Tollman talks about TTC’s commitment to agents
Late last year, Canadian Travel Press had a chance to sit down with the Travel Corporation’s (TTC) chief executive, Brett Tollman and talk about the role of travel agents and where they fit in the scheme of things today and into the future.
Off the top, Tollman said of agents that TTC prefers to call them travel advisors, in order “to elevate them to the deserving role that we think they have in the chain or the communication.”
He pointed out that whenever anyone wants to invest their money, they immediately think of a trusted financial advisor and when you consider that people spend several thousand dollars on a holiday, it’s only natural that “one should have a trusted travel advisor who knows you; who knows what you’re about and what you want to do; and provides you with the appropriate advice and recommendations on where to go.”
What advisors need to know
So, what is it that agents need to know about TTC?
Well, number one, Tollman said is “to ensure you, the travel advisor, understand what we stand for; what we represent; and the fantastic trips that we operate – which again is validated by testimonials from our customers which come directly through something called FEEFO, which is one of the best, third party validators of user-generated content in the world.”
TTC’s boss continued: “And that’s front and centre on our web site. We have nothing to hide – based on how hard we work and invest in our training and our customer service and delivery… and the advisor being able to see what other travellers have said about the trips that they’ve been on. [That’s] no different than what you see in online retail, like Amazon. Someone wants to buy something, they want validation from another consumer.”
Tollman explained that, “We make it so easy for the advisor by doing that so they can sell with confidence. But we fully respect how much they need to know about, not only just our brands, but the hundreds or thousands of other brands that they represent. So, we just implore them to take the time to better understand and know about us and why they can depend on us.”
To reinforce his point, he noted that: “Our repeat guest factor is over 50% today. That’s up over 20 points from five years ago and that’s across the group – from Trafalgar to Insight to Uniworld to Contiki. And that’s all on the basis of how good a job we’re delivering. So that’s number one.”
As for number two, Tollman said that he wants travel advisors “to work with us to try to innovate how we do business together.”
He said: “You know as well as we do that we live in terribly disruptive times. Whether it’s OTAs. Whether it’s start-ups. And obviously, just the Internet of Things. The consumer has so many different sources and channels in which to research their travel from and buy their travel through that the future of the travel advisor and those businesses who depend on travel advisors like The Travel Corporation are under threat, and I think more agents need to understand that.”
He continued: “So, unless we’re all working to innovate, we’re all under threat. And whether it’s the Millennial or the GenZ – who most travel advisors are not spending any time working on or focusing on for their next generation of travel. You know they’re [GenZ-ers] substantially and dramatically different to the Boomer.”
In this respect, Tollman told CTP: “One has to look at different ways to market and to engage with people. You know, some agents are not comfortable turning the screen, as we call it, and showing content on a website [to the customer]. But that’s a part of what you need to be able to do to show people videos or testimonials, rather than trying to do it out of a brochure.”
Yet despite this, he pointed out that: “There are still agents out there who say [to the customer] ‘You want to go to Europe, well, here are three operators, you go do the research and then come back and tell me who you want to book with.’ People like that are under threat, and we don’t want to see that.”
A personal guarantee
Saving the best for last, Tollman makes it abundantly clear that TTC is “one of the, if not the, most agent-friendly businesses in the world.”
He told CTP that: “I have signed a personal letter guaranteeing that we never have and never will try to steal a customer from an agent or agency – never have, never will. We have a program called the 10 Year Travel Wallet where we engage digitally with past travellers and every time one of those travellers decides to book with us rather than through the agent of record, we take care of that, but then we send a full commission cheque to that agent. I don’t know of anyone else who does that.”
Tollman continued: “That more than anything – besides my personal guarantee – I think reinforces how committed we are to the agent. Now, the agent will always find out, so a) I think you’re stupid to do it; and b) agents are our best friends, so we want to nurture them, We want to support them. But, obviously, like any relationship, it’s a two-way street.”
In this respect, TTC’s chief executive said: “We’re innovating as we go along by understanding customer trends. They [consumers] want more local, immersive experiences. They want something that’s personalized and customized – whether they’re buying a guided vacation or a river cruise or an FIT. And so, we’ve built systems to do that, but we need the agent’s help.”
Sending them back happy
And he pointed out: “We have, for example, this mobile tool we launched last year that gives you your itinerary; that gives you the ability to tell us what you want to do on your upcoming Trafalgar or Insight or Uniworld trip, and then we have technology to get that to the travel director or the cruise manager, so they anticipate that you like art or sport and we know that there’s this fantastic exhibit on in Paris next week when you’re going to be here; we’ll tell you about it and we’ll try and help you get tickets or whatever it might be.”
“So knowing that getting your passport details, knowing your dietary restrictions, knowing your bedding requirements – all of that is handled before you arrive, so that you arrive and depart hotels – which in many countries in Europe, as I’m sure you know, require passports – you don’t have to worry about that. You’re not hassled. Your luggage arrives in two minutes,” he said.
However, the difficulty, Tollman explained is that “unless the agent helps us by giving us the customer’s email address, we cannot engage with them to do that. But again, they should do it with the trust and knowledge that [TTC] never have, never will steal a customer – so help us because that customer will come back happier than ever and rebook with that agent and thank them for giving them such an amazing holiday.”
Come to the party
As well, TTC’s boss said that “with these mobile tools, we can now do e-documentation and with that we’ve committed to planting a tree [as part of its One Tree Planted Project] in any guest’s name who elects to take e-documents. And this is not passing it on to the agent, because it’s all on your mobile device, so you don’t need to print anything – so it’s not trying to move it to the agent, which is what the cruise lines did 20 years ago.”
It also allows TTC to engage with the traveller and “learn what they want to do [in the way of] personalization and then we share all that data with the agent at the end of it. So, it is a harmonious and homogeneous relationship, if the agent will come to the party and engage with us on these very few things that we need,” concluded Tolman.