The consortium has rebranded and is seeking to strengthen partner agreements while helping its members nurture talent for the future. Lee Hayhurst reports

Advantage focuses on finding young talent to secure future of retail sector

Helping members to find and nurture the young talent who will forge the future of the industry has become a key focus for Advantage Travel Partnership, a Business Partner Briefing was told.

Julia Lo Bue-Said (pictured), the consortium’s managing director, said this was an area that members said they struggled with, adding: “Particularly in retail we do not necessarily attract great calibre because it is low paid. A lot of members struggle to find staff to maintain the right business acumen.

“How do you run a business with the same expertise as you had 10 years ago? We believe we can help members in that area.”

As well as bringing in new talent, Advantage hopes to help members develop existing employees to acquire skills relevant to the modern travel retailer.

The consortium itself had undergone a transformation to encourage fresh ideas and energy, said Bue-Said, and will be doing more face-to-face training in 2014.

David Moon, head of business development, said Advantage would ramp up its skills development programme.Next year business workshops will be run to develop leadership skills of branch managers.

“If you are a single branch manager, that’s quite a lonely space in which to operate, particularly if business is not going as well as you would like,” said Moon.

Advantage will also develop its ‘Front Liners’ workshops for sales staff. This autumn it trained 100 agents.

Moon said the workshops were aimed at ensuring sales staff understood the important role they play in adding value for the customer and encouraging them to take more responsibility in their roles.

Advantage will also operate Lunch and Learn webinars on fares and ticketing which can be agency branded and provide Iata levels one and two courses.

Consortium aims to manage more existing members

Advantage will shift focus for recruitment to its Managed Services (AMS) proposition from agents not in the consortium to those who are already members.

Paul Nunn, head of operations, said members in AMS were seeing average profit margins of 11%, one-and-a-half percentage points above industry norms.

He said this could result in about £20,000 on an agency’s bottom line. AMS was established four-and-a-half years ago and now accounts for £20 million annual turnover.

Nunn said this had grown 100% each year since its inception and the consortium was now seeing increasing interest from existing Advantage agents.

“AMS was originally for start-up businesses, but we have recently seen more interest from established members, as well as non-members [of Advantage].

“Part of the recruitment strategy will be to look to offer that style of membership to current members’ businesses. We feel it could be a great benefit to a lot of agents.”

Advantage will start offering AMS to corporate agents in the new year under a group Iata licence.

AMS members benefit from much of their back-office administration being taken care of, but can only book product outside of AMS policy in exceptional circumstances.

Advantage sets service-level standards

Advantage is to build on the partnerships it has with trade-friendly operators by introducing service-level agreements (SLAs) with preferred suppliers.

The agency consortium has sent a survey to all of its suppliers about their trade policies. From next year, all will be graded either as Commended, Highly Commended or no rating.

Commercial director John Sullivan told a VIP Business Partners Forum last week that 85% of operators had so far returned the questionnaire. Operators that fail to complete it will be given a ‘no rating’.

Sullivan said the survey covered aspects such as direct-sell strategy and whether agents can compete, as well as quality of support such as cost of calls and call waiting times.

The survey also assesses face-to-face support.

“People like people,” said Sullivan.

“Is there a face to your business? Do you get out in front of our members?

“This will make it really clear and easy for members to see who they can support.”

Advantage will pick a Partner of the Month. Sullivan said that partner would be expected to offer additional overrides and marketing support.

“We really do value our partnerships and are proud of the amount of time we spend nurturing those partners.

“For 80% of our leisure partners 
we are the number one for sales in terms of consortia.”

Sullivan said service-level agreements would take this to the next level. “We have to have the best-in-class service; it can’t just be about commercials.”