Editor's Note: Headquarters Happenings is a regular feature that keeps you updated on the marketing and technology programs of major travel agencies, host agencies, travel agency consortia, cooperatives, travel networks and franchise groups. Top executives detail how their groups grow their businesses and how their initiatives can help travel agents succeed.
The big news at Uniglobe Travel Center’s April conference was the announcement that it had severed longstanding ties to Vacation.com (now Travel Leaders Network) and joined Ensemble Travel Group, effective April 1.
Betsy Geiser, vice president of the Irvine, CA-based host agency, said the change was made for several reasons, one being that historically Uniglobe’s franchise business has competed with the Travel Leaders franchise system. “That became awkward when they changed the name from Vacation.com to Travel Leaders Network,” she said. “We also felt that maybe Travel Leaders was a little too big. We’re all about family. We want small.”
At Uniglobe Travel Center's annual conference in April (L to R): keynote speaker Kathleen Passanisi; Jason Coleman, business development manager, Uniglobe Travel Center; Summer Corbitt, UTC sales and marketing manager; Betsy Geiser, UTC vice president
Because of the change, much of this year’s conference was devoted to training Uniglobe Travel Center agents on the tools now available to them as a result of the affiliation with Ensemble. Ensemble’s marketing is done through ClientBase, and Geiser said that for at least the first year, the host will cover associated costs for its agents, including for marketing.
But the overriding focus of the conference was networking, and that’s the case for all Uniglobe Travel Centers’ annual gatherings, Geiser said.
“It really is about relationships with us––not just between us and agents, or agents with each other, but also between suppliers and our agents. We want to make sure that’s an open line of communication. We know if they work well together, the chances of agents selling more product is going to be higher.”
And indeed, at the conference, an agent interrupted an announcement to exclaim, “It’s not a conference. It’s a family reunion!”
For Geiser, that sentiment accurately reflects both Uniglobe Travel Center’s culture and her team’s dedication to providing a high level of support for its agents.
“We’ve got probably the best support team in the hosted industry. We are a well-oiled machine. Our agents get paid on time. Their questions get answered immediately. And they never have to worry about getting the attention they need for their business,” Geiser told Travel Market Report.
Uniglobe Travel Center is the longtime host agency division of franchisor Uniglobe Travel USA, which in turn is part of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Uniglobe Travel International, whose annual sales exceed $5 billion.
In contrast, Uniglobe Travel Center is relatively small; its 500 or so U.S. agents sell about $110 million in travel each year. Last year Uniglobe Travel Center added just 37 new agents, while losing some 20 to 25. But “we’re quite particular about whom we bring on board. We want really good agents who are able to produce the numbers we need and keep us growing,” Geiser said.
Historically, most agents who joined Uniglobe Travel Center came in with solid GDS skills and at least three to five years’ experience selling travel. The typical agent sold about $300,000 a year. But that profile has changed as a program to attract and train industry newcomers has grown and evolved, said Geiser, who joined Uniglobe in 1999 and also is vice president of the Professional Association of Travel Hosts (PATH).
Uniglobe Travel Center’s program for new entrants, called Mentor U, is one of three distinct hosting programs. A second program is designed for experienced leisure agents and a third for experienced GDS agents.
Mentor U is a six-month-long program that starts newcomers out with two months of weekly one-on-one and small group coaching calls. The coaches “walk you through every scary stage of the first six months,” said Uniglobe Travel Center’s sales and marketing manager Summer Corbitt.
Supplemented by worksheets, webinars and product trainings, the coaching calls train newcomers in everything from the practical and technical aspects of booking travel to marketing, business plans and supplier issues. After the initial two-month period, coaches are available for consultations as needed. Newcomers also get advice from veteran Uniglobe agents via an active online forum.
Last year, about 70% of Uniglobe Travel Center’s new member agents were also brand new to the industry, and that percentage could skew higher this year, said Corbitt, who joined Uniglobe in 2016 and is focused on ramping up marketing and growing its agent numbers.
So far the Mentor U program is showing good results. “We’ve got a number of brand new agents who are blowing it out of the water,” Geiser said. One new entrant’s first booking was a $20,000 cruise.
But bringing in new entrants “is really changing the landscape of our business,” and it does create growing pains, since newcomers require more support, Geiser said.
One recent addition to Uniglobe’s hosting program that it expects to help its new entrant agents considerably is ClientBase online, which will provide a much-needed tool for non-GDS agents to invoice their clients.