“We have been plowing millions of dollars a year into a portal for leisure agents," Willner said.
Editor's Note: Headquarter Happenings is a new feature from Travel Market Report that helps keep you updated on the marketing and technology programs from major travel agencies, host agencies, travel agency consortia, cooperatives, travel networks and franchise groups. Top executives from these groups detail how they grow their businesses and how their programs and initiatives can help travel agents succeed in selling more travel.
What’s the largest travel agency you may never have heard about before? The answer is Toronto-based Worldview Travel, which has been on an acquisition spree, buying up 12 other agencies over the past four years, including such well-known ones as Atlanta-based Century Travel, New York-based Pisa Brothers Travel and Toronto-based Travel Network.
Worldview, which now has roughly 700 outside and in-house agents, also is seeking to expand by using a new proprietary travel-agency booking and management software called ADX, which effectively provides a turnkey system to even the most inexperienced travel agents. Using this system, agents can start booking and earning money with minimal training, but can expand their sales with more advanced programs.
Worldview Travel is part of the TravelEdge Group, which consists of three companies: Kensington Tours, a $90 million private guided-tour company; TravelEdge, a technology company that features proprietary technology solutions and centralized services; and Worldview itself, which has been expanding rapidly.
Jeff Willner, owner and CEO of Travel Edge, founded Kensington Tours in 2006 from his kitchen table. He subsequently formed Travel Edge as the holding company for the tour operation, travel agency business and technology provider. Over the past two years he’s focused on launching Travel Edge’s ADX travel platform, which was built from scratch.
Willner’s plan is to keep the individual brands of the agencies he’s acquired for a limited time, but then renaming them as Worldview Travel. Indeed, in July Pisa Brothers was renamed and Century will be rebranded later this year. Worldview also has purchased agencies in Bermuda and Palo Alto, CA.
For Willner, however, the real growth of his agency group is based less on acquisitions and more on technology, using the new ADX platform. “For about four years we have been plowing millions of dollars a year into a portal for leisure agents,” he says.
The result is ADX, a point-and-click multi-GDS and direct-connected booking system that can make airline reservations (with support from a dedicated air ticketing team), show commission rates, connect to TRAMS ClientBase and bundle all travel on the same invoice. It can access a hotel database with Virtuoso hotels, show hotel amenities and quote rates.
ADX also features a tool that can quickly search from cruises, with live connections to major cruise lines, complete with commission rates, amenities and group travel offers. It also can book travel insurance, ground transfers and tap into the Kensington database of 300 suppliers around the world.
“What this allows our agents to do is drag and drop all this stuff into an itinerary and put it in front of the customer,” Willner says. “It’s live and dynamic, so if the customer opens it today it’s one price; if they open it tomorrow it could be another price, because it makes a call and redoes the pricing.”
Willner says Worldview also will push for higher service fees, because it’s providing a real service by bringing more of the booking components together. “The payment is very intuitive for the client; they pay by credit card, so it’s not confusing,” he says. “Follow up payments are automatically prompted, so there’s no more calendaring because the client owes you a deposit before the ship sails.”
In addition, commission reporting with ADX is live and dynamic. “If agents made a booking with a hotel a year ago, it will pop up on their screen or they will see a report when that commission is coming due,” Willner says. “Then there’s side by side selling. For example, when you sell air you can quote them economy, premium and business side by side, so they can see the prices and you can see the commission you are making off that.”
ADX, which is available on desktop and mobile, manages all backend activities for agent users, including invoicing , commission tracking, client communication, CRM, record management—all the things that makes the agent’s job difficult, according to Willner. “That’s why our team has pushed to newbuild every week for the past two years,” he says. “So every week we’ve been pushing out tweaks and fixes and changes.”
Willner also says there’s more to come from the new ADX system. “The vision from the get go was to transform the way an agent works across two fronts,” he says. “First we wanted to just make it way faster and make their life way easier so they can get back to selling. And second is to make them more money, because the agents have been packed down” with back office and other functions.
“We haven’t talked about this a whole lot,” says Willner. “We’ve endured a whole lot of disappointment and frustration, but we now have the most deeply integrated tool that works with systems that agents can use today.” Worldview may consider licensing its technology in the future, according to Willner, but right now ADX is for its agents’ exclusive use.
Beyond ADX, Worldview isn’t done with agency acquisitions, according to Willner. “We’ve got two or three deals at any given time in due diligence,” he says. “And I am happy to talk to an agency owner. I would characterize our deals as being different from others in that we have put the blood, sweat and tears into figuring out how to run a great head office. We have an infrastructure team that makes sure the Internet is up, the phones are working, the email domains are correct, the website is up to date.” Indeed, roughly 250 people work in TravelEdge’s Toronto office, overseeing the combined agency network and Kensington Tours.
“With Kensington, we pour leads on top of you every day,” says Willner. “Your job is to close and to be an absolute expert and be enthusiastic That’s the job right there. So for Worldview that’s the dynamic we’re trying to get towards. For us, ADX for Worldview is a huge step in the right direction.”