THE itravel network is in better shape now than before the pandemic, Managing Director Steve Labroski told travelBulletin during the company’s 2023 conference in Sydney.
The reason for the advantageous position has been the independent network’s ability to tap into the massive demand for travel over the last 12 months, one that has seen its home-based arm alone achieve record growth month-on-month since February last year.
But the business has been firing on all cylinders as well Labroksi confirmed, with the franchise and retail divisions all performing strongly in recent times, with the surging Aussie travel demand fuelling a renaissance in the sector.
“If you are a travel business and can’t [perform strongly] in this climate now then you never will,” the itravel chief declared, stating that his business had seen major growth on the back of organic demand and strong brand recognition in the marketplace.
“Today as a business, we don’t have to advertise, we don’t have to do anything, we just have to let our agents sell which is bizarre,” he said.
“There’s no question that agents are more valued now than we were.”
Labroski added that as much as the swing toward using an agent has been a welcome gale-force wind, advisors are also poised to recoup even more business from travellers, who, because of the decimation of travel sellers, had been forced to deal directly with suppliers and wholesalers.
“Where suppliers were doing 7-8% direct pre-COVID, they are now doing 15-30%, but that is starting to turn and as agents return and suppliers’ staff learn how to deal with agents better, efficiency will improve and agents will claw back that business.”
But while Labroski hailed the record trend in sales volumes, he was quick to caution that even the strong COVID bounceback comes at a price, with agent burnout at the top of the list of negative outcomes itravel is now seeking to avoid.
“We’ve lost close to 60-65% of the industry who have disappeared, that’s a hell of a lot of people who were previously selling travel, throw into the equation that we have 100% of consumer coming at us, how does that work for the agent?”
“If we don’t get mind and body right, and we don’t know where we’re heading and we just keep taking on all that extra work, eventually burnout gets you – this is probably the biggest nightmare that the industry is not looking at,” he claimed.
In further updates, itravel revealed it is preparing to dust off and its internal wholesale product, HQ by itravel, in a bid to free up more time for its travel advisors to sell more product.
The service was hibernated due to the ongoing impacts of COVID when it launched in early 2020, at the time aggregating all of the group’s key partners in one central location, starting with hotel inventory.
“We have brought it back to life and we are now just finalising a few more details, but it is virtually live as we speak,” MD Steve Labroski confirmed.
Labroksi hopes to have more than a million hotels in inventory in only a few weeks of launching during March.