Sometimes it takes a shock to the system to spur new ideas and new ways of thinking. In 2020 and 2021, that shock was the pandemic.
The complete upheaval of the retail travel sector has many agents rethinking their business model. More than a few were already thinking of going home-based before COVID-19 hit, and have made the switch. Others are still shopping around, looking for that perfect fit.
Meanwhile host agencies and chains and consortiums with programs for independent travel advisors (ITAs) are ramping up their offerings.
That includes Vision Travel, which launched its new ASCENT program for ITAs earlier this month.
Sphere caught up with Stephen Smith, Senior Vice President, Leisure Marketing, North America for Direct Travel to ask him about ASCENT.
Vision Travel is the leisure arm in Canada of Direct Travel.
Smith tells Sphere: “It’s unfortunate that this past year has created instability for so many agencies and we have encountered both advisors and owners looking for alternate solutions. We have invested in our host agency program these past 12 months and launched ASCENT so we can provide a stable home for ITAs or entire agencies to thrive. The result has been an increase in independent travel advisors joining Vision Travel across Canada, and les services Direct Travel in Quebec.”
Smith says that when an ITA is looking for a new host agency, “it is critical that they take the time to really understand how they fit with the host and how the host supports the way they manage their business – not just now, but down the road.”
The launch of ASCENT coincided with the addition of two experienced industry veterans to the group’s senior management team: Joelle Goldman, formerly with Virtuoso, in the new role of Vice President, Host Services; and Nicole Goodheart, formerly with CWT Vacations, in the new role of Director, Leisure Operations.
The ASCENT program includes professional development and mentoring, lead generation and collaboration.
Says Gerard Bellino, Executive Vice President, Leisure Travel: “In a world where travel has been turned upside down and revenues are scarce, we felt the need to establish a program to further support our ITAs – one which will have long-term value for them.”
Smith notes that ASCENT is an acronym that spells out each element of the program. “From access and support to training and development, it’s a full package for the independent travel advisor or the agency owner looking for a new host,” he says.
A is for Access to systems, partners, and back-up for advisors and their clients
S is for Support in business development, lead generation and strategic suppliers
C is for Collaboration and a strong sense of community
E is for Elevate: to ensure success in building and maintaining business
N is for Networking: helping advisors build relationships with partners, colleagues and collaborators
T is for Training and Development, with access to the Virtuoso Travel Academy, continual supplier training, and ongoing professional development including weekly Town Hall zoom calls with Direct Travel’s senior management.
Smith adds that many of the ASCENT components are proven success strategies, including the Dream Away series of virtual events, to which advisors are welcome to invite their clients. “On multiple occasions, we have had a client make a booking with their advisor in the middle of the event,” says Smith.
ASCENT is the right combination of a solid, accessible support system, the latest technology in the industry and the prestige of a great partnership with Virtuoso, the world’s leading luxury travel network, says Brian Robertson, President, Canada West region of Direct Travel.
“We have a marketing team to drive client engagement and generate leads for all advisors; a supplier management team that builds personal relationships with regional and national suppliers; and a leadership team which has strong connections to key decision makers at a global level,” adds Robertson.
Smith says Vision Travel’s door is always open, to any travel agent who thinks the company might be the right fit.
“We are always available to have a conversation with an ITA or agency because we know the importance of looking behind the curtain when making this kind of decision,” he says.
“We understand that we may not be the right fit for everyone and we are OK with that. We want our advisors to have the support they need to be in a position to thrive when travel returns (which we are really starting to see).”
Smith adds: “Having said that, we are delighted that so many advisors have decided to join Vision Travel in the last year and look forward to welcoming more.”