It was a big year of growth for Vision Travel – and 2018 will see more of the same, the company’s presidents said during the 2017 Power of Vision conference.
The annual event took place last Friday (Nov. 3) in downtown Toronto, welcoming Vision team members from across Canada along with partners and suppliers for a weekend of networking and training. PAX sat down for an exclusive chat with Brian Robertson, Joel Ostrov and Lynda Sinclair - Vision’s Ontario-West president, Quebec-East president and vice-president of leisure travel, respectively – for a look back on 2017 and what lies ahead for the company in the coming year.
In April, Vision announced a merger with U.S-based Direct Travel, an agreement representing more than $3 billion in sales. The announcement was followed a few months later with the creation of Direct ATPI Global Travel, a new brand formed in partnership with Vision/Direct and ATPI, extending Vision’s reach to the world U.S. and UK, described by Robertson as taking Vision “to the next level in terms of being able to service our clients.”
According to Robertson, the Direct deal, which was a couple years in the making, was the result of several synergies between the two companies.
“We picked Direct out of many other TMCs that we spoke to - and we talked to a lot,” Robertson told PAX. “The big thing for us was the culture; the fact that it was run with a regional manager structure, that it had strong industry leaders running the business, was financially very strong and on the corporate side, had a focus on mid-market, which is exactly where we are…. (And) they didn’t just want to combine on the corporate side. They have a strong meetings and leisure presence, which is the way we built this business – having three strong verticals.”
“They offer the high-touch, personal approach to travel, as opposed to the call centre model – which was virtually everyone else who spoke to us,” added Ostrov. “Commitment to their employees with health and wellness and employee engagement programs; it’s very much the way Brian and I believe you should treat people.”
Regarding Direct ATPI, Robertson and Ostrov explained that the global reach of the brand will allow clients to grow internationally alongside Vision.
“The reaction from our customers has been spectacular,” Ostrov said. “Some of them have aspirations to build a global travel program - three weeks in to the ATPI deal, we launched Singapore for a major company. The automatic growth will be spectacular.”
“As we’ve grown into a global company, a lot of our clients have done the same,” Robertson said. “The demand from our clients to service them in multiple markets is there today.” These developments have also provided benefits to Vision’s travel partners, particularly Canada’s airlines.
“We’ve provided the two major Canadian airlines with a Canadian-friendly global TMC to push their products worldwide, especially in the case of Air Canada with its sixth freedom aspirations,” Ostrov said. “They’re happy to see a Canadian TMC grow into a global powerhouse.”
Vision also saw plenty of growth in Canada with a number of agency acquisitions, including most recently WD World Travel and Travel Sensations. According to Robertson, Vision will add at least one more agency before the year’s end, toward a goal of growing to $1 billion in Canada by the end of 2018.
“Our growth strategy is to grow organically and first and foremost, handling our clients’ needs,” Robertson said. “We’ve made two acquisitions in the last couple of months and we’ll make at least one more this year… We have to keep our feet grounded in the Canadian market as we become global. It’s all about the ability to deliver local, regional and global.”
Trends for 2018 - leisure and technology
On the leisure travel side of the business, Sinclair explained that active travel remains a top seller, along with related destinations including Colombia, Iceland, Africa; with the often-complex itineraries associated with that style of travel, Vision’s advisors remain in high demand.
“They still need us to help them get through that,” Sinclair explained. “The traveller is more sophisticated but they want us to talk them through it and know that they have support. Every time there’s a disaster we get to showcase our value and prove why we do what we do, which is why insurance is a big part of the conversation these days.”
Amongst Vision’s travel advisors, Sinclair told PAX that the number of home-based agents continues to grow (of the 280 advisors in the Ontario – West region, 180 are home-based), while introducing the latest travel industry technology also remains a top priority for 2018. Among these are the Umapped itinerary builder and PostBeyond, a tool which agents can use to take posts that are curated and can repost to their own social media.
“A lot of times, our advisors want to post things to their own social media channels,” Sinclair said. “With PostBeyond, they’ve been reconnecting to people who they used to go to school with and now they have them asking them to plan their trips.”