Every captain needs a first mate. And at Virgin Voyages, the adults-only cruise line set to debut in 2020, its second-in-command will be none other than travel agents.
Travel Edge CEO & Owner Jeff Willner started Kensington Tours from his kitchen table in 2006, with a box of office supplies from his last job. Like many home-based advisors, he went without a paycheck for over a year when times were lean.
Originally specializing in African safaris, Kensington Tours almost went out of business several times with the 2007 Kenya election violence that cut tourism in half, and the global economic meltdown in 2008.
That was then and this is now. Kensington Tours grew slowly but surely over the years and is now a $100 million tour company.
Not only that, but 6 years ago Willner started acquiring travel agencies with the goal of creating the top luxury agency in North America.
With a corporate family where everyone trusts each other to work hard, and a meaningful investment in making the world a better place, “you can’t help but continue to grow”, says Willner in his role as CEO and Owner of Travel Edge.
Travel agents might be familiar with the name Worldview. “Worldview has always been a part of the Travel Edge Group of companies,” says Willner. “We built the company with a series of acquisitions starting in 2011 that included luxury leisure agencies and corporate agencies.”
The company was called Worldview in the press, says Willner, but really it was a collection of 12 acquired agencies, most of whom continued to operate under their own names including: The Travel Network (Toronto), Pisa Brothers Travel (New York), Travel Door (California), and Century Travel (Atlanta). The company currently has 11 offices in Canada, the U.S. and Bermuda.”
The decision to re-brand to Travel Edge was based on a desire to bring the company’s leading edge technology and combine it with the decades of experience and client relationships from the agencies, he adds.
“There was a general feeling from our discussions with our agents and management that we needed a fresh start. Travel Edge was selected based on the idea that we provide a competitive edge to our agents, and our agents provide better travel experiences and a lifestyle edge for their clients.”
In addition to the name, the company wanted a new logo and an updated look and feel. The new logo has two components: the stylized ‘route map’ insignia and the Travel Edge wordmark.
Willner says he’s confident in Travel Edge’s strategy to become the largest and best luxury agency in North America. Travel Edge is now a $750 million company with over 750 advisors specializing in Leisure, Corporate & Events, and Tours travel.
Most of the company’s advisors – about 70% – are home-based. “Many have decades of experience but a growing number are professionals who have moved to travel as a second or third career. We have carefully built a support team to help our agents grow their sales and most importantly grow their profits.”
Willner says Travel Edge’s advisor services are intentionally designed to support agents wherever they choose to work. “We are committed to consistent communication and accessible training including recorded sessions,” he said.
He says Travel Edge offers the highest, achievable commission levels in air, cruise, hotels, resorts and tours. “But what is interesting about Travel Edge is we also offer full professional services including finance, HR, technology, three different GDS, ClientBase, email, marketing, legal, and more. So agents have the best of both worlds: industry leading commissions plus the benefits of full service.”
Ultimately the company’s “true competitive advantage” is the Agent Digital Experience (ADX) tool, he says. Travel Edge has invested over $20 million in the past five years to build a modern travel management tool that “transforms agent profitability”. “They can bundle multiple products with a single click, instantly show Virtuoso amenities, cross sell/upsell, see commissions live, auto invoice, and stay informed with online reports. We believe ADX is truly transformative for the luxury leisure agent.”
Asked what sort of reaction he’s heard from Travel Edge travel advisors about the rebranding, Willner says feedback on the new brand has been “really positive”.
“[At our] road show to almost all of our branches I had the pleasure of chatting directly to most of our advisors. We believe every advisor wants to be proud of their brand. We are on a journey to create a luxury brand that can hold its own across all industries. And that is a message that has really resonated with our employees, agents and the rest of the industry. They are also very excited that as our brand starts to gain awareness it will result in more leads and more closed sales.”
Is Travel Edge still pursuing the acquisition of more agencies? “Candidly we have been very successful as a company with double-digit organic growth, hundreds of advisors who have joined our Advisor Program and ongoing acquisitions,” says Willner, adding, “I believe with a corporate family that can trust each other to work hard, and a meaningful investment in making the world a better place, you can’t help but continue to grow.”