It’s A Wild Ride As Canada’s Vision Goes Global

By Bruce Parkinson

Vision's Brian Robertson (l) and Joel Ostrov.

After nearly two decades in business, in just a few short months the former Vision 2000 has evolved from “Canada’s largest independent travel management company” to being part of a North American powerhouse and now the Canadian cornerstone of a growing global TMC.

The first leap came 1MAY, when Vision joined forces with U.S.-based Direct Travel. The second was announced 26SEPT, when Direct and ATPI pooled resources to become a global player with $9 billion in annual sales.

Whether the Vision brand will live on through all the changes isn’t clear – though it would be fitting to see a ‘2020 Vision’ -- but things are looking pretty optimistic for the homegrown TMC.

In a conversation with Open Jaw at the ‘Power of Vision’ annual conference in Toronto, Joel Ostrov, President of the Quebec East side of Vision Travel – A Direct Travel Company, and Brian Robertson, who heads up the Ontario West side, the pair started interviewing each other.

“There’s not an ounce of regret about this deal, is there Brian?” said Ostrov. “Not an ounce,” Robertson replied.

It’s been a wild ride for the pair of executives and other members of the Vision team. When Vision 2000 was formed at the turn of the millennium, the company had around 40 staff and about $38 million in annual travel sales. Last year, prior to the merger with privately held Direct Travel, that sales number was about $875 million, and the staff count was 725.

According to the Travel Weekly 2017 Power List of travel companies with more than US$100 million in annual sales, Direct Travel, which ranked 15 th to Vision’s 24th, had 2016 sales of nearly $3 billion CAD and a workforce of 1,200. Together, they became a North American travel management force.

Then in late September, Direct Travel made another bold move, joining forces with ATPI, a TMC with a global footprint, to form Direct ATPI Global Travel. Together, Direct Travel, ATPI and Vision total 160+ locations in more than 50 countries, and draw upon over 4,500 team members worldwide to service clients.

The 9th annual Power of Vision Conference saw some 430 people gather at the Westin Harbour Castle Hotel, including some special guests from the new partners at Direct Travel, among them CEO Ed Adams and CFO John Coffman.

Vision wasn’t looking to be acquired when Direct Travel came knocking. In fact, the Canadian company had its own plans for expanding into the U.S. market, along with a goal of becoming a company with $1 billion in annual sales.

“We had our own acquisition strategy and were planning to expand into the U.S.,” Robertson said. “But when we put out that statement, U.S. companies started coming to us and saying, ‘We’re planning on expanding into Canada.’ Direct Travel was one of those companies, and as we explored things with them, the fit just seemed perfect.”

Ostrov concurs: “We had a conversation a little more than two years ago at the GBTA Convention. Things moved slowly at first. But when I went to visit Direct Travel at their offices in February 2016, I felt like I was walking into my own office. There’s a really nice working environment for the staff, who work in small teams, just like we do here. Everything just lined up perfectly and we just slid right in. There were times we said it felt like it was too good to be true.”

A letter of intent was signed last November, and May 1, 2017 marked the first day for the merged company. The few months since have been eventful too, with Vision using its expanded resources to make some significant acquisitions, including YVR’s WD World Travel and YYZ’s Travel SensationsDowntown. Robertson says acquisitions will continue, and the company has several NDAs in place in Canada for prospective deals.

 “When we started Vision we wanted to be a Canadian success story,” said Robertson. “As we evolved as a company, the travel management business went global. Just to be the largest in Canada wasn’t going to be enough. Now we’re truly global with ATPI and the sky is the limit.”

Bruce Parkinson

Bruce Parkinson Editor-in-Chief

An observer and analyst of the Canadian and international travel industries for over 25 years, Bruce uses the pre-dawn hours to prepare a daily news and information package to keep industry members up to date.

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