agency, how they are doing," said Arun Gupta, ARC's managing director of product. It also enables agencies to benchmark their performance against up to five competitors. Agency BI is designed for larger agencies, typically with $10 million or more in sales.
Memo Analyzer, designed to track an agency's debit memos and provide insight into their root causes, is designed for agencies with a larger volume of debit memos.
Meanwhile, Aria enables agencies to access data and analyze overall sales and settlements in a dashboard format. The data it uses is updated weekly.
"The delivery of this data is very flexible," Gupta said. "An agency can export the data from the dashboards into an Excel document or subscribe to a raw data feed for its internal systems."
In addition to these domestic tools, several companies with larger presences overseas are now looking to expand into the U.S. with productivity tools.
For example, Agentivity tracks data to provide agents with insights into issues such as productivity, buying patterns, cancellation rates and more. It is integrated with Travelport's Galileo or Apollo, analyzes booking data and provides agents access to online reports via a secure login. It is priced on a tiered level, based on agency size, at a monthly subscription cost.
"The scope and depth of how the data the agency owns and generates can help them is massive," said CEO and co-founder Riaan van Schoor.
TravelContact is another newcomer to the space. CEO Ricardo Cazorla has created a platform with multiple functionalities, or modules, such as marketing capabilities, a client database and a data and analytics module. Cazorla, a fourth-generation travel adviser, designed his product with agents in mind. The scalable platform is part of the Virtuoso Incubator (a program that vets technology companies and introduces its tools to a group of agents who test them and provide feedback) and is currently being tested with U.S. agencies. Its ballpark pricing is $20 to $25 per user, per month, depending on which functionalities are active.
The data and analytics portion is key, Cazorla said, and companies like his have been aided by evolving technology. TravelContact stores all of its data in the cloud, making it both efficient and secure, he said.
"I think that the industry has always wanted to have this data readily available, but now it is a necessity due to the competition that the industry currently faces from OTAs and other online players," he said. "Agencies have a lot of data that they can analyze and take advantage of in order to be more efficient and sell more. But at the moment, there aren't many platforms out there that can help them with that."