A: For the last several months I've made it a priority to understand what's important to travel agents. We've experimented in a few places. We didn’t want to do what everyone else was doing. We wanted to leapfrog.
Q: Was agent compensation a top priority for you?
A: When I met the steering committee they gave me a lot of information concerning the issues that we needed to address. Earnings potential was one of the myriad things that needed to be in place. It was one of the easiest. There was no investment I had to make. I didn’t have to allocate anything. I took a look at the way we conduct our business. We decided we’re not just going to give our agents a number. We'll give them a classification.
Q: Is that how you describe the three new tiers you’ve established?
A: Yes. The first one is Booking Agent. We view that as a new relationship. They may have been in the business for 20 years. But from the standpoint of how they transact with us, they're still new. We need to cater to them and give them the reasons why they should be doing business with us. We're servicing them so they can service the customer.
The second tier is the Partner Agent. This is the larger group. Those agents are running a functional business. They've found good value with us and want to take their business to the next level. We emphasize education and an interactive platform. We're working hand in hand to find new solutions to help them understand who their customer is. There is up to 25 percent more earning potential within that space.
Premier Agents are driving major business to us. We are really working on significant opportunities to help broker that business.
Q: Can you tell us more specifically what the commissions are?
A: We’re going to avoid sharing what the actual commissions are. I don’t place an emphasis on commissions per se. This is not just about commission. Earnings are only one part of it. There are other important things we’re introducing such as education and technology. This is just phase one in a cascade of announcements.
Q: What can you tell us about the new platforms you’re introducing?
A: We have some revolutionary platforms that we’re bringing to bear. The first has to do with sales calls. The prototype sales call involves a business development manager going from one agency to another. A manager in our company often has 1500 agents in their market. That could take seven or eight months to visit them. But we’re introducing a virtual platform. We send the agent a link that they can click on an immediately land on the BDMs desktop platform. They are able to see a full- blown presentation of our products and services. They can see all the data for their business in real time, in an interactive mode with the sales manager.
Q: Have you beta tested the system already?
A: Agents who have experienced the system have praised us. They say they feel that they have a supportive partner. Our BDMS have state-of-the- art tablets with them at all times. Any time an agent calls to say ‘I want to do a sales call right now,’ they can see the BDM moving through his screen. It’s really excellent technology.
Q: Any other new technology you can tell us about?
A: We are beta testing proforma. It’s a one stop shop for agents. A one-page document with every financial detail for that agent’s business. It has sales performance, profitability, earnings, prior year sales and product destination mix. Agents can use it to really understand where their business is going. This is something we built in-house. Agents who’ve experienced it tell us no other supplier is able to provide that level of detail. It’s especially helpful if an agent wants to see their potential. If they have $3 million in sales, we’ll let them know what variables are needed to get to $4 million. Agents love it.
Q: How has your prior background helped you come up with these innovations?
A: My prior life had two unique experiences. I started executive career with Walmart and there you’re exposed to so much. There are so many moving pieces, you have to be nimble. Then I went to Circuit City, a company that really struggled to rigid in way of thinking. It was all about new gadgets and exciting things, but they were rigid and to slow to adapt. When I joined GOGO I realized what some of the opportunities are and what they really needed.
Q: What observations do you have about the tour operator business in general?
A: I believe that we all can’t continue to do the same thing in the same way. I find in this industry it is too much of a commodity approach to servicing our agents. It’s not just about destinations. But when I came here, that was our discipline. As I observe the competition I observe that to be standard. We have to keep the industry innovative and exciting and have to keep it relevant. Not sure if my counterparts will decide to follow, go in a different direction, or stay where they are. But we’ve got to keep things innovative and relevant for the agents. I don’t want to just be moving product at a price. I want us to be a resource for education, for unique and innovative platforms and tools.
Q: What additional products and tools will you introduce in the coming year?
A: We have a suite of products that can help build up business for our agents. Over the next several months we will cascade them. We will have new concepts in fam trips and learning conferences. Fams won’t be simply an opportunity to go and tour resorts. We will make them opportunities to experience what it is like to be a customer. It’s important to go to a country and know what it’s like to be there. When I walked in to my first fam trip, I was in the destination for four days. I never had the chance to see the neighborhood. I was in the resort the entire time. We want agents to have time to experience the destination on their own. We want them to go out, enjoy local cuisine and the people.
Q: What about changes in your learning conferences?
A: We were doing showcases and learning conferences. I walked in and there would be 150 agents and 50-75 suppliers. I asked an agent about it and she said she didn’t get to talk to everyone she wanted to meet. Then I asked a supplier what he got out of it. He said, ‘five business cards.’ That isn’t very efficient, considering all the time, money and effort agents and suppliers spend to attend. So we’ve fixed that. Now we do learning conferences in the morning. They’re real business classes on topics such as how to be a better marketer. We then do speed sessions of four minutes, where the agents sign up for the suppliers they’re truly interested in. Now these suppliers leave with 150-300 business cards and dozens of solid leads. And agents go away with new relationships they can build upon when they get back home. We end with a party, a high-energy note. That’s something we’ve piloted and it’s one of many innovations to come.