For Merit Travel CEO Phil Sproul, experiential travel begins not at the airport but the moment a client sits down with a Merit agent to plan their next journey.
It’s the logic behind Merit’s new flagship store at 111 Peter St. in downtown Toronto, where more than 200 members of the travel industry were welcomed yesterday (May 14th) to the grand opening of the space.
According to Sproul, the flagship store will provide a location for the company’s agents to receive clients and suppliers alike in a relaxed, modern environment, conducive to the travel booking experience.
“We wanted to get into something that was more a of concept store,” Sproul told PAX, “which would allow people to come in and interact with our experienced agents and allow suppliers to come in and do presentations.
“We do a lot of experiential travel – trips that take a lot of planning. We’re really pumped about what we can do here. This is becoming more of trend and it lines up well with our strategy to be a full-service company that offers experiential travel,” he said.
The right look
According to Leslie Gora, Merit’s VP of operations, the company wanted to give the space a young and comfortable look, right down to the colour choices.
According to Gora, the design team “pulled all the colours from our brochures and brands,” including earth tones and golf-course greens.
Kristina Boyce, Merit’s VP of sales - leisure, told PAX that the space will feature “comfortable seating, couches and group areas where clients can meet with agents or just browse some brochures,” while a theatre space in the store will allow Merit to hold bi-monthly travel talks.
She explained that in the age of online travel booking, investing in a physical retail space will allow Merit to take its customer service to the next level.
“So much is booked online these days and travel has become part of that sphere,” Boyce said. “We actually don’t believe that makes sense, at least not for what Merit Travel is about and sells. We think this is the next generation of travel agencies. For us, travel and your vacation is not a transactional commodity. There’s so much room for error and we want to make sure we take care of all that for you," she said.
"Travel is personal. Travel is emotional. We want travel to be fun. We want the process of buying travel to be consultative and inspiring," she added.
Sproul told PAX that the concept showcased in the flagship store will eventually be exported to other Merit agencies across Canada, as the brand – purchased by Japanese travel company H.I.S Group in 2018 – continues to expand.
“Merit’s been around for almost 30 years – it’s a new concept store but not a new agency,” he said. “We’re a full-service travel agency that has offices across Canada (and now) we’re part of a large global network of more than 280 locations around the world. We’re about $2 billion in sales under the HIS umbrella. That gives us huge buying power with the suppliers that are here. We can take people internationally with the number of locations we have around the world.”