On the heels of news that Certares has acquired an ownership stake in Avoya Travel, the vacation platform and network of independent travel advisors said this week that it expects to grow faster than at any time in its history but that it will not alter the trajectory of that growth.
“The scope and speed we’re going to be able to move at just got dramatically bigger,” Avoya co-CEO Jeff Anderson said at the opening session of the online 2021 Avoya Travel Conference. Separately, Anderson told journalists to expect a “growing and steady stream of announcements in 2022 as we scale off the new investments.”
On the same page
Those announcements will build on Avoya’s existing business model, both Avoya and Certares said. The two firms have a “shared vision,” Certares senior managing director Colin Farmer told conference attendees.
That vision centers on Avoya’s patented technology, which is designed to help travelers find the right vacation product via its online platform, then connect them with the Avoya travel advisor best suited to fulfill their vacation dreams, while at the same time helping suppliers to reach “high-value, high-intent travelers” and “high-performing” travel sellers.
Certainly, Certares’ ample resources will allow Avoya to “get things done more quickly,” Farmer said. He wasn’t just referring to Certares capital. Certares’ “substantial presence” in the travel industry, including its ownership stake in TripAdvisor, “leads to unique relationships with big pockets of demand” while creating opportunities to “enhance” the product offering on the Avoya platform,” Farmer said.
In the meantime, Avoya is still on track to meet goals for its Avoya 2025 growth plan, despite having lost nearly two years to Covid.
Increasing efficiencies in Agent Power, Avoya’s booking and CRM system, and on its consumer website is a key focus. The company has made incremental changes to both over the past year and will be rolling out more improvements to Agent Power in particular in coming weeks – “all things you guys have been asking for,” Anderson told advisors, without mentioning specifics.
Marketing support for advisors
Avoya also plans to invest heavily in its Marketing Resource Center, with a goal of giving its advisors a top-quality digital creative agency, said Sam McCully, senior vice president of marketing.
Those advisors have told Avoya that what they want most are high-quality creative assets. So in October, Avoya introduced personalized marketing materials – not just for email and direct mail but across multiple channels, including social media, video, and “cool things like inspiration guides, shopping pack lists,” McCully said.
Last year Avoya introduced Smart Leads™, a program to help advisors prioritize outreach to past clients by identifying top prospects on any given day, based on criteria such as a client’s past booking patterns.
A key focus going forward will be improving the integration of programs like Smart Leads with customizable marketing assets in Agent Power to give advisors more turnkey solutions.
Avoya also plans to do more in digital content creation. The company has relaunched its blog and will be “aggressively blogging and social posting” about new travel experiences, McCully said. Expanded direct marketing efforts in 2022 will include a new digital magazine.
For its supplier partners, Avoya promises to “amplify brand presence” within its platform, including by giving suppliers the ability to load their own content into the Marketing Resource Center.
It has also introduced a “brand sales program” that Avoya’s sales team will bring to member agencies to support them in selling the products they specialize in. “We’ve re-geared our sales team around product,” a shift away from working with agencies on an account basis, said Steve Hirshan, senior vice president of sales.
As for growing its network of advisors, Avoya is once again looking to attract new-to-travel entrepreneurs. Avoya hit the pause button on that effort after the pandemic hit in 2020, since it could not deliver its usual level of customer leads. Historically new-to-travel advisors have comprised 85% to 90% of Avoya’s growth.
Although the Omicron Covid variant is creating unease, the outlook for travel in general and Avoya, in particular, remains strong, executives said. On Dec. 1, Avoya recorded a $2 million booking day, something it normally wouldn’t experience until the start of Wave Season.
Like others, Avoya is seeing growth at the high end, with bookings in upper premium and luxury travel up 30%, September to November, over 2019. Sales of land vacations were up 28% in November compared to 2019.
“Even with the new [Omicron] variant, we have been pleasantly surprised and excited about how well things are continuing to pace,” said Ashley Hunter, senior vice president of partnerships
For 2022, most of that bookings growth is for departures in the second half of the year, while bookings for 2023 are “off the charts,” Avoya said, citing triple-digit increases.
Broken compensation model
Of course, the trend toward ever-lengthening booking windows only exacerbates advisors’ cash-flow challenges. In response, Avoya has been pushing suppliers since early in the pandemic to pay upfront “booking commissions,” whether through private agreements like those it has negotiated with some partners or the blanket enhancements that a few suppliers have made to their commission programs.
“The compensation model between suppliers and their distribution system is broken,” Anderson said. “Suppliers [have] to realize that they cannot have a voluntary workforce who’s paid solely on production [be forced to] wait and wait and wait to be compensated.
“The survival of the travel agency distribution system is going to depend on suppliers recognizing that a pay for performance business partner will only survive if they put cash in now.”