The inaugural ‘Express Travel Group eXchange’ Conference kicked off on Friday at the Bangkok Marriott Marquis Queen’s Park with 300+ agents, suppliers and ETG staff in attendance.
This was the first time Express Travel Group’s (ETG) brands including Select Travel Group (STG), Independent Travel Group and italk Travel and Cruise (ITG) had all conferenced together in one destination.
As such, the celebratory event was a significant milestone for ETG, who’s story has been one of accelerated success since 2000 when CEO Tom Manwaring bought 15% of the business before becoming the sole owner, together with his wife Julie in 2003.
Back in 2000, the company only had one single brand – Select Travel Agent Representative (STAR) with 28 staff and 80 members.
Fast forward almost 20 years, and today the company now impressively manages five brands, a 130 strong support team and an agent network made up of 337 STG members, 348 ITG members, 55 First Travel Group (FTG) members and 29 italktravel & cruise franchisees.
May this year also saw ETG cross the Tasman to New Zealand, adding the First Travel Group with another 55 agents joining the success story.
The group isn’t showing any signs of slowing down with 28 new members joining the group in 2018 and more plans and initiatives in place to evolve the business.
Just yesterday, a dynamic new mobile agent offering; “italktravel & cruise at home” was unveiled to italktravel & cruise franchise owners ahead of the conference.
“This is a very exciting time for the italktravel & cruise brand, as we now provide a flexible franchise option where agents can join us as a fully branded franchised bricks and mortar store, or join us as a Mobile Travel Advisor”.
Ari Magoutis, Executive General Manager, ETG
Tom Manwaring said in his opening address that he was “immensely proud” of where the business had come in 20 years and that the group uniting in Bangkok for the first ETGX was “absolutely fantastic.”
The united message across the conference was that “we are individual, diverse, unique and stronger together.”
‘Navigating constant change’ was also one of the central mood themes of the weekend with the NDC coined as “the elephant in the room” given Qantas went live on 1 August being the first to join the controversial new platform.
Referencing the current unknown financial impact the NDC will have on agents and their bottom lines, Mr Manwaring said;
“What is the NDC going to deliver for agents? The jury is still out. But we’ll come to terms with it together and work out how best to work in conjunction with the airlines and GDS’ to best serve our clients.”
Mr Manwaring also went on to urge agents of the need to “grow up a little” when it comes to charging and their general level of professionalism by saying; “We need to be comfortable charging for our time and service. To put a creative, complex itinerary together takes talent, and we should be paid for it accordingly.”
Highlighting a cluttered market place for customers, Mr Manwaring spoke to the notion that this insight is in fact “the biggest opportunity for agents” by saying;
“If you look at the weekend travel press, there are so many ads and deals, which is really confusing for customers. So we have to up our game and make people aware of our experience and excellent service to cut through the confusion and add value. Most customers will understand that and be happy to pay for it.”
Continuing the theme of continual change, Mr Manwaring reminded the group that history had shown that despite being written off many times, travel agents are still as relevant as ever.
“You can’t get that kind of immediacy and experience online. That’s why 70% of the market still use travel agents.”
Tom Manwaring, CEO ETG
The ETGX conference features two full days of sessions, TedX style panels and workshops as well as plenty of socialising and Thai hospitality, concluding with the group’s gala awards dinner on Saturday night.
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