June marks a big month for Avoya Travel, as the independent host agency kicks off phase one of its new seven-year strategic plan.
EVP Jeff Anderson revealed the ambitious plan, dubbed Avoya 2025, during the group’s conference last month, which includes a new technology patent, product expansions, workflow enhancements, and increased sales intelligence.
It aims to “build a deep collaboration with partners, to relieve inefficiencies. We want to streamline between agencies, suppliers and travelers simultaneously. The more we can get people talking to each other and collect a lot of great information, the more efficient our agents can be,” said Anderson.
The family-operated business is no stranger to ingenuity. The new initiative builds on Avoya’s groundbreaking travel agency operating system, Agent Power, with its 24/7 live leads feature, and online membership platform that launched last year.
Despite other technology advancements in the travel space, it's clear to Anderson why the group’s independent agents are so successful. The organization saw double-digit sales increases for 2017 and triple-digit network growth, reaching $410 million.
“Computers have not been able to replicate the emotions and relationships we can build with people,” he stated.
The following phases of the plan are set to each be implemented in 18 months, beginning and ending between Wave Season and the annual conference (phase two from December 2019 to May 2021; phase three from June 2021 to November 2022; phase four from December 2022 to May 2024; and phase five from June 2024 to November 2025).
Breaking down phase one
Over the next year and a half, Avoya said it will employ three core strategies: 1) connect more travelers with independent agencies in the Avoya Network; 2) increase communication and collaboration with suppliers; and 3) streamline efficiencies so members can spend more time booking travel and earning.
To facilitate, Avoya is testing a chat function within its website, as well as text (but it will still have call centers), for those clients who want a quicker, easier way to reach out to their agents. “Phone and email is not sufficient in 2018,” as Anderson puts it.
Avoya is also increasing agency support through enhanced education with its new CLIA partnership and expanded Mastermind program; new Agent Power technology enhancements that improve workflow and save time; and access to intuitive sales intelligence so network members can better service customers and grow their sales.
In addition, the company is delivering better customer contact preferences, adding personalized content and experiences for consumers online, and driving stronger customer value and retention through a new loyalty-focused initiative.
The goal, said Sam McCully, senior vice president of marketing, is to “create this community in membership, reviews on products they can share within their community, more unique personalized experiences, and tie them in with independent agents."
Expanding beyond cruises
Cruises will always be Avoya’s bread-and-butter – it makes up for 70 percent of its business – but the company is expanding supplier partnerships to generate new markets of customers and growing its portfolio in the all-inclusive resort space.
“A lot of new product to our portfolio increases the scope of travelers we are pursuing,” Anderson said. “Our product portfolio in the next seven years will radically resemble what people are doing. In addition to the traditional things that an agency might be selling, there’s a lot of other cool stuff that has come out of nowhere in the past few years. Lots of things we’re looking at from a product perspective.”
Avoya will have an enhanced partnership with The Mark Travel Corporation, creating a one-stop-shop for leisure vacations through integration with Agent Power and VAX booking engine. Data will transfer from VAX to Avoya’s platform, so agents do not have to reenter information.
Avoya launched its beta resort page, partnered with Mark Travel, with a single sign-on.
Enhancements being rolled out this month include additional destination specialties, such as Hawaii and Las Vegas, and more resort partnerships.
Independent agencies are burgeoning
Steve Hirshan, senior vice president of sales support, noted that in order to further grow the network, attracting experienced agencies will not be enough.
“We need to think of new ways to recruit,” he said. “Our exclusive relationship with CLIA for people who are new to travel and learn the basis of the cruise industry first, that ability to attract new people to the industry has been the fuel for growth.”
New independent agents more than doubled in 2017 over 2016, with the network hosting more than 1,000 agents.
To further streamline the experience for agents, Avoya is developing systems to keep track of promotions and prices from vendors.
As Co-President Van Anderson said, “The optimism that I have for our industry, there are more folks that want to be part of this industry than I’ve ever seen before.”