Travel Counsellors has revealed it is likely to seek more joint ventures following its move into the United Arab Emirates this week.
Managing director Steve Byrne believes the home-based agency’s personal approach can be established in many markets as the “antithesis to the impersonal transaction-based model” of online-only agents.
Byrne said Travel Counsellors would target markets in which business or industry regulation means the services of professional travel agents are highly prized.
“We are now operating in six overseas countries,” he said.
“The business language we talk is all about looking after our customers, showing them the difference of booking with a professional travel agent. That language is universal.
“There is a market for online players, but there is also a market for those that provide fantastic, personal care for their customers.
“The online travel players have tended to focus on the transactional model, which is not true for the internet in general. Amazon and eBay are not transactional models.”
Byrne said using web-based technology to provide all the functionality, tools and support for agents meant they could concentrate on providing a personal service for customers.
“People are always going to book holidays for rational and emotional reasons and technology will be developed so, rationally, it stacks up.
“But nothing is going to be developed as powerful as an agent who can demonstrate their heartfelt and personal care by dealing face to face or over the phone with the customer.
“We believe that emotive reason for buying is best done person to person.
“What our research has found is that there is a market in UAE for a high level of personalised service. Now our job is to find the right people and give them the skills to go out and service it.”
This is the first time Travel Counsellors has agreed a joint venture to enter a new market and Byrne said it had found the ideal partner in Emirates Group subsidiary Dnata.
A board of four directors will run the joint venture, two from Travel Counsellors and two from Dnata.
“We thought finding a partner with traction in that part of the world made sense for both parties and gave us the opportunity to share risk and reward,” he added. “They have the name, track record and commercial contracts; we provide all the intellectual knowledge and know-how about our model.”
Byrne said “with the benefit of hindsight” Travel Counsellors should have taken the joint-venture approach when it tried to break into the US. It closed its US venture in 2010.
Other overseas markets are being researched and Byrne suggested Travel Counsellors was close to adding a seventh. However, he said one of the main keys to successful growth overseas was finding the right partner.
“We are interested in talking to people who have a shared ethos about the relationship travel agent model,” he said.
Travel Counsellors’ overseas agents are expected to generate £130 million of revenue this year, nearly 30% of the company’s total revenues.
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