A group of six luxury-focused travel agencies around the country have joined to form Aspire Associates Group, an alliance with a mission to share resources and use their collective expertise to elevate their businesses.
"We each own our own agency, but we're part of this alliance where we bring our strengths to the table and help each other, and we work together to make everybody better off," said Aspire partner Helen Papa, the owner of TBH Travel in Dix Hills, N.Y.
Papa has had the idea of bringing like-minded agencies together for several years. She has been actively working on Aspire since the beginning of the pandemic.
The alliance provides its members with things like customized training, events and marketing, as well as a collaborative space to share ideas and best practices.
The group has named a handful of preferred suppliers that have agreed to work with Aspire on things like custom marketing, client events (virtual and, eventually, in person), itineraries and group. But Aspire's preferred partnerships do not extend to elevated commission levels, Papa said. Members are not discouraged from booking with non-Aspire-preferred suppliers.
Helen Papa of TBH Travel
In addition to TBH Travel, the other founding members are Posh Travel in Greenland, N.H.; Court Travel in Charlotte, N.C.; Precision Travel in Dallas; Cruise Vacations International in Fulton, Md., and CSB Travel in Houston.
All are members of Virtuoso (Papa said the owners met each other through Virtuoso committees and events), but other agencies or independent contractors interested in working with Aspire do not have to be members of the consortium. Aspire is open to new affiliates, but the relationship would have to be mutually beneficial, Papa said. As such, there is no set fee structure. Instead, that would depend on what the affiliate was looking for: training or marketing, for example.
A lot of what Aspire and its supplier partners will do right now is conceptual, with travel beyond U.S. borders largely stalled, Papa said. But training, for one, has been ongoing. Preferred suppliers have held a number of webinars with Aspire. Several hotel general managers have taken Aspire member agencies' advisors on property tours, answering questions live via Zoom.
"It really empowers our people that they matter, or these GMs and senior VPs wouldn't be live, speaking to them directly," Papa said. "When you feel like you matter, you want to work with that property and you know that they have your back for your clients."
Aspire members' advisors are also getting to know each other and sharing ideas between agencies.
"It's like we have our own community, and it's really wonderful to see," Papa said.