As The Travel Agent Next Door gets ready to embark on its annual conference at sea, Founder and President Flemming Friisdahl says the host agency group and its agent members are thriving, with sales up 128% year over year in the first quarter of 2017.
1. It’s been three years since The Travel Agent Next Door arrived and shook up the host agency industry. Why do you think The Travel Agent Next Door’s model has been so successful?
“What an amazing three years it has been. What makes us different? Simply our approach. It is not about making money off the backs of our travel partners/customers. It’s about having our agents succeed and through that success our suppliers succeed and then The Travel Agent Next Door succeeds.
“And to help the agents succeed we have an incredible support office. We provide our agents with marketing/accounting and social media support, we have 20 team members who support 270 primary agents. Who else offers this ratio of support people to agents? Our agents/customers sales in the first quarter are up 128% over prior year.”
2. Does the number of agents contacting The Travel Agent Next Door to ask about joining surprise you and what are they looking for that they haven’t been able to find with another host agency or bricks-and-mortar/storefront/chain environment?
“I am always pleasantly surprised when any prospective agent reaches out to us, even if it is to simply go over our program and they do not join us at that moment. I believe my answer above tells you what it is they are looking for. Another way of saying this is, without our agents (business owners) we would not be here, we never take them for granted. We know they have choices, so we work hard every day to make them ‘want’ to stay with The Travel Agent Next Door.
“We do not tie them to a long-term contract or silly non-competes that force them to stay with us. We do it through hard work to earn their loyalty.”
3. What sort of positive impact has The Travel Agent Next Door seen with its quality not quantity approach to preferred suppliers?
“There are three very simple wins: 1) The agents can earn 100% of the commission on preferred suppliers. 2) The suppliers know we are here to support them long-term and will not move because someone else offers a small back end deal. Presently 79% of ALL commissions being paid by The Travel Agent Next Door are on preferred and approved suppliers. This kind of focus is unheard of in the industry for a consortium or non-owned agency network. 3) The Travel Agent Next Door can focus its energy on specific suppliers from training to marketing without spreading ourselves too thin.”
4. Travelweek’s recent Ultimate Travel Survey showed that 31% of respondents had booked with a home-based agent, and that was up 7% since 2013. What are some of the successful strategies that you see home-based agents using to attract new business / new clients?
“Your survey certainly reconfirms that agents are moving towards home-based. We offer five key tools that our agents can use at no cost to them. They are so important that we include them. 1) A website with over 8,000 pages of product. 2) An agent loyalty program for pied pipers/supporters who help promote our travel agents. 3) An amazing contest to increase prospective new clients. 4) A 365 day, year-round marketing program including print and electronic – created and distributed for and from the agents. 5) TRAINING. Without continued education you become stagnant. We offer all of the above – plus a few more that we keep secret!”
5. The Travel Agent Next Door’s 2017 conference is coming up this month. What’s the theme for this year’s conference and can you give us any sneak peek details about what participating agents can look forward to?
“We are so, so, excited about this years conference! The theme is ‘WATERING RELATIONSHIPS’ and for us this conference is all about growing the relationships our agents have with our supplier partners. We have 24 suppliers joining us and 100 The Travel Agent Next Door agents, not bad considering it is only our third year. This conference is so important to us as it helps build the community within The Travel Agent Next Door and also with our suppliers.
“While this is work, it will be a busy and productive week. We will also be enjoying all of the facilities, cuisine and service of the beautiful Norwegian Escape and visiting each of the ports of call.”