Travel is Personal and Professional
As hoards of consumers head to their computers to make travel arrangements, the market for the independent travel agency has become competitive. An organization that assists the community-based travel agency to remain viable (even in a challenging economic environment) is Uniglobe, a Vancouver, B.C., Canada based travel management company that works with agencies to provide services that enable them to succeed in a fast-paced, technology-focused business arena.
According to John L. Henry, SVP for Uniglobe’s Global Development Department, travel is an organizations’ third largest line item, immediately following labor and space. Unlike other businesses where the owner/manager can control the product and delivery (i.e. McDonald’s), travel agencies have to rely on their vendors to deliver the quality of service as promised, making the industry incredibly challenging.
Started in Real Estate
It is interesting to note that U. Gary Charlwood, Uniglobe’s founder, has roots in the real estate market, having started Century 21. In 1980 Charlwood noticed that, with the exception of American Express and Thomas Cook, there were no global travel distribution networks with brand recognition. With research in hand, he formed Uniglobe whose target markets are small to mid-sized corporate travel accounts. Today the world’s leading travel agency franchise operation can be found 750 locations in 55 countries across the Americas, Europe, Africa and the Middle East. The annual system-wide sales volume reaches over $4.3 billion.
Think Global, Act Local
During a recent TE exclusive interview with John Henry, Uniglobes’ SVP for Global Development, Henry emphasized Uniglobe’s value to the travel agent community and the business trekker. Totally supportive and utilizing the most modern technology, the success of Uniglobe is based on the organizations core values that include dependability, concern for people, customers and the community.
Accepting the fact that even in the expanding impersonal international e-marketplace, consumers still like to work with people they know, Uniglobe allows local travel agencies to keep their own name, while simultaneously accessing the global services that include purchasing enhanced technology and hotel programs (for best rates and guaranteed room availability), participating in training programs, accessing sales and marketing tools/systems, plus opportunities for world-wide networking.
Saving While Spending
According to Henry, Uniglobe has been able to maintain a level of success that exceeds that of their competition because their target market is mid-size business travelers who must travel. Henry finds that, “Smaller companies have to travel or they are out of business. The small to mid-size business executive may be cutting costs by switching from a 5–star luxury hotel to a 3-star property, or traveling economy instead of business class, but travel is a requirement and not an option.”
Some companies have developed a preference for Internet –based travel arrangements, and Uniglobe supports this inclination by providing websites that are part of the local travel agents operation. This combination of personal touch with global reach insures that the agent and client are linked; especially important during times of crises. When a client misses a flight, has to change a reservation, or is stranded at an airport because of weather conditions or political unrest, there is never a feeling of being “all alone.” When a client calls their Uniglobe travel agency, the agent has instant access to the travelers’ portfolio and begins to problem solve via access to a global vendor network allowing the client to deal with business concerns.
Aware of the competitive environment in which the travel agency operates, Henry has found that Uniglobe agents are well–equipped to succeed regardless of the economy. “It is the quality of service that keeps customers loyal. Our agencies handle all the travel needs of their clients…” and this runs the gambit from business to leisure. “If we do not meet the wants and needs of the client, they will go elsewhere. Agents are proactive and the absence of call-center model means that every call is a pleasurable experience.”
Electronic Nightmares Avoided
Gone is the frustration of trying to find a telephone number or an email address of an online travel provider; gone is talking with someone you have never met and does not know who you are (or cares). With Uniglobe there is no separation between the client and the agent and therefore problems can be solved effectively and efficiently. The local agent keeps track of the travelers locations, sends alerts when there are pending strikes or other disruptions and through 24/7 rescue lines becomes the business travelers security- blanket when they are away from home.
Safe Not Sorry
Business executives who are smart shoppers have recognized the duplicity of many onsite agencies and long ago put their important travel operations into the hands of a Uniglobe expert. According to a study by ShopSmart, online travel-sites have found the perfect way to charge users extra fees: a) fare jumping (click on a great deal and it is unavailable), added charges not immediately shown (i.e., taxes, surcharges), or fees that are not posted at all but charged at the airline counter or hotel; overpriced packages; price guarantees so bogged down in fine print that claiming a refund is a long-shot, and dynamic pricing (different people get different prices for identical searches).
As business traveling has become an endeavor that requires a technologically sophisticated distribution system, and resourceful, intelligent and caring professionals, it is no longer simple or smart to head to an electronic website to make a reservation, trusting that the airline will actually have a document recording the transaction, and entered names accurately. We cannot put our faith in the hotel will actually have a confirmation of our reservation at the quoted price, and there is certainly no assurance that there will not be airport strikes, destination storms and other mishaps that destroy even the most well intentioned travel schedule. Maybe we should all follow in the footsteps of the Uniglobe client and put our money on a sure thing. For additional information: www.uniglobetravel.com .