Flight Centre Travel Group’s Premium Leisure and Independent brands, which include Travel Associates, continue to scope out opportunities for growth in market share, with the US and UK viewed as key new regions to tap into, and at pace.
Danielle Galloway, Global Managing Director of Independent and Premium Leisure Travel Brands at FCTG discussed Travel Associates’ growth strategy with LATTE in Las Vegas last month, saying the direction of the brand was in contrast to that of the Flight Centre business model which has been shifting online.
As first foreshadowed by LATTE , she said the United States and United Kingdom were markets with “huge” potential for the business to expand significantly, and where Galloway is placing her immediate focus in her new global position with FCTG.
Growth opportunities are also being evaluated in existing markets in Australia, New Zealand and in Canada – the latter through the Vancouver agency it has owned for the past five years, Laurier du Vallon. Laurier du Vallon is a luxury travel-focused agency and has been a member of Virtuoso for more than 10 years.
Subscribe to LATTE’s free eNewsletter to keep up to date with everything in the luxury travel industry.
“We are also discussing a range of concepts to grow our premium market share, including bricks & mortar businesses opening under the Travel Associates name, acquisition of luxury businesses with existing brand and client base, premium digital strategies and luxury independent strategies,” Galloway told LATTE.
“Slow growth is not our goal but rather considered investment in the right opportunities in the right market or a combination of these. Most importantly, we need to understand the client in each market and the competitor landscape and ensure our differentiation strategy is strong and can be deployed effectively for maximum growth,” she said.
Galloway explained that the macroeconomic indicators point to a growing luxury marketplace and this provides FCTG’s Premium Leisure and Independent brands with “a clear growth pathway”.
“Luxury travel is a diverse portfolio, with luxury being different for everyone. It’s important that our strategy focuses on how we reach and interact with the new luxury tribes and ensure our service is exceptional and targeted in the right areas,” Galloway said during a wide-ranging interview at Virtuoso Travel Week (VTW).
“The US and UK are where we’ve got most of our infrastructure as well so it makes sense, but also in terms of market opportunity. That’s where the significant market opportunity in this luxury space really is. It is huge.”
“It’s a matter of determining what’s the right entry point,” she said.
“Laurier Du Vallon have a very small footprint, which will most likely rebrand to Travel Associates. That will potentially be our starting point from a Travel Associates brand perspective, but I think it’ll be broader than that,” Galloway said.
“We’re exploring all those pathways,” she reiterated.
Meanwhile, Rachael Kingswell, newly appointed Travel Associates General Manager – Australia, told LATTE the brand has an opportunity to grow its domestic headcount. Currently, there are 50 wholly-owned Travel Associates businesses with 235 travel advisors in Australia, plus another 20 in New Zealand.
Kingswell, who has been with FCTG for 20 years after starting out at Trailfinders and working her way up the ranks, said the number of sites isn’t capped at 50.
“Where we see the opportunity and the right demographic, with the right people, we will open. Within the next six months, we’ll pass what our average headcount was per office, pre-pandemic.
“We’ve got some offices that are sitting with 10 people at four desks. The demand is absolutely there,” she said.
Kingswell said Travel Associates’ “hub concept” and mix of “flexible models” was catering to increased demand for frontline sellers, while new Travel Associates stores have just opened in Neutral Bay and Broadbeach, and a new site will debut in Coffs Harbour before the end of the year.
“To be opening new sites so close to coming out of borders opening is really exciting,” Kingswell said.
Galloway said there was also a vision for cranking up its home-based presence in the US market via the Independent brands (Travel Partners or Travel Associates – Home), where it already has 1,500 independent contractors in North America.
“We’re quite established in those markets but we’ve got the opportunity to do a similar thing with our member model which we’ve done in Australia with the Linked-type of approach, where there is a ‘host’ model rather than a ‘direct contract’ model,” she revealed to LATTE.
Discussing the decision to have all Travel Associates’ businesses align with Virtuoso was part of a strategy of positioning the brand as a luxury leader, Galloway said. Up until about 12 months ago, only 14 businesses were members of the global luxury travel network, which created inconsistencies within the brand. During the pandemic, the entire brand and its 50 businesses aligned with Virtuoso.
“It’s been a great decision because we are so aligned as organisations. We have moved forward with our plans for luxury leadership.
“I recall just before the pandemic, the late Greg Ashmore – Travel Associates’ Founder, said to me I need to come and understand Virtuoso. This is your first job. Come here and understand Virtuoso Travel Week. So I came and knew this is where we wanted to play.”
Reflecting on the strategy to have all Travel Associates’ owners in Las Vegas for Virtuoso Travel Week in mid-August, Anna Burgdorf, Global Brand & Marketing Leader for FCTG Premium Leisure, said “investing in this event is proof that we’re back”.
Galloway said this year’s presence at VTW had a three-pronged objective to; build brand awareness with partners; broaden Travel Associates’ depth of boutique product; and winning luxury clients.
“We’ll be carving out our own niche product as well.
“Travel Associates is very much about manufacturing our own product. We’ve been doing our own hosted journeys, so it’s really a complement to us in terms of our product boutique, as opposed to being the answer to all of our product needs,” Galloway said.
Kingswell added that Travel Associates would participate in other major luxury travel shows around the globe, with a team of 25 heading to ILTM Asia Pacific in Singapore next week, and 10 people attending ILTM Cannes in December.
“It’s about making sure we’re at the right events to expand their knowledge and resources for the client back at home,” she said, adding that a decision on the composition and volume of the Travel Associates’ contingent for Virtuoso Travel Week 2024 was yet to be determined.
“Whether it’s business leaders next year, or a cross-section, we haven’t worked out next year’s Travel Week strategy as yet.”
“This year was a great opportunity coming out of the pandemic to reinvigorate – and it’s done that – some of the magic that you see, not just with the suppliers but with our own people and the new connections,” she added.
“We’ll always invest in connections. They are so powerful,” Galloway concluded.
Lead image: From left, Anna Burgdorf, Danielle Galloway and Rachael Kingswell.