A small travel agency juggling a mix of leisure and business clients with limited staff is now able to compete with larger agencies for corporate accounts – thanks to assistance from a third party.
Two years ago Colleen Gillette, owner of New Paltz Travel Center in New Paltz, N.Y., decided to pursue the business travel side more seriously by hiring Forte Business Travel Solutions to help grow and service her corporate accounts.
The timing turned out to be fortuitous. After a hurricane struck her area last year causing tremendous flooding, Gillette’s leisure business decreased dramatically.
“When people have to pay $25,000 on basement damage, they won’t travel,” she said.
The agency she founded in 1992 is located in a busy strip-mall storefront in a small Hudson River Valley town where manufacturing ranks as the area’s main business. Its yearly sales volume is more than $2 million, and corporate travel makes up about 40% of the total.
As a small agency with a staff of two agents, Gillette has had difficulty finding people who could deal with the type of corporate business her agency was receiving. Overtime, the situation became onerous for Gillette.
“The position I was in of not having a good solid corporate agent on-site meant that I had to do it all myself,” she said. “I wasn’t able to get out of the office. I always had to be there.”
That changed when Gillette decided to work with Forte Business Solutions to increase her corporate business and improve the way she was able to handle her business travel clients. (Owned by American Marketing Group, Forte is a sister company of Travel Market Report).
Working with Forte to deal with expanding accounts has been seamless, according to Gillette. It has also freed her up to take on some corporate accounts that are too small for Forte to deal with.
For the other accounts, Forte has allowed her to offer after-hours support to those clients who need it when traveling. It also gives her the capacity to expand her hours of business, so that she doesn’t have to be open in her storefront for 12-hour days.
“I have bookings from the West Coast. I have bookings from the East Coast and points in-between,” she said. “With Forte, I have dedicated reservations staff. Clients can talk to the same person over and over again and develop a relationship with them.”
With Forte, she can offer her corporate clients reporting options. “If a CFO of a company wants to know what the advance booking rate is, I can run a report and send it to him. If he wants to find out how early people are booking and if he could save money (based on when people are booking), I can do that too.”
Forte charges Gillette a fee per transaction. The fee amount is determined by the type of transaction, whether the work is done after regular business hours and other variables.
Forte is helping her compete effectively with other agencies, including those that are a lot bigger than hers.
“Our fee structure is competitive with the larger mega agencies. It allows me to be competitive but still maintain the local business attitude,” she said.
Corporate market still challenging
Even with help from Forte, she finds the corporate travel market challenging.
“It’s been harder than I thought to get corporate clients,” she said. “I’m not a cold-call type of person. I’ve sent letters. I network and try to talk about corporate travel as much as I can, and I’m starting to get a few little nibbles. People are coming to me, but I really thought I’d have much more business than I have now.”
She talked to someone at Forte, however, who convinced her that business growth would take a long, long time and to be patient.
Another challenge is to help make sure that employees who travel comply with the company’s business travel policy. Gillette takes a collaborative approach in weaning them away from doing their own booking online.
“Compliance doesn’t have to be onerous. It can be collaborative," she said.