NEW YORK -- December will mark J.D. O'Hara's one-year
anniversary as president of Travel Leaders Group. In the past 10 months,
he has been working to simplify what has become a very complex company as a
result of dozens of acquisitions since its founding in 2008.
His efforts thus far have been largely on behind-the-scenes
initiatives, such as migrating all of Travel Leaders Group's businesses to the same accounting
system or moving to a single supplier relations team to avoid redundant
conversations with existing and potential partners.
While streamlining functional things such as information
technology or human resources remains "first and foremost," O'Hara said,
discussions are also taking place about potentially sunsetting some of the
dozens of brands Travel Leaders Group operates.
"I think we always look at that, but I view a lot of the
brands as cultures, which isn't my place or anybody else's to go and interrupt
that," O'Hara said in an interview at Travel Leaders Group's Elevate the Journey
luxury-focused trade show in New York.
The biggest question Travel Leaders Group asks about any given brand is, "Is
this brand meaningful in the marketplace, or are we just hanging onto it
because it’s been around?" O'Hara said. "There are current discussions about
that. No decisions have been made."
Travel Leaders Group did rebrand some individual agencies to the new Travel
Leaders Vacation Center brand this summer. Discussions about other brands
Historically, O'Hara said, the company did not rebrand as it
made acquisitions. "We're having a closer look at that now," he said. "I think
it's really hard to manage 20-plus brands."
Also on the table is potentially grouping some companies
together without changing their brands. As an example, O'Hara said, Tzell Travel
Group, Protravel International and Altour share a number of similarities, but
they are very different from brands such as CruCon Cruise Outlet.
"I want to be sure we’re not trying to force a square peg
into a round hole," O'Hara said. "That hurts the businesses, that hurts the
advisors, and that's anti what we want to accomplish."
Tzell and Protravel are rather unique in that the agencies
are owned by Travel Leaders Group but are members of competing consortia Signature Travel
Network and Virtuoso, respectively. Potentially severing those relationships is
"a daily conversation that we have," O'Hara said. Still, he said, he believes
keeping them in the mix outweighs that option.
"Who am I to walk into Protravel and say we're going to
leave Virtuoso?" he said. "I'd either get applauded or I'd get guillotined. I
don't know, and I don't want to find out."
Instead, he said, Travel Leaders Group has done a good job building its own
preferred partnerships (he pointed to its Select Hotels & Resorts program,
which is growing), and that he prefers to let advisors have a choice about with
whom they affiliate.
In recent months, Travel Leaders Group has taken a step back from
acquisitions while it works on streamlining the organization, like its
migration to the same accounting system businesswide. But O'Hara said he
expects to get back on the acquisitions circuit shortly.
Some acquisitions could be international. O'Hara said he
would like to further expand internationally, with an owned-agency presence in
10 to 15 countries "where we can follow the sun from a service perspective."
It begs the question: How big is too big? But O'Hara
contended that the industry is so fragmented that isn't a concern.
That's true even in the U.S., he said, where Travel Leaders Group was ranked
at No. 7 on Travel Weekly’s 2019 Power List, with $7.12 billion in 2018 sales.
"I don’t think we can get too big anytime soon," he said.