Seven years on from the merger with Worldchoice and TTA, Gary Lewis, boss of parent group TTNG, explains how the agency consortia world has changed. Lee Hayhurst reports
The Travel Network Group boss Gary Lewis concedes that it can sometimes seem there is very little to choose between the main travel agency consortia.
All the leading groups claim to offer market-leading commercial terms, with business support, alternative business models, training and technology becoming an increasing part of the membership packages on offer.
However, as the seventh anniversary of the official merger between Worldchoice and the Travel Trust Association approaches, Lewis believes that claiming all consortia are the same is an increasingly outdated view.
He says that under his leadership over the past three years, TTNG, the parent group for Worldchoice and the TTA, has led the move away from the old consortia model of top-down management, and this is paying dividends in the form of growth.
Lewis became group managing director in 2011, some 13 years after joining as head of operations. In recent years, he has seen a change in what agents expect – they want more support to help them expand their business.
“The people we are putting in front of agents today are adding value to their businesses,” says Lewis. “Agents are looking to change their business models and are looking for real partnerships.
“We are talking to them about their relationships with their customers and about how they can improve those. We are treating them as if they were a part of our business.”
According to Lewis, this means that the head-office team has to demonstrate to every one of TTNG’s 800 members that its staff can offer real value to them as an individual business.
Consequently, TTNG’s membership services director is now the second most senior role in the organisation and performance is independently assessed through its membership of the Institute of Customer Service.
The new direction
It has taken a while for TTNG to develop this new approach, the foundations of which were laid following the merger of Worldchoice and the TTA in 2008.
TTNG emerged out of the flames of the collapse of super‑consortium Triton, which represented Advantage, Global Travel Group and Worldchoice.
Triton was an attempt to harness the collective power of the independent travel agency sector, but a mixture of different visions, vested interests and personality clashes led to its premature demise.
However, it acted as a catalyst for consortia consolidation, with the TTA moving quickly to snaffle Worldchoice from under the nose of fellow Triton founder Global.
Growing for the future
With calls for further consolidation consigned to the past, TTNG says it is seeing growth throughout its business units, including TTA, Worldchoice, its Worldchocie Plus managed service model, and ITE homeworking division.
Overall, the group expects to grow by 45 members this year and eight of those new members will go live this month.
Worldchoice Plus now has 28 members, having added seven in the past six months, and is said to have a further eight potential members. ITE is growing by an average of three homeworkers a month.
Lewis says bringing the cultures of Worldchoice and the TTA together showed the value in both brands. “We had two cultures coming together, combining their strengths but also recognising what needed to change,” he adds.
“In the old world, those who shouted the loudest got the support, but today it’s about knowing that those who shout the loudest aren’t always right.
“The basics still have not changed. A successful business comes down solely to the people and the support they are getting.
“We are not going to tell our members what to sell – that world has long gone. Our job is to help our members and business partners understand the opportunities.
“We cannot do that unless we have proper relationships with our members – that’s what the structural change has been about.”
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