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Ensemble Travel Group is coming off its best year in 2018, and the future is looking good.
Preferred supplier sales this year predicted to increase more than 8%, eclipsing $1.4 billion, CEO David Harris told the 900 travel advisors and supplier partners attending the consortium’s 2019 International Conference, held Oct. 23-27 at the Hyatt Regency Seattle.
This was Harris’ first year at the helm of Ensemble after the board of directors named him CEO six months ago, a new role in the organization. Since then, both of Ensemble’s previous co-presidents — Lindsay Pearlman and Libbie Rice, who had both reported to Harris — have departed the consortium.
Harris, previously the owner of an Ensemble member agency and member of Ensemble’s board of directors, took to the stage at the conference for the first time on day one, addressing attendees about the state of Ensemble and his plans going forward. He offered attendees a quote from Benjamin Franklin: “He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else.”
“To that end, I hope you judge me not only on what I say here today, but whether I deliver with our Ensemble teams in the weeks and months to come,” he said.
Harris shared some surprising statistics he has found since he took over as CEO six months ago. For years, Ensemble had publicly reported it had 850 members doing $2 billion in annual sales.
But the consortium actually has 763 members that, when taking into account nonpreferred-supplier sales, do more than $4 billion in sales each year.
“It’s disappointing that we haven’t either done that math or chosen to validate that prior to now,” Harris said in an interview.
Now, equipped with that knowledge, the road forward presents many opportunities.
“The conversation changes when you go to a supplier and [can say] this is what our footprint is, versus this is what we thought it was,” he said. “I’m hoping that it changes conversations. I believe that it should.”
For instance, with one nonpreferred airline alone, Harris told members they had generated almost $300 million in sales this year.
“The fact is, your businesses are contributing more to the growth of the travel segment than any of us realized, and you have much more unrealized power to many suppliers than we have reported,” he said.
Harris outlined five key pillars Ensemble will focus on going forward: building skills and training; creating unique product offerings; fostering innovative partnerships; using analytics that create efficiency and a holistic approach; and looking into offering services members often cannot get on their own such as insurance or human resources.
“Ensemble needs to provide value for members and suppliers that is truly holistic,” Harris said. “As much as we are going to do to tap the full value of our organization, we need to represent more than just a check to you. The whole premise of our relationship is that we provide you with services that you often can’t obtain on your own.”
Ensemble needs to provide value for members and suppliers that is truly holistic. As much as we are going to do to tap the full value of our organization, we need to represent more than just a check to you. The whole premise of our relationship is that we provide you with services that you often can’t obtain on your own.
In an interview, Harris said one constant objective from the board of directors in recent years has been to gather and analyze data on members’ sales. That data could be particularly applicable with supplier negotiations, like the nonpreferred airline members are often booking.
“We don’t know what we don’t know — that’s a fact,” Harris said.
Ensemble’s goal is to collect sales data from 75% of its top 50 agencies by the end of the year. That would represent approximately 60% of the network’s total volume. While the CEO said that might not be fully achievable, he also added, “We have to draw some lines in the sand and work toward these targets, and that’s what we are doing.”
Sustainability Sustainability was a big focus at this year’s conference, which was aptly themed “Travel With Purpose.”
“More and more travelers are doing business with agencies that factor things such as environmental and social sustainability into their travel-planning equation,” Harris told attendees. “Put another way: Increasingly, people are traveling with purpose.”
Harris announced a new partnership with the nonprofit Cool Effect, which works to reduce carbon emissions around the world.
Cool Effect has created a Travel Offset Tool that can be used to determine a monetary amount a traveler can pay to offset their carbon emissions. For instance, 1 metric ton of carbon emitted is $7.83; most travelers are accountable for 1 or 2 metric tons per trip, depending on the class they fly in and several other factors, said Jodi Manning, the nonprofit’s director of marketing.
The funds from travelers offsetting their carbon emissions are used to fund projects around the world, such as the Jacunda Forest Reserve carbon reduction project in Brazil that protects rubber trees and provides local jobs.
Now, the Travel Offset Tool will be available to Ensemble members via the consortium’s agent platform. Additionally, Ensemble offset the carbon footprint of the conference itself and all attendees’ travel to Seattle, to the tune of $4,471.50.
Manning also sat on a panel about sustainability on stage at the conference. She addressed what has become a somewhat common phenomenon: flight shaming, or the idea that a traveler should feel inherent shame because of the carbon footprint that comes with flying. She said she was surprised that shame was being associated with flights and travel.
“Cool Effect doesn’t believe in shame,” Manning said. “There shouldn’t be any shame in travel. Travel is what brings us together, whether you are a consumer looking to understand a different culture, whether you’re a politician or a businessperson. Travel and face-to-face contact, and understanding different cultures, in my opinion … it promotes peace, and ultimately I think that’s what we all want.”
She encouraged attendees to do what they can to reduce their carbon footprint and try to offset the rest.
Other efforts to reduce the conference’s impact on the world were also taken this year. Harris said the tote bags given to attendees were made of plant fibers; shirts were made of recycled plastic bottles; and attendees were given reusable glass water bottles to use. Ensemble used reusable chalkboard signs to cut down on the use of paper, and the chalkboards, as well as laptops used in workshops, were all to be donated to local, inner-city schools.
EducationDuring the conference, Ensemble announced that it was the first consortia to offer scholarships to the Travel Institute for every shareholder member. (Ensemble member agencies are all shareholders in the company and have an ownership position in the consortium.)
For the next year, the consortium will cover 50% of certification costs for each shareholder. Other members will receive a 15% discount.
The Travel Institute offers three certifications: Certified Travel Associate (CTA), Certified Travel Counselor (CTC) and Certified Travel Industry Executive (CTIE). Ensemble’s entire board of directors has enrolled in the CTIE program.
For the first time this year, Ensemble’s conference incorporated hands-on labs where attendees could get a deeper understanding of Ensemble’s tools and services, as well as a Tech Bar featuring a number of demonstrations. Social Street was a new social media center, where attendees were able to learn more about social media thanks to Ensemble’s marketing staff.
The DetailsEnsemble Travel Group www.ensembletravel.com