More than 50% of Travel Counsellors’ bookings now come via its own tour operation, its chief executive has revealed.
The organisation – which now has about 1,900 TCs in its ranks globally – welcomed about 2,000 delegates to its conference in Manchester over the weekend (November 15-17).
Headline areas of focus included encouraging TCs to branch out into selling corporate travel, if they aren’t already; focusing on premium leisure sales; sustainability; mental wellbeing; and greater and smoother cooperation between TCs.
The organisation was marking its 25th anniversary year and welcomed Gary Barlow, Vernon Kay, Paloma Faith and Dara O’Briain, among others, to help entertain guests at Event City.
Speaking to TTG, chief executive Steve Byrne said Travel Counsellors would “absolutely” be relevant in another 25 years.
“The model is as relevant now as it was 25 years ago, and there’s a demand for that human-to-human connection and care and intimacy. Everything you’ve heard about today [at the conference] is about making sure we position ourselves for the next 25 years.
“There’s so much opportunity, given most businesses are moving away from human-to-human connection,” he added.
“But, if you’re going to be in business for a long time and be successful then you have to also adapt with what’s relevant to your customer.”
Asked about his thoughts on travel business models following the collapse of Thomas Cook, Byrne said there were “widely two models that will thrive and prosper”.
“There are those that are able to build a lasting relationship with the customer at a deeply personal level, or those that can sell a lot of their product very efficiently to scale,” he added. “If you’re somewhere between the two you’re going to suffer.”
Asked about Travel Counsellors’ evolving model, Byrne insisted whether a TC books as a principle or as an agent boils down to what product best suits the customer.
“It’s not our job at the centre to decide which suppliers a TC should use, but the community can do that,” he added. “We facilitate the sharing of content.
“That’s a fundamental difference between big, large-legacy businesses and those that are more nimble. That’s what we’re creating here.”
Asked about new entrants to the market, such as InteleTravel UK, Byrne said “the competition would look after itself”.
“If you’re running a business, 99.9% of your time is focused on how you can make that better.
“You have to keep an eye on the market and macroeconomic environment, but you don’t spend too much time worrying about what other people are doing.
“When you’re running a business you’re agitated not by the people who already exist, but the ones that have not yet started.
“I don’t wish [Intele] any ill will. We have to be really good at what we do. Terry Leahy said at an ITT conference 10 years ago ‘the problem with most travel businesses is they spend far too much time and money trying to chase new customers rather than looking after their existing ones’.
“Our job is to make sure we do such a great job of looking after our people that they want to stay with us and recommend others to join. The competition will look after itself.”
Byrne revealed further growth for Travel Counsellors. For the year to the end of October, total transaction value grew 10%, while statutory turnover (the total value of sales when Travel Counsellors acts as a principle as well as the commission earned as an agent) – was up 15%, with similar projections for the year to come.
In terms of transactional value, Byrne said Travel Counsellors was budgeting to do more than £700 million in the next 12 months.
He said the company was seeing more of its own tour operator business being made within the Phenix platform, and that in the UK this now represents more than 50% of business.
Byrne further added that the TC community should exceed 2,000 worldwide next year, with average growth of 150 people per year.
“We want to welcome all, and believe travel – saving time for corporates and holidaying being good for people – is a force for good,” he added. “We want to be able to help more people in a sustainable way.”
“People want to work for a business that stands for something, especially the younger generation, and they’ll see through a facade. It’s the right thing to do but also helps us attract the best talent.”