Travel Network Group managing director Gary Lewis outlined a plan for a new ‘progressive marketing approach’ at the group’s conference. Lee Hayhurst reports

Travel agency consortia have always had a major problem – how to get members who cherish their independence to support the group’s preferred business partners.

For many agents, the commercial deals that consortia offer are the main determining factor as to which consortium they join – even if they do reserve the right to sell operators that are not on the preferred partner list.

Traditionally, consortia have succeeded by taking a top-down approach – doing the deals and then using the influence of head office to encourage members to support them.

At last week’s Travel Network Group conference, managing director Gary Lewis set out an updated vision as he endeavours to drive through a new ‘progressive marketing’ approach.

With the proposed closure of Worldchoice’s Peterborough office meaning all departments will be located in Woking, a new head office team has been created to deliver this strategy.

Likening the approach to how Tesco uses its might to target customers by exploiting the huge amount of data it has about them, Lewis described this as working in collaboration with members.

“What we are saying to members is we are going to differentiate product for your market, personalise it for your market and your shop. We are effectively saying consider us as part of your business.”

The conference in Lake Bled, Slovenia, heard from customer service guru Andrew McMillan, formerly of John Lewis, who told how the retailer’s famed ethos at the store is driven direct from head office.

This is what Gary Lewis wants to engender in his consortium. As well as providing agents with the marketing tools and centrally-negotiated commercial deals, the Travel Network Group will also work on consumer database segmentation; offline, online, social and email marketing; and sourcing differentiated value‑added product.

This will be matched to what agents need for their local markets and what market analysis tells head office will sell in particular locations. Leads will be fed directly to members through the marketing and websites such as the recently-launched and

Pilot work carried out over the past nine months, for instance, has found the Wigan market is strong in the low-end coaching holiday sector, while Sheffield has a healthy luxury customer base.

Lewis is convinced progressive partnerships will empower small independents to use their intimate knowledge of their market and customer service skills to make big-brand rivals such as Thomas Cook and Thomson fear them.

“It’s all about whether our group members believe we are doing these things because we want to make it work for them. We have put this fourth pillar in place and we have tried and tested it to make sure it works and now we are committed to delivering it.

“The world waits for nobody. If you want the world to be the way it was five or 10 years ago it’s not going to be. You can shout and scream and blame the low-cost airlines or the internet, but it does not change the fact that you have to do something different if you want a different outcome.”

Lewis said the group’s members know their business and their market but must keep evolving.

“It’s easy when times are tough to not take risks, to not invest or not challenge yourself. A lot of our members have survived because they have cut costs and changed what they are doing.

“What they were focused on was enough to sustain their proposition, but if they didn’t grow, they had to do something different. Members have to believe they can influence their market, disrupt it and think quicker and more effectively than the big boys.”

The Travel Network Group will be spreading this message around the country over the coming months at member workshops, and will be talking to business partners to encourage them to commit fully to the vision.

Lewis said: “You are fully in or fully out. If you dip in and dip out you are not supporting the whole of the membership. We want those business partners who are fully in.”