This story originally ran in the August 2, 2018 issue of Travelweek magazine. To get Travelweek delivered to your agency for free, subscribe here.
TORONTO — Back when wholesalers began investing heavily in B2C marketing and distribution, there was tremendous pressure on tour operators to ‘go direct’.
And tour operators did, even if marketing straight to the consumer – not even with a website in some cases, not back then, but just with a 1-800 number – raised the ire of loyal travel agent partners and, in some cases, was reason enough for many agents to strike a company off their sell list for a while. Now, of course, using both B2B and B2C marketing strategies is the new normal.
At Transat, “retail travel is in our DNA”, says Joe Adamo, Transat’s Chief Distribution Officer and President, TDC.
Indeed Transat’s principal founder, Jean-Marc Eustache, got his start in the tourism industry in 1977 at Tourbec, a travel agency specializing in youth and student tourism, before founding Trafic Voyages, the basis for the creation of Transat.
Annick Guérard, Transat’s Chief Operating Officer, says that while Transat has always had a multi-channel distribution channel, “85% of what we do is B2B”.
She adds: “With time we saw that distribution from B2B was not moving down that fast. In focus groups people tell us that they’re overwhelmed with information. They need to be guided. Booking travel is an agent’s métier and people are saying, ‘I’m going to pay you to make this booking because it’s valuable to me’.”
Adamo adds: “People said, bricks-and-mortar is dying. And we said, no, wait. The role of the travel agent will evolve. Travel agents are the highest touch distribution channels and high-touch works for us. Agents can talk about our differentiators.”
With 450 retail locations now for Transat Distribution Canada (TDC), and growing, Transat is heavily invested in travel retail as a means of distribution.
Nathalie Boyer, General Manager of TDC, says the retail division is looking to shore up in markets where Transat could use more growth. “We are always on the lookout for new options, in markets where it makes sense for us to be present, either with affiliates/members, company-owned agencies or external agents. We will increase our presence in some markets.”
From the sounds of things TDC is on the expansion trail, with announcements about future prospects “upcoming”, adds Boyer.
Transat Agent@Home is growing too. “Obviously, the business of external agents has been growing quickly, and will still be in the upcoming years, globally in the market, as well as in our own network,” says Boyer. “That is why we have made some improvements to our reservation platform, as well as to our pay grid, just to name a few, to make sure they are better aligned with the different realities of our markets in Canada.”
Asked how critical vertical integration continues to be for Transat, Boyer says the company continues to implement its vision of multichannel and global distribution: “Direct distribution remains a very important part of our business, and is one of the focus of our newest strategic plan.”
Of course a big part of Transat’s vertically integrated game plan is its new hotel division. Following the sale of its 35% minority interest in Ocean Hotels in fall 2017, Transat announced plans to operate some 5,000 owned or managed hotel rooms within seven years.
Transat was able to tap into the knowledge and experience of its top TDC agents earlier this year at its Bravo Club Excellence conference in Riviera Maya, asking agents for their input as the company ramps up its resort plans.
“For us, the possibility to discuss the hotel experience with these top travel agents was a great opportunity,” says Boyer. “We acknowledge the fact that they are travel experts and we value their opinion. They are our eyes and our ears when it comes to what the traveller wants.”
The hotel division brainstorming session included tapping agents’ ideas about what defines the DNA “of a unique 5-star guest experience”, said Boyer. Sounds like the new Transat resorts will be no slouch in the luxury department.
Agents were also asked about key differentiators for specific customer segments, like families and couples.
In an interview with Travelweek’s sister publication, Montreal-based Profession Voyages, Transat’s Hotel Division President, Jordi Solé, says the focus for the new hotels will be on all-inclusive five-star properties “that will make their mark on products and services”.
Adds Solé: “We want to establish ourselves in our main destinations: Cancun and Riviera Maya in Mexico, Punta Cana in the D.R., Montego Bay in Jamaica and Havana and Varadero in Cuba. We have a target of 5,000 rooms, either owned or managed, by 2024.”
Solé also says that Transat wants to sign a first hotel project this year, “which could be inaugurated in 2020, and marketed in 2019.”