Special Report: Advantage champions Vision virtues

Special Report: Advantage champions Vision virtues

Advantage Travel Partnership is one year into its Vision 2020 strategy. Hollie-Rae Merrick reports on the consortium's progress in 2015

The bosses of one of the UK’s largest travel agency consortia have hailed 2015 a “great year” as revenue for members of the Advantage Travel Partnership topped £3.5 billion.

Non-executive chairman Steven Esom said Advantage’s 502 members had received 18% more financial benefits – in the form of marketing and commercial agreements – than they had in 2014, equating to £28,000 in support this year. He said the benefit of membership was a reflection of the “financial strength” of a “debt‑free and very solvent business”.

Training and new tech

The upturn comes a year after Advantage introduced its Vision 2020 strategy, which aims to help members become “more bold and ambitious” and “drive revenues”.

The consortium has given more training to help members convert queries into bookings, and managing director Julia Lo Bue‑Said said there was more focus on ancillary sales and upselling.

“We have invested a lot in training, which can add significant value to the bottom line without changing the habits of an agent,” Lo Bue-Said added.

Advantage has also just introduced an optional mystery-shopping service. Lo Bue-Said said the service was “less about catching staff out and more about maintaining service levels and helping to improve staff behaviours and sales skills”.

The Vision 2020 strategy also included the introduction of new technology, with plans for a dynamic packaging platform and a new customer relationship management system (CRM), set to go live in January.

Lo Bue-Said, who has been with Advantage for 20 years, said the new CRM system would allow the consortium to tailor its messaging to members. She said it would help lead them into “new markets and new opportunities to drive incremental growth”.

An additional six-figure-sum investment in technology is planned for 2016, but Lo Bue-Said would not yet be drawn on how the money would be spent.

AMS targets

The consortium attracts about 20 new members a year but due to consolidation among existing members in the sector the total number of members remains static year on year.

However, Lo Bue-Said is expecting growth from its managed services proposition.

Currently the Advantage Managed Services side of the business has 21 members – one more than this time last year – with a combined turnover of £40 million.

Esom said the consortium was seeking to double the number of AMS members over the next 12 months and to reach 128 members, with a turnover of £162 million 
by 2020.

Lo Bue-Said claimed AMS membership could have grown in the past year but many businesses that had applied had not fitted the Advantage model.

“It’s not all about numbers,” she said. “It’s about getting the right agents. We reject half of the applications we get for AMS through due diligence.

“It’s about growing the right type of agents that fit our organisation – they need to be robust and financially sound. Our philosophy isn’t about signing agents up and letting them go; we’re here to take them on a journey.”

Esom said a number of agents with successful leisure operations had shown interest in setting up a separate, corporate side to their business under the Corporate Advantage Managed Services arm.


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