Ensemble, formely The Ensemble Travel Group, welcomed more than 400 total members, partners and other travel industry representatives to its first in-person conference since the pandemic disrupted the travel industry and since the popular consortium was sold earlier this year.
David Harris, Ensemble’s executive chairman, told Travel Market Report seeing the company’s partners and members gather face-to-face at its “Horizons” event at the Eden Roc and Nobu Hotel Miami Beach was especially crucial following the acquisition.
“You can look at a Zoom call, you can send as many emails as you like, you can read about it in the press,” said Harris, “but it’s more difficult for people to truly embrace and create the emotion that’s necessary for them to enjoy and appreciate who we are, why we are here and what the benefits bring for them.”
The latest update had Ensemble Travel Group at more than 600 independently-owned travel agencies in the U.S. and Canada.
It was announced in May that the shareholders of Ensemble Travel Group had voted in favor of an acquisition by Navigatr Group in a deal that officially closed shortly after.
“It ran the full range of emotions,” said Harris of the reaction from existing Ensemble members and partners. “Ultimately, this was about a business decision that everyone was being forced to make. As shareholders in a company, that’s how it works in a cooperative.
“And we had lots of conversations, lots of meetings and lots of emotions shared,” continued Harris, “but in the end, we secured it with a 95 percent vote of approval, so we’re thrilled that it went ahead and the members realized not only what the potential was, but what the realities will be and what the value proposition will be also.”
So, how much was the sale for?
“We will not get into that,” said Harris. “What I will say is we are a larger organization now even on normalized dollars, 2019 versus 2022, we are a larger company now by virtue of some of the new members we have, but also the synergies of our organization and the growth that we are experiencing getting back to the new normal. But we are a larger organization than we were in 2019.”
The “New” Ensemble
Ensemble remains a standalone entity within Navigatr Group with Michael Johnson of Navigatr becoming president.
“Four months into our journey as the new Ensemble, we are coming to market now with a refreshed approach to this hallowed, well-respected brand, just kind of updating it with a new look, feel and energy,” said Johnson. “We are excited about the progress that we made, but we know there is a lot of work ahead of us and we couldn’t be more thrilled about it quite frankly.”
Johnson also said that excitement also has a lot to do with the interest they’ve been getting from agencies that perhaps weren’t interested in joining Ensemble before the sale.
“There is a renewed sense of interest and curiosity out in the market around who the new Ensemble is and what we are about,” said Johnson, “so we’ve had agencies reaching out that we may not have had conversations with before that are saying, ‘Hey, we like this approach, this tone, we’d like to learn more.’ So, it’s an exciting time.”
What Navigatr Brings to the Table
Navigatr Group is a privately held company that invests in travel companies that aim to elevate the customer experience and drive innovation.
“What we said quite often is the sum of our parts is so much stronger,” said Harris, “but also the complimentary components of what Navigatr Group has and what they bring to the table for us from the perspective of infrastructure, support and vision, and just over all organization, is extremely strong and beneficial for both the company, but more importantly for our members and our partners.”
The growing group of brands aims to empower seamless access to a range of luxury travel options and services globally with more than $1 billion transactions annually.
“I hope you can see how important it is for us that we don’t find the best people in travel, we find the best people in any industry,” said Jeff Willner, CEO of Navigatr Group, during the Horizons opening general session, “when you look at the marketing folks that are here to support you, the technology folks that are here to support you and all the different people to make you a success.”
Willner also vowed to the people in attendance that he would look to get commissions to jump from 10 to 20 percent.
“I wanted you to hear it from me that I will lay down the tracks for you to get you from 10 percent to 20 percent because until we make substantially more money in a higher yield, until we double the markets that we are making, our kids are not going to want to get into the business that we are in,” he said.
Getting Advisors to Adapt to New Platform
One of the biggest changes for the consortium since the acquisition is that Ensemble Travel Group members are now being transitioned onto the Agent Digital Experience (ADX) platform.
ADX is a proprietary technology platform that allows advisors to not only book all aspects of a client's trip, but also invoice in the same platform. ADX was launched in 2014 by TripArc, the technology company also owned by Navigatr.
“This platform has been developed specifically for advisors,” said Harris, “but more importantly is the value that it brings to them, the very tangible benefits that it brings to them, which includes ease of operations. You don’t need to understand green screen and programing. It is predicated on the importance of added commission and ROI, or yield on transactions.”
The Pandemic Effect
Both Johnson and Harris said the pandemic obviously played into the timing of the acquisition.
“Through the pandemic, we started to assess new opportunities and started to look at the consortia landscape,” said Johnson. “And as we were looking at various consortia we were blown away by Ensemble’s sense of community, the quality of its programs, training, events, supplier relationships, etc.”
Harris said Ensemble’s members’ landslide decision to approve the acquisition was proof that the consortium needed some help to survive through the pandemic.
“It inflicted challenges for literally every business in our industry and most of the global economy,” said Harris. “And for us, it was a case of needing betting support, better stability financially.
“There were a lot of reasons that this made a lot of sense,” he continued. “And even by extension, the timing to convert from a cooperative to a privately held company, I think the cooperative had run its course. Not in a negative way. Evolution is good in any business. But it was time for this type of a change. People need to embrace it and understand this is business move and this event further validates that.”
Harris also said now is the perfect time for the advisors to be in the spotlight.
“The biggest positive change for our industry is how this has impacted the importance of the advisor Never has the value of the adviser been greater than it is today,” said Harris.
“Really I think the pandemic has illustrated the value of the advisor in maximizing your most precious commodity, which is time,” said Johnson.
Partners, Members Update
Some of Ensemble’s most successful supplier partners this year included Princess Cruises, Collette Travel, Seabourn Cruise Line, Abercrombie & Kent and AmaWaterways.
Advisors that received awards at the event’s closing gala included Lauren Doyle of the Travel Mechanic for the “Reinvention Award.” And Travel Only was honored for “Outstanding Contribution to the Travel Community.”
One of Ensemble’s newest members is host agency the Travel Edge Network. Nadiya Makarenko, senior vice president of the company, was in attendance offering up insight into what the network is doing to enhance training and education for advisors.
The Next Horizons
When asked the location of the next “Horizons,” Harris said “that’s a TBA, but it is actively in progress at this time and it will be a full conference with both advisors and agency owners, and we expect it will likely be in the April time frame.”