Tuesday,  November 29, 2022  10:02 am

New training, tech & partners at Ensemble 2016 conference

New training, tech & partners at Ensemble 2016 conference
Ensemble co-presidents Libbie Rice (L) and Lindsay Pearlman

A new integrated booking platform, an expanded partner network and professional development offerings for 2017 were unveiled as Ensemble Travel Group (Ensemble) kicked off its annual conference, taking place at the Manchester Grand Hyatt in San Diego, California this week from Oct 19-22.

Approximately 900 members, suppliers and guests were present for the event’s opening session, delivered in fine form by organization co-presidents Libbie Rice and Lindsay Pearlman.

The pair unveiled several new initiatives with the intention of “delivering the difference” to its travel consultants, including Navigate, an innovative new booking platform which will give members to valuable Ensemble content with “ultra intelligence,” and the University of Ensemble (U of E), a comprehensive educational program which will provide agents with weekly webinars, expert certification and specialist courses, discounts and scholarships, as well as a new rewards program.

The co-presidents also officially welcomed four new preferred partners to the consortia’s line-up of suppliers: Anderson Vacations; Boutique Journeys of Europe; Oceania Cruises (new to Ensemble’s Hosted Cruise Program, as it has been a preferred partner to Ensemble as a whole for more than 12 years) and Select Registry.

Members then received an update on Aviate, the ticketing platform launched last year. While it has been slow to grow in the North American market despite its impressive results in Australia, Rice assured the assembled that Aviate is still on its way – they’re just working out the kinks.

“The system functionality, which worked like a dream downunder, required modification and customization in the North American market,” she said. “The Aviate rollout is proceeding, just not as originally planned.”

The need for evolution and following through on strategy is the overriding theme of the conference, with Rice and Pearlman both imparting that while we may not always be able to predict the challenges facing the travel industry, one thing is for certain: adaptability is key.

“Plans must be flexible,” Pearlman said, “and success requires challenges before reaching its ultimate goal.”

“Just picture a roller coaster,” Rice later remarked of 2016, recalling a tough year of struggling economies, terrorist acts, the Zika virus, and certain presidential elections among other hurdles North America’s travel agents have had to grapple with.

“[The year] could have been all doom and gloom,” she continued, “but not for Ensemble. In fact, we’ve had a fantastic year and that’s something to cheer about.”

Ensemble members were advised against contracting “shiny penny syndrome,” an ailment Rice described as chasing after “hot, new and fancy” travel trends and ideas rather than sticking to a firm strategic plan such as Ensemble’s, which centres around product, platform and infometrics. The plan must be working: Pearlman announced that 77 new members have joined the global organization since last year’s conference – a reflection of the company’s launch in Australia and New Zealand – and have travelled from as far as Canada, Hawaii, Mexico and Australia to be a part of the event.

In fact, early indications from a just-released Ensemble Insights Survey indicate 2017 will be a strong year for bookings overall, with 62 per cent of respondents (from a pool of nearly 200 members across the U.S. and Canada) expecting sales to increase when compared with 2016 – mostly due to a surge in interest in international destinations such as Croatia, Iceland and Ireland.

Later on during the first evening, as agents and suppliers from around the world met, mingled and reunited during the opening reception on the pool deck of the Manchester Grand Hyatt, Pearlman told PAX that this year, as with every year, the conference is about providing clarity to its agents so members new and old can build their businesses with confidence.

“For better or for worse, we’re a fairly low-key organization,” he said. “We’re not here to take our brand forward, we’re here to help our members build their brand and their market. And that’s a big difference.

If we can provide products and services that bring that value, new members will gravitate toward that. It’s not about our ego, or an external shareholder – remember, our customer is our shareholder.”