With one foot in Canada and the other in the United States, the Ensemble Travel Group is an international travel agent consortia that focuses on the affluent segmentation with a host of cruise, tour and destination product. Indeed, it puts an emphasis on the kind of experiential travel that requires the consumer to seek out the services of a travel professional.
“We think the key to our members’ future is really in having the ability to sell experiential travel and travel that is candidly less able to be shopped on the Internet,” says Jack Mannix, president, Ensemble Travel Group. “More importantly, from a strategic long-term basis, is the fact that the more complex the vacation, the more comprehensive, the more expensive, and the more complicated, the more likely the customer is going to use a travel professional because they’re just not going to pull the trigger without somebody’s advice.”
“And that’s where we come in,” says Suzanne Hall, senior director, strategic marketing, Ensemble. “The term ‘luxury’ is such an overused reference. A traveler today who would be in a financial arena to be able to travel in what we have called luxury, they obviously have the means. But what they’re really looking for is an authentic experience and that doesn’t always mean chandeliers and crystal. It means being able to partake in experiential travel, really.”
As a result, Hall adds, “From a travel agency perspective, belonging to a travel group is that much more important because we help them have that access. It’s time consuming for that agency to investigate how to deliver to that client that authentic experience. We focus very strongly on developing partnerships and having the resources so that when a member has a client who needs something, they can come to us or go to our member website and they can find exactly what they need to service that discerning traveler.”
Mannix points out that in terms of segmentation, Ensemble is able to drill down on customer databases, append information to them, including discretionary income, and segmenting people into different cells. “We can even send—and we do—the same offer to two different people and we version it so it sounds like almost two different approaches and yet it’s exactly the same offer,” he explains. “So the capability to really send to each and every customer what’s precisely of interest to them at the right time is really critical. We’re in the process right now of adding certain transactional data to that. Our database capability, our ability to help our member—which they could never do on their own—get to the right people in their customer database is huge.”
That ability to get to the right customer at the right time also makes Ensemble that much more valuable to the supplier, which enhances their relationship with the supplier, and that ultimately translates back into higher commissions or other types of benefits for the consumer or the agents.
The 40-year-old consortia with a collective volume of billions of dollars in mostly leisure travel, has a membership that’s eclectic in terms of both business approach and volume with the largest doing $250 million and the smallest around $1 million. The company is also particular not only in membership selection, but with suppliers, as well. “Our preferred list is actually narrower than most of our competition,” Mannix points out. “Back in 2002, we actually reduced our list by more than half with the intention of pushing more business through a more limited number of suppliers. And that primary focus was in the tour and cruise area.”
In terms of membership requirements, Mannix says, “We have certain requirements, but what we really try to assess is whether a prospective member is a good fit for us and are we a good fit for the potential member. We want to see a sense of good business management—do they know where their business is headed, do they understand the retail travel professional’s role. For example, it’s no longer about providing the information, it’s about helping the customer sift through all kinds of information and to guide them. It’s also about things like experience and expertise—the primary thing we have to sell.… So, we look for somebody who’s got good focus, I guess is the short answer.”