Greener travel practices & sustainable tour options are top of mind for the travel industry in 2019, including several agency groups such as Travel Counsellors.

In a recent Q&A with KARRYON, Travel Counsellors’ Regional Managing Director, Kaylene Shuttlewood, said the brand will have a big focus on sustainability throughout the year, along with new technology and creating a “future without limits” for its people.

In line with the group’s recent partnership with The Travel Foundation, Travel Counsellors will introduce more sustainable practices, identify sustainable products to customers and launch a new initiative that’ll enable individuals to complete ‘green credentials’.

“The ‘Go greener’ online training course even features guidelines on reducing water, waste and energy as well as hints and tips on how to make the most sustainable purchases – from food to clothing and souvenirs,” she explained.

Read on for more of our chat with Kaylene:

 

‘New year, new me’ – it’s everyone’s favourite quote around the New Year, what are some changes we can expect to see from Travel Counsellors over the next 12 months?

karryon-travel-counsellors-team-in-cairns

Goal setting is an exercise we encourage everyone within our company community to do regularly, and a new year offers a timely opportunity to do just that.

Travel Counsellors will continue to focus on enabling experienced travel professionals who have a passion for customer care to launch their own corporate and leisure travel businesses. We believe we offer a life-changing opportunity for travel professionals who love our industry, want to take control of their earnings by running their own business, take the time to get to know their customers and provide amazing, personal travel experiences to suit – all whilst achieving a great work/life balance which comes with being your own boss.

The next 12 months will see the company put a real spotlight on what makes being a Travel Counsellor so special, inspiring more travel industry professionals to use their ‘new year, new you’ mantra to begin a new career venture of their own with us.

 

What are the company’s top priorities/goals for overall group growth and individual agent support?

Highlighting Travel Counsellors record-breaking global sales over the last decade, Travel Counsellors CEO Steve Byrne expects this trend to continue. After exceeding the $1 billion sales milestone in October last year Byrne says, “We have big goals and aspirations and as a group, we are aiming to target $1.7 billion in sales by creating ‘A future without limits’ for our people”.

This growth is set to occur in a number of ways, with the business increasing its spend on supporting its Travel Counsellors in Australia and in the company’s six other countries, much of which is directed at infrastructure to enable everyone in the business to grow at an even faster rate than before.

Travel Counsellors is planning to continue investing around $10m per year on enhancing technology and services for its Travel Counsellors, including further investment in the content provided to its 1,800 Travel Counsellors worldwide, in terms of directly contracted hotels, airlines and DMC partners bookable via the company’s in-house platform, Phenix. Byrne continues, “A big part of what we do is helping to grow the individual businesses of the Travel Counsellors – investing in business development, sales training and personalised marketing. We are looking at new technology like AI to improve our service to Travel Counsellors so that they can spend more time with their clients.

“We also have a clear corporate travel strategy for 2019 focused on small to medium-sized customers – those that want independently tailor-made travel but also want some managed service travel with account management to back it up.”

 

One of the biggest changes to occur at Travel Counsellors last year was the secondary management buyout by Vitruvian Partners, what positive impacts has the acquisition had on the company since?

karryon-travel-counsellors-famil

Travel Counsellors CEO Steve Byrne says “The strategy is not going to change – we’ll continue to do what we do – enabling brilliant travel professionals to create brilliant travel experiences for their customers – but scale it by having greater investment in technology, continuously improve ‘back office’ support and attract great people to work with us.

“The backing of Vitruvian Partners is helping us to realise the many opportunities we have to grow in both the leisure and corporate markets globally and provide the platform for each of our franchisees to accelerate and future proof the growth of their own businesses.

“We’re also focused on talent development in a global basis. Vitruvian has the quality and experience to support us to attract and develop the best people, including Travel Counsellors and our head office support teams across the globe.

Byrne continues; “Their support is helping us to scale the business. In the UK the average income of a Travel Counsellor who has been with the company for more than three years increased by 6% in the past 12 months, and the business model of the trusted advisor is more relevant than ever. We will carry on disrupting the industry, but always with caring at the heart of what we do.”

 

At the conference last year, Travel Counsellors presented a 5-step plan for success (people, Phenix, suppliers, communication and growth) – how have these five areas developed since May?

Here in Australia, it’s been eight months since our annual conference and it’s been busy!

The past eight months have been all about setting the foundations for our future success. We have been working hard behind the scenes with our most important asset, our people. We have increased the focus on the growth, training and development of the Melbourne HO team. The team has grown with the recruitment of five new staff, bolstering our team to continue to deliver the very best support for our Travel Counsellors. We’re proud to offer our Travel Counsellors development opportunities with our online training platform, COACH, and face-to-face training. With the appointment of Training and Development Executive Ben Quinn, we look forward to delivering even more.

We are proud of our strong partnerships and since June, we have developed our relationships with a range of new and existing partners. We have new direct contracts with more hotels across Fiji, Bali and Thailand. Our best in class booking platform, Phenix, now provides our Travel Counsellors with access to over 800,000 hotel options around the world. We have solidified our relationships with some of Australia’s biggest retail and wholesale operators and have secured three new Destination Management companies to assist our Travel Counsellors to create unique, tailor-made itineraries.

2018 saw an investment of $10m in our technology, a trend that is set to continue. Phenix now offers more product than ever before and regular releases deliver continued improvements and new features. Our in-house tech talent continually works to futureproof the business model, including the development of internal and external-facing AI-powered chatbots and the “myTC” mobile app. As the mobile app market grows and customers rely on mobile technology, the myTC app is as important as ever. myTC personalises the customer experience and makes it even easier for our customers to connect with our Travel Counsellors.

 

Responsible travel is now very much a part of the travel industry, how is Travel Counsellors tackling the issue & educating members about working with responsible operators?

We are a business that puts people at its heart and that includes how we support our people, customers and our wider communities, both in which we live and those we send our customers to every day. As a fast-growing travel business, we recognise it’s our duty to make sure this is done in a responsible way – the partnership with intentional charity the Travel Foundation (formed 12 months ago) will enable the business to ensure our only impact is a positive one.

Travel Counsellors CEO Steve Byrne said that this was a significant first step and part of the company’s commitment to take sustainable tourism seriously. “Sustainable tourism is something the company is investing in both emotionally and financially, and we are glad to have the experts at the Travel Foundation to guide us. We want our Travel Counsellors to feel empowered, with tools, training and knowledge, to build their own sustainable tourism businesses. We are serious about having a positive impact.”

The Travel Foundation is supporting Travel Counsellors to educate our people and customers around the importance of sustainability in travel, introducing more sustainable practices across the business, and identifying and signposting sustainable products and ancillaries to customers. This includes the launch of a new sustainable travel initiative which enables business owners to complete bespoke training and boost their green credentials. The ‘Go greener’ online training course even features guidelines on reducing water, waste and energy as well as hints and tips on how to make the most sustainable purchases – from food to clothing and souvenirs.

Travel Counsellors work with the Travel Foundation forms part of a wider CSR strategy that sees the company champion the cause for more accessible travel, enabling customers of all abilities to explore the world, discover different cultures and enjoy new experiences.

 

Do you think Travel Counsellors would ever stop working with certain suppliers or operators for failing to introduce sustainable and cleaner practices?

karryon-plastic-free-flight-hi-fly

Image: @hifly_airline/Twitter

At present Travel Counsellors is working on a long-term project with our supplier partners to ensure they operate responsibly and meet our sustainability criteria, focusing on excursions and our hotel partners – one of our goals is to have sustainable excursions in each of the company’s top 50 destinations sold via our DMC and connected partners.

The project is beginning with the company’s key DMC partners in Thailand, whilst also working with the Travel Foundation to support the integration of sustainability criteria into daily practices and agreements. This is an ongoing project and we look forward to seeing where our work with our international charity partner the Travel Foundation will take us.

 

Finally, what do you think will be the biggest challenge consultants will need to face over the next 12 months? And what will be their biggest strength?

It is increasingly important for travel consultants to provide their customers with full financial protection. As we’ve seen with the recent collapse of Best Jet, thousands of customers have lost money, and their holiday. Our customers can be confident that any travel booked with a Travel Counsellor is 100% financially protected with our unique financial trust. So, no matter what happens, our customer’s money is protected.

In a fiercely competitive landscape, independent agents must showcase their worth, skills, knowledge and experience by proving to customers that there is a huge amount of value in working with an expert travel professional. A Travel Counsellors success is built on building trusted relationships with their customers, who enjoy their experiences so much so that they recommend and refer their Travel Counsellor to their friends and colleagues. We adopt the best-in-class technology to create seamless booking and travel experiences for our people while providing a human, personal touch in an increasingly digital world.

 

Do you have any questions for Travel Counsellors? Share them with us below.