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Ensemble Travel Group used its 2016 annual convention to update members and preferred suppliers on the efforts of the consortium and to announce several new initiatives for 2017. The conference took place at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, Calif., from Oct. 19-23.
More than 900 members and suppliers attended the event, which featured four days of breakout sessions, networking opportunities, educational seminars and more. Robert Herjavec, CEO of IT firm Herjavec Group and a star of the reality television series “Shark Tank” was the conference’s keynote speaker, sharing tips on building a successful business and maintaining strong client relationships.
Education ExpansionDuring the conference, co-presidents Lindsay Pearlman and Libbie Rice announced that, in early 2017, members of the co-op will have access to the new University of Ensemble (U of E), an online tool that will enable access to training tools such as live and online trainings, specialist and certification programs and more. The program will supplement current educational efforts and can be accessed with the Ensemble Extranet.
“From product knowledge and business intelligence to fams and partnerships with leading educational organizations, U of E will deliver the difference for you to hit the ground running and faster than your competition,” Pearlman said, addressing the crowd of attendees during the conference’s opening session.
Agents who use U of E can participate in “Take 30 Thursday,” 30-minute weekly webinars that offer supplier training and can also become certified as an “Ensemble Expert” by using a 22-module, self-paced course. To incentivize travel agents into enrolling with U of E, a new “E-Perks” rewards program will be introduced, giving agents an opportunity to earn points toward educational, experiential or personal items.
What’s New in MarketingEnsemble’s agent toolbox will get another new addition in 2017 with the debut of the marketing platform Monarch, which gives advisors the ability to control their own direct email marketing campaign.
The new platform will supplement — not replace — ClientBase, the consortium’s current Res Card system, Pearlman says.
Additionally, a new integrated booking engine, Navigate, is also in the works. The system, which is currently being beta tested by members, will consolidate Ensemble’s previous booking engines — Air Express, Cruise Express, Hotel Express, On Location Express and Car Express — into one platform.
“Navigate’s advanced technology integrates timely marketing, multilevel training and new-hire development with preferred partner goals and objectives — all of which will result in increased opportunities for our members,” Rice said.
Updates to Current Product/PartnershipsIn addition to looking ahead to 2017, Pearlman and Rice used the conference to reflect on several challenges in the past year, including external world events that have impacted the industry, such as terror attacks, the Zika virus, increased cruise capacity, the U.S. presidential election and more.
The co-presidents said that within the consortium itself, challenges arose when attempting to roll out Aviate, the global air-ticketing program announced at last year’s conference, to the North American market. Although the original plan was to simultaneously launch both in North America and in Australia, where the program was initially made, modifying an Australian-made tool to suit the needs of North American advisors was difficult. For example, the TSA Known Traveler Number is not present in Australia, and GDS specifications varies between the two markets. As a result, the program is currently delayed for the North American market.
Despite these obstacles, Rice said Ensemble has seen tremendous growth in the past year, adding 16 new preferred partners — including river cruise line AmaWaterways — and more than 100 new hotels to the Ensemble Hotel and Resort collection. Additionally, the consortium added 76 new agency members since last year, including 12 from Australia and New Zealand, and has seen a spike in popularity with its recently launched nonshareholder affiliate program.
Finally, executives announced a new partnership with the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA), which offers new or renewing members of ASTA a 20 percent discount on a two-year membership fee.
“We are happy to endorse the work that ASTA does on behalf of travel agencies of all sizes,” Rice said. “Our agencies greatly benefit from the advocacy work they perform, such as fighting unfair laws and practices at both the state and national level that would negatively impact their business.”
Next year’s conference will take place at Hyatt Regency Dallas from Oct. 16-20.