Are the big players interested in buying smaller agencies? Well, it depends on who you ask.
Undaunted by the brisk icy weather, many of Flight Centre Independent’s best and brightest gathered in Toronto this past weekend for FCI’s Annual Cross-Canada Meetup. Neither wind nor rain (nor snow, nor sleet) could keep the agents from networking with their colleagues and celebrating the host agency’s 10th anniversary with plenty of news about new products, including a new fee model and a new fully bookable website.
FCI agents from nearly every province convened in Toronto on April 13 and 14 for the Meetup, at Flight Centre’s flagship Travel Centre in downtown Toronto, said FCI General Manager Lee Zanello in a post-event interview.
This year’s Meetup featured the launch of new booking tools, new marketing initiatives and a new fee model that gives agents the ability to customize and better control their program expenses. The weekend also featured the inaugural independent Partner Appreciation Awards.
“We had an outstanding event and our agents in attendance raved about the relevance of the content to their business and the quality time they were able to spend with our partners,” said Zanello.
“It has been an incredible winter season, capped off with successive best months ever for total sales in both February and March. Sales and profit growth is very strong and FCI will finish this year with our best financial results ever and more agents earning more than they ever have before.”
Bookings are looking “very strong” for the months ahead and the efficiencies FCI is bringing into the business will only help boost those numbers, Zanello added.
FCI currently has 272 Independent Agents across the country and is looking to reach 1,000 agents by 2023.
“We are currently bringing on 12-15 new agents every month with next to no turnover so these numbers are very achievable. It’s important to note that growth, for us, does not just mean adding to the number of agents we have, but growing the support base underneath those agents so that our agent experience and the support they receive remains our top priority.”
Bringing in the resources and real estate from the Flight Centre leisure business “is only setting the stage for an even greater agent experience in the years ahead,” he added.
One of the biggest announcements at the event was a fully bookable website where FCI agents can easily access Flight Centre’s globally procured air contracts, commissionable rates and ancillary products.
Flight Centre has always been a GDS-based company with retail agents who are knowledgeable in Sabre forming the backbone of the leisure business, says Zanello.
But, he adds, fully half of FCI’s Independent Agents do not use a GDS.
The brand new fully bookable website was launched with those agents in mind. “This is a game changer for those agents who don’t work in the GDS environment and we are so proud to launch it next month.”
FCI’s new fee model was very well-received, he adds, moving from a standardized monthly fee to a model that allows agents to choose their own fee and level of support that fits their business needs.
“The entry-level fee model gives an agent absolutely everything they need to run their business while the upper tiers offer value-adds that can help an agent grow their profits and marketing reach within their community.”
Gavin Miller, VP of Leisure for Flight Centre Canada, gave the keynote speech at the event, talking about the power of a marketable brand like Flight Centre. “He said there’s no other host agency that is going to take out national advertising every week and every month that you can then sell directly to your clients,” said Zanello. “While Independent Agents can absolutely be white-labelled within FCI, being in proud partnership with such a powerful brand that is already alive in the consumer’s consciousness can only help build trust and awareness in an Independent agent’s business.”
Using the new fee model, Independent agents can now establish relationships with nearby Flight Centre Retail locations, adds Zanello. “This can come in very handy for meeting with clients face to face, attending product sessions and having a better touch with local reps as well as more local and immediate feedback when it comes to sales strategies and product recommendations. There is not a host agency in Canada that can compete with our footprint of over 120 teams and over 800 agents that are now integrated resources Independent agents can take advantage of, all while maintaining full independence and control over their business with no oversight or accountability to the teams in the shops.”
Zanello adds that partnering in this way with a nearby retail Flight Centre location is “absolutely not mandatory … but an excellent resource for an [FCI] agent who sees the value in it.”
The event also saw the launch of the iHub by Flight Centre concept, a communal workspace where Independent agents can take advantage of office space without having to wear the overhead on their business. The pilot program will be implemented in the coming months at the Flight Centre Travel Centre at the corner of King and Spadina.
One of the other major announcements was the introduction to FCI agents of Independent by Liberty Travel, FCI’s sister brand in the U.S. that launched in January 2018. “Where we have 10 years of experience as a host to help shape and guide their business, they have a lot of resources and technology that we can start to leverage here in Canada. Working closely together with our American counterpart will mean greater supplier relationships and innovations in technology that will be absolutely groundbreaking in the Canadian host-agency marketplace. I am very excited for what the next 6 to 12 months holds for our agents!”