By Bruce Piper
The Select Travel Group network operated by Express Travel gathered in Taipei, Taiwan, last month for its 16th annual conference – and it was the biggest and best yet, attended by a record number of delegates. Continuing the group’s ongoing theme of Learn-Engage-Succeed, delegates were urged to continue to diversify their businesses, with Express Travel Group ceo Tom Manwaring highlighting strong growth in non-Asian destinations as well as other segments such as ocean cruising which is up almost 40% year on year for the network.
He warned agents that reliance on air revenue was not sustainable in the long run. “If you want to be replaced by a computer, just keep selling air,” he said. The group is working hard to help members boost their profitability by building relationships with an ever-expanding portfolio of suppliers as well as continually developing and enhancing the extensive suite of marketing, ticketing and support tools provided. The strong turnout thrilled suppliers, with airlines, travel insurers, cruise companies and technology providers all vying to capture more business from Select. Manwaring confirmed the overall Express Travel Group – including Select, Independent and italktravel members now numbers over 720 agencies, with more being added every month.
The conference took place at Shangri La’s Far Eastern Hotel and included a gala dinner and awards night where top achieving agents were rewarded for their efforts. There was also a city tour and many networking opportunities, with the nearby Carnegie’s Taipei a popular Australian hangout after the evening events. Manwaring opened the event by detailing a tough year which has seen the turbulent economic and political landscape of the last 12 months as well as increased airline capacity hit the group’s yield, despite record passenger numbers.
One of the major announcements during the conference came from Express Travel Group executive general manager Ari Magoutis, who detailed the addition of supplier insolvency cover to the company’s in-house Book Safe Agent insurance product. Available to any ATAS-accredited member of the group, Book Safe Agent provides a key point of difference to both online and bricks-and-mortar competitors, Magoutis said, because clients could be assured their funds were safe even in the event of a wholesaler collapse. The policy covers the failure of ATAS accredited wholesalers and in so doing protects the agents from credit card chargebacks. It also optionally includes add-ons such as scheduled airline failure insurance and crisis management insurance.
Other revelations included a new Select Travel Group member platform and consumer website, unveiled by marketing manager Tracy Lockie, which now features full social media integration including the ability for members to push out specials and other marketing messengers via a range of channels including Weibo and WeChat. The new site also improves the agent finder functionality, simplifying the process for customers wanting to find an agency to service their particular travel needs. A new consultant rewards program was unveiled, with the scheme set to roll out in the coming months to enable suppliers to drive loyalty from frontline agents, complementing the Express Rewards program for agencies.
Cruise was a key focus of the conference which included a dedicated session presented by long-time partner Royal Caribbean’s Peter McCormack and Susie Goumas from Creative Cruising which is offering a full range of cruise wholesale packages to Select members including the opportunity to earn Express Rewards loyalty dollars. The overall Select Travel Group top achiever for the year was NSW agency Best and Less Travel (left), but almost every delegate took home a prize courtesy of the generous suppliers who provided scores of giveaways for those who had completed a series of questions based around the exhibitors at the Saturday Product Market. The Product Market also featured massages and live craft demonstrations from a number of traditional Taiwanese artisans including calligraphy, paper cutting and bamboo leaf figurines.