Michele Kish, President, Gogo Vacations // (C) 2011 Robin Gottesman
They say you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but they never said it couldn't teach you a few. Indeed, 60-year-old Gogo Vacations is here to do just that. The New Jersey-based wholesaler has mastered the wholesale travel market over the past six decades, consistently reaching out to travel agents and equipping them with the tools to grow their businesses, adapt to changes in the industry and stay on top of the latest trends. Quite simply, Gogo is an advocate of the travel agent community -- travel agents are, and always have been, Gogo's sole distribution channel.
"One of our unique selling propositions is that we are dedicated to the travel agent community, and we plan to stay that way," said president Michele Kish, who previously worked as a retail travel agent for 25 years.
"Everything we do is geared toward making the travel agent's job easier. Looking at our offerings and what we do for agents, we really are second to none."
Renee Meyer, president and founder of Portland, Ore.-based Unforgettable Honeymoons, agrees. Since 1995, when she first stepped into her local Gogo office, Meyer has relied on the support of Gogo representatives to help build her business from the ground up. Unforgettable Honeymoons, according to Meyer, has succeeded in booking more than 7,000 trips through Gogo.
"I can honestly say that 99.9 percent of those trips have gone smoothly, which has helped our company develop a fabulous reputation," Meyer said. "Gogo has helped by giving us extra time on bookings and by being flexible about changes and final payments. What is surprising is that, in the event that we made a mistake, Gogo went the extra mile to try to help save us money, working with hotels or airlines to try to get [fees] waived for us."
In addition to flexibility, agents appreciate Gogo's competitive pricing policy in which the company offers to beat any other wholesaler or online travel company's verified quote (including Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity's published prices) by $10 per paying adult and $5 per paying child.
"Our price-beat promise is our guarantee to travel agents that they will never lose a booking because of price -- and we will still pay commissions," Kish said. ìThis is a sale that an agent wouldn't otherwise book and one that gives customers confidence in using travel agents. We've put a lot of thought into the policy, and it is worth the cost that we invest into it."
This Time, It's Personal
Gogo boasts more than 40 neighborhood offices throughout the U.S., many of which are run by team leaders who have worked for the wholesaler for 20 years or longer. In the years to come, the company will continue to grow and create a stronger presence on the West Coast, according to Kelly Segnello, director of marketing.
In addition to offering the assistance and support of neighborhood offices, Gogo recently increased its inside sales team in order to have more representatives reaching out to agents on a regular basis. Further, Gogo has introduced an around-the-clock sales and customer service team who are on call 365 days a year, supporting agents not only with the challenges clients might incur on vacation, but also with new and existing bookings.
"We are here to service agents and help them with anything they need, whether it's giving marketing support or joining them at a consumer event where we can help them drive sales," said Frank Corzo, vice president of sales. "We are able to retain our agent customers because of the relationships we have out on the field, and we're here to support them 100 percent of the way."
To familiarize agents with its product range, Gogo is organizing roughly 25 fam trips this year to all of its properties in Mexico and the Caribbean, starting in April. Fam trips typically include optional excursions, site inspections and presentations on how travel agents can expand their businesses and utilize the tools that Gogo has developed with agents specifically in mind.
Gogo's Learning Conference series, which take place twice annually in the companyís core destinations in the Caribbean and Mexico, as well as in exotic locales across the globe, are perhaps the most anticipated of Gogo's fam tours. In May, the company will bring approximately 100 agents to the South Pacific for a six-day Tahiti Learning Conference. Attendees will spend a day on Moorea, participate in a trade show and stay at the InterContinental Resort Tahiti as well as the recently renovated Le Meridien Tahiti.
"Our Learning Conferences have attracted a lot of West Coast travel agents, and we think it is a great opportunity for them to learn about a specific destination and our products," Kish said. "We also continually run, for agents on the West Coast, a number of VIP dinners and showcases throughout the year. Travel agents don't have to go to us -- we go to them."Expanding Horizons
Gogo boasts the financial stability of a billion-dollar travel company, Flight Centre Limited, which acquired Gogo in 2008 and, subsequently, broadened its offerings to include Thailand, Australia, Hong Kong and Dubai, among several other destinations.
While the company has primarily been known for its extensive products in Mexico and the Caribbean, Gogo continues to enhance the depth and breadth of its product range. In fact, just this month, Gogo added South America hotels, sightseeing and escorted tours to its offerings. As part of a promotion, when booked by April 19, for travel through mid-December, clients can receive $75 in food and beverage credits, complimentary room upgrades, free nights or other bonus amenities at select hotels in Argentina, Peru, Brazil, Chile and Ecuador.
"And, we also pay commissions to the travel agent at the time of full payment rather than at the point of the client's departure," Kish said.
As a further commitment to the travel agent community, Gogo brands every piece of marketing material, including its consumer website, with its "Only at Your Travel Agent" logo. This incessant nudge, along with its website's easy-to-use travel agent locator, help build trust -- and it appears to be working. Clients continue to seek out Gogo travel agents not only for convenience and value but also for the peace of mind that their vacations will transpire without a hitch.
"Many clients specifically request Gogo when they contact me," said Sharon Smith, owner of Islands Travel. "I've had clients who missed flights, and Gogo has been quick to accommodate them on an alternate flight. All my clients are VIPs to me, and Gogo is very quick to follow up on my special requests for them."
Nowadays, many clients have come to expect (and in some cases, demand) special treatment from their preferred agents. Launched last month, Gogo's MyTime concept will help meet these requirements, enabling agents to show their influence and ability to go above and beyond a client's expectations. As part of the new program, Gogo now has exclusive agreements with tour operators and hoteliers throughout the Caribbean and Mexico -- including Royal Hideaway Playacar, Olympus Tours, Me Cancun and the Occidental Grand Aruba -- which provide extra amenities and experiences for Gogo guests. Amenities range from an exclusive check-in area and late check-out privileges to welcome parties for new arrivals and the services of an on-site MyTime representative.
"The MyTime concept creates a unique experience for the consumer, and it's also a way for travel agents to show their relevance. Consumers might be able to get a package for a similar price through an online travel company, but they aren't going to get the same experience," Kish explained. "When travelers are checking into their hotel and they see that the MyTime line is shorter, they are going to want to know why they aren't in that line. The next time they book their trip, hopefully, they will go through a travel agent."
Toward the end of last year, the wholesaler launched GoBook, an interactive online marketing tool that enables agents to customize a client's itinerary with the travel agency's logo and branding, a personalized client message and a list of recommendations for activities and must-see attractions in the destination. GoBook, which can be shared via e-mail or Facebook, doubles as a platform to market add-on sales and as a multifaceted travel log for the client featuring a trip calendar, detailed destination guides and city maps, as well as comprehensive details on air, car, hotel and transfer reservations.
"Every initiative that we introduce and every decision that we make is to help travel agents grow their businesses," Kish said. "We're not looking for immediate gratification. We've been here for 60 years, and were going to be here for 60 more to support travel agents now and in the years to come."