Travellers Choice ready to catch travel rebound

Travellers Choice’s weekly BSP figures are now averaging 90% of pre-COVID levels, a great result for the independent travel agency network considering the shrinkage in member numbers resulting from the traumatic COVID period.

THE numbers were revealed to travelBulletin by CEO Christian Hunter while at the company’s first in-person Annual General Meeting in three years, which took place in Melbourne last weekend.

Taking place under the theme ‘Never Normal’, Hunter noted how important physically reconnecting has been for members after the traumatic COVID period.

It’s just so great for everybody just to get together again, seeing people reconnect who haven’t seen each other for years,” he said.

“Our board members hadn’t seen each other in person for three years, it’s hard to really comprehend that, yes we’ve done lots of Zoom sessions but it’s not the same, and I think everyone is just so wrapped to be conferencing again and talking about positive things, talking about the future of the industry, rather than worrying about what that next kick in the guts is going to be,” Hunter added.

In terms of the size of its member network, Hunter conceded that member numbers had “reduced a little bit” in recent years, primarily due to fast-tracked retirement, but at the same time the business was seeing a positive flow of new members and interest, spurred on by a new three-tier membership model launched in July this year.

Feedback on the new three tier model, Activate, Elevate, Accelerate “has been amazing”, Hunter enthused, adding that while the vast majority of interest had so far been for its middle full-service option, there are opportunities in the other tiers, and the company would be working to bolster those over the next period.

“The popularity of the middle tier is where we expected it to be and I think that’s where our typical member is and would naturally sit,” Hunter said.

“We did go to an external consultancy firm to do some industry research to understand what agents might need in this kind of new environment that we were going to be in, we didn’t think that we had all the answers and so we wanted to get a broader sweep than just our own existing members., so it was really important to engage with those that we might potentially want to be targeting to understand what is it that they actually need and then build a model that can meet those needs as we roll it out,” he added.

The conference also provided a forum to announce new content additions to its TC One online platform, incorporating touring options from 31 Dec and fully-integrated cruise bookings from Jun next year, following on from a recent expansion of the platform to include wider access to car rental locations, activities and transfers.

“This is the next phase of the plan to move to a fully integrated online, offline solution,” Hunter declared on stage.

“Our members will be able to walk themselves through a B2B channel, that their customers can go to their own website to book their cruising, book their tours, & book their accommodation they decide on.

“It is it is going to be insane the power that our members will have and will be a real game-changer for us.

Speaking with travelBulletin about the news, Hunter said that having a single booking platform was always part of the plan when it launched just prior to the pandemic in 2019, and for obvious reasons, the timeline was knocked back a bit as a result.

“We would have been in a much different position but it was always about having a single booking platform that members could use to access all of our preferred product,” he said.

“The touring and the cruising are big-ticket items, and I think this will really transform the usage of the platform… members will be able to make bookings directly through their own discrete channel, but every member will have that content live for their customers to book through their own website – it’s not through some hybrid domain, it’s their own,” Hunter added.

The Travellers Choice chief also noted that going to a single system would also provide the company with a great amount of important market intelligence.

Moving forward, Hunter said he was really optimistic about the future thanks to the hard work the network has undertaken during the travel shutdown.

“We’re now ready to go, we’ve got the new membership model in place, we’ve got the new technology that’s coming, we’ve got the NTIA success and we’ve got great support and feedback from our members,” he said.

“Our trade partners find Travellers Choice a great group to deal with and the members are engaged so all the building blocks are there, but yes we think 2023 and 2024 are going to be really strong years for us.

“We will be out there pushing the message about membership, we will continue to develop our technology and continue to support our members and evolve the services.

“We’re cautiously optimistic, we’re not blind to the fact that there are some potential headwinds out there, so we remain cautiously optimistic, but we honestly believe that the future is looking very, very strong.”

The next AGM was revealed to be taking place on the Gold Coast next year.

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