MTA takes its model on the dinner table

When CEO Don Beattie took the stage at the MTA -- Mobile Travel Agents annual conference on the Gold Coast last month, he did so under tough numerical constraints.

When CEO Don Beattie took the stage at the MTA — Mobile Travel Agents annual conference on the Gold Coast last month, he did so under tough numerical constraints.

“No statistics,” proclaimed MTA co-founder Karen Merricks to the group’s CEO. “If we sat around the table for dinner, would we be discussing statistics?”

Certainly not. At least not where MTA consultants dine, Beattie conceded.

“That was a light-bulb moment for me in understanding the concept of working differently in this model,” Beattie said of the home-based agency group.

“This is not a business-to-business organisation in the true sense of the term,” he said. “I am here because of the family feel of what we do, and that family feel is central.”

Had he allowed himself even a handful of numbers, they’d have been delivered with pride. Beattie told travelBulletin the group had achieved yet another record profit in the past year and had further boosted its ranks of consultants.

“We have, in the last six years, had record year-on-year growth (in profit, each year),” he said.

“And that’s double digit.”

Since last year, the group’s membership had grown from 360 to more than 380, while the Gold Coast conference attracted a record attendance of more than 400 people, made up of 240 members as well as suppliers and industry partners.

Among the guests was Helloworld CEO Andrew Burnes who was similarly upbeat about MTA’s performance. Just over a year since Helloworld took a 50% stake in MTA, Burnes proclaimed it his best business partnership of the past three decades.

“I’ve been involved in a lot of business partnerships over the years, some great operators, but this is the best business partnership that I’ve been associated with in my more than 30 years of travel,” Burnes told the conference.

“Fifteen months into that partnership, it couldn’t be going better,” he said. “The MTA business is going fantastically well.”

Despite the high-profile new stakeholder, MTA insists there has been no impact on day-to-day operations.

“Fundamentally, nothing’s changed,” said Karen Merricks. “We still run the company how we’ve always wanted to run it.”

Co-founder Roy Merricks agreed, saying the new partnership had been forged out of “like-minded people” and was winning the support of member agents.

“I think, understandably, members might have been a little apprehensive or nervous with where we were positioning MTA for future decades,” he said.

“But (Burnes) is definitely winning people’s hearts and minds.”

Other elements winning hearts and minds at the MTA conference included a series of new services and initiatives outlined to members, including plans for an interest-free payment plan that will be offered to clients through the HSBC bank, starting within the next few months.

The group is also planning an online insurance option through Allianz that can be sold via members’ websites. Offered alongside existing premium policies, it will be a low-cost, self-serve option for clients who wouldn’t ordinarily arrange their insurance via an agent, giving members a commissionable product designed to compete with other online offerings.

An accreditation program will be launched on 1 July, involving training modules that allow agents to undertake additional voluntary education in order to achieve extra recognition and status, while a mentoring program will be piloted from 1 August to allow more experienced agents to provide input and business coaching for other members.

In keeping with the organisation’s family focus, MTA this year tapped one of its members’ family links to secure a memorable keynote speaker at the conference.

Saroo Brierley — the man behind the movie Lion starring Dev Patel and Nicole Kidman — took to the stage at the request of his aunt, Adelaide Hills-based MTA agent Christine Fensom.

With barely a dry eye in the house, Brierley recounted his incredible true-life tale of being separated from his mother in India at age five before being adopted by Tasmanian couple Sue and John Brierley. Decades later, he spent countless nights combing the satellite images of Google Earth to rediscover his home town and reunite with his birth mother Fatima Munshi.


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