Travel Counsellors plots expansion

TRAVEL Counsellors reaffirmed its commitment to ambitious growth plans and signalled a massive technology overhaul, revealed at the group’s annual conference in Cairns last month.

The company is working to double the number of its Australian members in the next two years under a goal declared last year by CEO Steve Byrne, who earmarked the Australian division for growth between 250-300 agents.

Travel Counsellors’ new regional managing director Kaylene Shuttlewood told travelBulletin the group would be doing “absolutely everything” to reach 300 agents.

“That is still part of our plan and we’re putting everything in place including the team, including my appointment to continue driving towards that goal,” Shuttlewood said.

Last year Byrne also set the group a global goal of reaching 3,000 consultants in three years from a starting point of 1,600.

Global member numbers have since climbed to around 1,780, which digital and innovation director Waseem Haq said was “on plan” with the growth strategy.

“We recognise if we grow we’ve got to put all the right foundations in to actually sustain that growth,” he said.

“All of that recruitment to the 3,000 is on plan, but it has a slower start to then accelerate in the future because of the fact that we’ve got to get our technology in the right place.”

Travel Counsellors will this year invest $11 million on revamping its technology offering for agents, up from a spend of $5.4 million three years ago.

“There probably isn’t another home-based travel company in the world that is spending that amount [on technology],” Haq said.

“We’ve actually got a backlog of about 75 items and features that are being built and we have an internal development team in the UK that focuses purely on rolling out new features for the app, so there’s a lot that will come out over the next 12 months.”

A major change in the space is what Haq described as a “heart transplant” for its in-house system Phenix, which doubled its capacity and provided more scalability.

The company has upgraded its contact centre to allow agents a better view of their clients’ preferences, which could be leveraged to provide better services and tailored marketing.

Another feature is a “Reasons to Call” function which was rolled out globally last month.

The dashboard prompts agents with reasons to pick up the phone to their clients, such as to remind them it’s time to renew their passport, wish them a nice holiday before they go.

The group has overhauled its flights system in a bid to improve the usability and user experience, making it easier for agents to search and compare flights.

Travel Counsellors is also placing a large focus on digital marketing by providing TCs with training courses on how to better use social media to support their business and brand.

The network is making available a video hub featuring sharable content that TCs can use to boost their social media presence.

In addition, it is looking at emerging technology, including artificial intelligence, and how it can help the business.

“A lot of businesses out there are using technology to replace the agent and that’s not our strategy,” Haq said.

“Our strategy is to use technology to empower the agent and to build the relationship.”

Meanwhile, Travel Counsellors is expecting to reach close to 630m ($1.132b) in global turnover this year, following on from achieving close to 500m ($899m) last year.

Shuttlewood also confirmed the appointment of investment bank Rothschild as one of a number of strategic projects underway to futureproof the business, but said there were no updates on its work “at this stage”.

In January it was revealed the bank had been tasked to “sell, float or refinance” the group.