Why James Thornton is spending more of PEAK’s money on agent support

Issues & Trends – June 2013

Why James Thornton is spending more of PEAK’s money on agent support

James ThorntonJAMES Thornton has persuaded PEAK Adventure Travel Group to spend more money on supporting Australian travel agents. He pitches it not as an expense but as an investment and he is confident it will pay dividends.

Thornton became chief executive of Intrepid Travel late last year when the company’s co-founder Geoff Manchester decided to step aside (travelBulletin, November 2012).

Now, under a re-structure announced by PEAK earlier this month, he will head a new business division formed by merging the managements of Intrepid, Peregrine/Geckos and Adventure Tours Australia (ATA).

More often than not, words like “restructure” and “merger” are code for rationalisation and cost-cutting, typically achieved by shedding staff. But not in this case. Staff numbers will actually increase.

Thornton told travelBulletin that the heads of Peregrine/Geckos and ATA will continue as key senior executives.

Glenyce Johnson, the former Peregrine/Geckos managing director who is about to commence long service leave planned last year, will take on the role of global director of sales for all the operators when she returns to the company in January 2014. (General manager of Peregrine/Geckos will be Matt Wills.)

Former ATA managing director Jackie Burnside will take on inbound and domestic responsibility for Intrepid Connections as well as ATA.

Meanwhile, Thornton plans to hire additional sales staff. Currently, he says, the company has about 20 business development managers in Australia and this will grow to 25 or so by next year.

“We will have more people on the ground for Intrepid and ATA and for the first time there will be separate sales forces for Peregrine and Geckos,” he said.

The decision to split Peregrine’s and Geckos’ sales forces follows comments made by PEAK chief executive Darrell Wade.

Speaking to travelBulletin last December, Wade hailed stronger brand differentiation between Peregrine and Geckos as a key achievement following the formation of PEAK through the merger of Intrepid with TUI’s adventure travel companies.

“In my opinion Geckos had lost a bit of focus over the past few years tending to be all things to all people,” he said.

“It is now once again youth-focused and budget-oriented. It has a less diverse product range but offers more departures.”

Thornton is clear about the reason he will be ramping up agency sales support. He considers it is vital to the company’s future growth.

“We recognise we are reliant on trade support with 75 per cent of our sales coming through travel agents,” he said.

“It is imperative that as the leader in the adventure travel sector we have the best and largest on the ground support for agents.

“Our key travel agent partners want to be hearing from us on a regular basis.”

Backing the increased on the ground sales support for agents will be a loyalty rewards scheme.
PEAK will introduce the scheme globally in October when the new management structure will also be bedded down.

It will enable consultants to earn points for sales of all the PEAK brands. The points will be redeemable for merchandise and for travel.

Thornton is particularly keen on the travel rewards. “It’s important that the consultants who sell our products have the opportunity to travel themselves,” he said. “It’s the best form of training you can get.”

He emphasised that agents will earn points whatever brands they sell. “We are in a unique position in the adventure travel space and our travel agent partners are often selling multiple brands,” he said.

Thornton, who joined Intrepid in the UK eight years ago and moved to Australia two years ago, takes pride in the fact that he has built his career on a strong sales background working with the trade.

“It (working in partnership with agents) is one thing I know a little bit about,” he said.

He says it is incumbent on companies like Intrepid to provide both sales support and training to agents so they can, for example, explain to clients what an Intrepid small group tour will offer them.
According to Thornton: “Consumers will typically want to order a brochure; they will want to go to an event; they will want to research on the internet – and more often than not they will go to a trusted travel agent. Australia especially is a travel agent country.”

He says the “biggest competitors” of adventure travel companies are individual travellers with a guide book.

“They’re the individuals we want to capture. We can do that through travel agents who will themselves earn more money by selling more than just an airline ticket. So we have to educate them in our style of travel.”



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