TMR editor Cheryl Rosen is on a press trip on Uniworld's Joie de Vivre in France this week. As the Eiffel Tower rolled by, she took some time out to chat for a few minutes with Guy Young, chief engagement officer of Uniworld’s parent company, The Travel Corporation, about selling less well-known products in an age of terrorism. Their conversation went something like this:
As we wrap up Europe high season, what have you learned about dealing with terror and its effect on travel? What steps did you take and what insights can you share with travel agents about selling a destination that has seen negative publicity?
My biggest learning is how much more resilient travelers are today. In 2017 there were incidents in several of the most important destinations in which we operate, yet many of our brands are having a record year. The news reports of terrorism can be jarring and impact people’s motivation to travel. We always take the positon that it is a personal decision whether to travel but it is also important to keep perspective. I was reminded of this when an industry colleague from New York recently traveled to Jerusalem. Her New York friends questioned whether it was safe to go to Israel; yet the people she met in Israel asked whether she was concerned over safety in New York!
Today, more people do seem much more resilient to what happens, and are prepared to travel to more international destinations, recognizing that it is highly unlikely an event will involve them or disrupt their holiday plans, and that we need to get on with our lives.
Advice I would give to agents? Please collect and share your client’s contact details. At The Travel Corporation, the comfort and safety of our guests is of the highest priority. Should a situation arise we can be of great service to your clients. Ensuring that we have someone to greet them at the airport should a flight be re-routed, streamlining security and passport checks, notifying them of an itinerary change are just a few examples of where we can be of help. This cannot be done without having their contact details and there have been cases where we have not been able to reach the client’s agent.
It should also be noted that registering your guests allows us to better prepare and personalize the trip for them, such as being able to anticipate and prepare for any dietary issues or identifying points of interest (food, art, etc.). We know that some agents are concerned that travel companies will use this information to market to their clients. However, in our case, that has never happened, and the CEO of The Travel Corporation, Brett Tollman, has personally signed a letter guaranteeing that we will never use the information to solicit clients to book with us directly. We have always viewed our relationship with travel agents as a partnership. This information is only collected with the goal of enhancing our mutual clients’ vacation experience and ensuring we can best respond to situations as they arise. Any information we collect we’ll happily share back with you too.
What’s the most pressing item on your agenda as we move into the fall and winter of 2017? What’s your biggest concern and what are you most excited about when you look at the industry overall?
My biggest concern is ensuring that we get a proper return on the very large investment we have just made on the East Coast to support our trade sales. We have opened a fantastic office in the heart of Manhattan and hired 18 additional, new sales managers to better support and grow our business with our agency partners. This is a great opportunity for our brands and what I am excited about is this investment is supported and coincides with a resurgence of travel agents. Travel agents are doing well. As more than 90% of The Travel Corporation’s sales comes through our travel agent partners, the health and success of retail travel agents matters very much to us. With a strong sector and our increased sales presence, we expect significant growth in 2018, which in turn means many more commission and marketing dollars being paid to our loyal and supportive agency partners. That makes us very happy, as when we both grow our business together, we all prosper.
What advice can you offer travel professionals about selling the less well-known products like river cruises and coach tours, rather than resorts and cruises?
My advice: try it! The commissions our brands pay are some of the highest in the industry. That’s important. Even more important, in my opinion, is ensuring that clients have a fantastic holiday experience. Guided vacations or luxury river cruises are both great ways to see a destination and our brands have continued to evolve, with more personal, local and experiential travel. We are also dedicated to providing the best, highest and most consistent quality experiences in the industry – hence our TTC tag line, “driven by service.”
I encourage agents to do research on our brands, whether public websites or our brand websites. You will find, universally across all our brands, fantastic client feedback. Trafalgar, Costsaver, Insight, Luxury Gold, Uniworld, Contiki and U by Uniworld all use Feefo, an independent online review company to measure guest feedback. It’s just like Tripadvisor for travel. ALL reviews are posted on the websites. We can respond to these reviews but we can neither delete nor edit the reviews. I would encourage you (and your clients) to read these reviews. Recommendations and past experiences are a good predictor of future travel. Agents can be confident that their clients will have an amazing experience with our brands. Is this not the most important goal for an agent who wants to retain or build a long-term relationship with their clients? We think so.