“It has become imperative that we set the record straight”: An open response from Ensemble President Michael Johnson

Major retail travel groups allege overdue incentive payments in open letter to Ensemble 

TORONTO — Two years of frustration have reached a boiling point and now several major retail travel groups are taking their fight with Ensemble public.

An open letter signed by nine North American retail groups including Travel Best Bets and The Travel Agent Next Door, to Michael Johnson, David Harris and Jeff Willner as the leadership of Ensemble Travel, asks that Ensemble make good on what the agencies say are long-overdue incentive payments.

The nine agencies also say that up to 50 – 70 other retailers may be similarly affected, and a note at the end of the letter says other agencies do not wish to be named for fear of retribution.

“Following a Covid-related delay of incentive payments in spring 2020, David Harris communicated to all members in September 2020 that the board approved the incentive payments which would be processed within 60 days, pending final loan approvals. Over 2 years later, no such payments have been made,” reads the letter.

The agencies say the monies owed are annual incentives from 2019, when all of the agencies were members in good standing with Ensemble Travel Group. The complete list of signees is Around the Globe Travel, ConsortiaX, Diplomat Travel Agency, Go Travel, The Travel Agent Next Door, Travel Best Bets, Travel of America, Travel Planners International and Uniglobe Travel Center.

The Travel Agent Next Door, a long-time Ensemble member, announced in October 2021 that it was switching to TL Network.

In the letter the agencies acknowledge the impact that COVID-19 has had on the travel industry, including Ensemble. The agencies also say that Ensemble’s situation due to the pandemic stabilized after its takeover by Navigatr. That acquisition was finalized in spring 2022.

The letter states, “while each of us have since left Ensemble following the non-payment, our status at the time entitles us to be paid. However, none of us wanted to take legal action or force the issue, knowing the precarious state of the organization. Following your acquisition by Navigatr earlier this year, you no longer have the financial instability  that caused the delay of those payments.”

The letter goes on to say: “Many of the signatories to this letter have approached you to ask for the payments and have been  turned away. ASTA has attempted to mediate this situation, but you maintain there is no obligation to pay. You have claimed that the board-approved payment was contingent upon loan approvals to  help you survive Covid. You have not shown a copy of those board minutes to any of us. More  importantly, your financial position is solidified by both the robust Covid recovery and the acquisition  by Navigatr – which is also parent to Travel Edge, TripArc & Kensington Tours.

“We are now taking this issue public and asking you to do the right thing and honor your obligations to your former members. It is simply the ethical approach to business and can show the industry that you and your organization can be trusted.

“We look forward to you making payment to all former members. Until then, we encourage all  members of the industry to be cautious in their dealings with you and your sister companies.

“Lastly, we strongly encourage ASTA & ACTA to re-examine the Navigatr companies’ participation as partners and members of those organizations.”

Travelweek reached out to Ensemble for comment. Michael Johnson, President of Ensemble, told Travelweek: “As we are currently reviewing our legal options, we will not comment beyond that these allegations are false and misleading and don’t intend to litigate in the media as these former members have previously indicated they would use the media as a way to force a resolution and try to damage our reputation.”