It’s one thing to know that travel agent associations are lobbying the government on agents’ behalf. It’s another to actually hear it and see it in action.
TORONTO — Three years ago The Travel Agent Next Door had $40 million in sales. Now with 800 agents and on track to reach $170 million in sales for 2019, The Travel Agent Next Door is forecasting $220 million in sales for 2020.
Hitting the $220 million mark will vault the host agency into top spot, says TTAND founder Flemming Friisdahl. “Next year we expect to be number one,” he told tour operators and hotelier partners at last night’s fifth annual VIP Supplier Event. “All in less than six years. That’s pretty impressive.”
Sales are up 44% in 2019, backed by an 18% increase in Primary agents. “That’s amazing to me,” Friisdahl said at last night’s event, held at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto. “We expect to be close to 950 agents in 2020.” In 2019 the group has 435 Primary agents and 365 Associate agents.
“Our travel consultants are gold to us,” he said.
Since its inception TTAND has always taken a “win-win-win” approach. Anything that the host agency does has to be a win for TTAND agents, a win for the supplier and a win for TTAND itself.
Friisdahl added: “The three letters that mean the most to me are ROI.”
TTAND’s 18 Preferred suppliers get 51% of the group’s business. And the number of Preferred suppliers is virtually unchanged through the years. “We stay true to you. We’re partners for life,” he told suppliers.
TTAND’s Primary agents must earn 70% of their commission on Preferred and Approved suppliers, he added.
For suppliers, and agents, the night had four key takeaways: “We have the lowest number of suppliers, the highest split to agents, we offer an annual partner payout (TTAND’s Partner Incentive Program) and we have a complete electronic / print / website marketing program.”
TTAND is also focused on finding new customers, and now has 42 head office staff supporting agents in that goal with marketing, accounting, training, new programs, quality control, agent support and technology. “We have one staff member for every 11 agents. That’s phenomenal. That shows our commitment to our Primary agents,” said Friisdahl. A new website initiative is launching in January 2020, he added.
Here’s a look at more highlights from the night…
. ZIP, TTAND’s Zero Interest Program, is a deferred payment program where clients can pay for their trip over three, six or 12 monthly payments and pay a flat fee – no interest. “I didn’t want an interest-based program,” said Friisdahl. “There’s another program out there, it’s a good program but we went with ZIP. If I follow everybody else then I am everybody else.” ZIP offers deferred as well as equal payment plans, and is modelled after the program that was such a success for Sears Travel.
. TTAND University, now available, offers opportunities to suppliers.
. TTAND’s Credit Card Authorization system, launched in February 2019, allows agents to send an electronic authorization form to their customers, ensuring that names are spelled correctly, the insurance waiver has been signed, the passport is valid for the duration of the trip and that the credit card approval form has been signed.
. TTAND is looking at ways to make sure its agent partners are able to grow their sales with its new Lead Generation program, developed with TripXpertz’s Brad Miron.
. Earlier this year TTAND announced it was organizing itself into regions, to benefit both agents and suppliers. “For me it was important that we did this,” said Friisdahl. With the new structure TTAND agents benefit from local support and recognition from suppliers and their BDMs.
. TTAND is proactively working hard to make sure an agent only has to touch a consumer’s information once, including booking with a supplier.
. Additional programs include TTAND’s Virtual Consumer Evenings, Subject Matter Expert Program, Top Performers Trip, Trip Giveaway and Direct Deposits.
. TTAND’s The Agency Solution aims to bring in new agencies with sales between $500,000 and $3 million. The goal is to keep agencies local, and to keep experienced agents in the business, says Friisdahl. TTAND launched The Agency Solution earlier this year with industry veteran Louise Gardiner as VP. “I truly understand storefronts,” said Gardiner at last night’s event, adding, “The Agency Solution fits a need in our industry today. Our program will re-energize small storefront agencies.”
. TTAND’s New Agent Program trains new entrants to the travel industry. So far some 142 new travel agents have been launched through the initiative. The new agents get 35 hours of online training, textbooks from The Travel Institute and 40 hours of in-class training. Says Rhonda Stanley, VP, Talent Development: “One of our new agents, her first booking was a 66-day Regent cruise. We provide them with the learning to get started.”
. TTAND’S next National Conference, already a sell-out, will be held April 17 – 24, 2020 in Jamaica with an expected 220 agents. As always no spouses or travel companions are permitted, making TTAND one of Canada’s only home-based agent conferences that only has travel professionals in attendance. TTAND is also focused on charitable outreach with its Giving Back Day and its partnership with Pencils for Kids.