OJ ON LOCATION – As Vision Rebrands To Direct, Annual Conference Celebrates Success

Anna Kroupina, Open Jaw

This past weekend Vision Travel, A Direct Travel Company, hosted its 11th annual POV 2019: Power of Vision conference in Toronto. Six hundred participants from across Canada, including 84 suppliers, attended the three-day event to meet face to face, network and shake out the kinks with group exercise sessions.

The "Power of One" conference theme was entirely relevant as Vision took the opportunity to announce the rebranding of its corporate division under the Direct Travel brand. 

L-R: Stephen Smith, Senior Vice President, Leisure Marketing, North America;
Lynda Sinclair, Senior Vice President, Leisure Travel, Vision Travel;
and Brian Robertson, President, Canada West, Direct Travel.

"The Power of One really is about the strength of our organization," Brian Robertson, President, Canada West with Direct Travel told Open Jaw. "But it’s not just about the size or being one enterprise. Some companies are designed in a top-down approach; Direct Travel is the exact opposite of that. All the people that work for Direct Travel work in the regions. Even though we are a global enterprise, we drill it right down to the travel advisors at the local market and I think that’s part of the strength of this organization."

The APR 2017 merger of Vision – for many years Canada’s largest independent TMC -- with U.S.-based Direct Travel Inc. gave the TMC a footprint in the "ABCs" – America, Britain and Canada. A few months later, Direct and Vision merged with ATPI, giving the combined company a global footprint with operations in 50 countries, 190 cities and a workforce of 4,500 people.

With 2020 just around the corner, much of the focus of the conference was on the future -- how the company plans to stay relevant, expand the organization and relationships with preferred partners, engage new technologies and continue to support and nurture its agencies and partners. 

The Power Of One

A critical piece for Robertson is to maintain the entrepreneurial spirit that characterized Vision’s growth, with the potential for further acquisitions if and when the time is right.  

"There’s still room [for consolidation]. It’s a big marketplace, so there are lots of competitors in the corporate arena and in the meeting and leisure spaces. Our philosophy is to find great companies with great people, great clients and great profitability. We will always look to buy great companies that are interested in being a part of us. Our strategy is to be local, regional and global," says Robertson. 

Matched appointments session on 4OCT.

Robertson says the company has a lot to offer its acquisitions and subsidiaries, especially at a time when agencies, especially small-scale outlets, face increasing challenges in a cutthroat environment. Becoming part of a larger organization can reduce administrative tasks like running a back office or payroll and lessen the pain of regulatory requirements like meeting the standards to have airline agreements. 

"If you were a small TMC today, your biggest challenges would be staying competitive, investing in technology and having enough volume with the vendors to get the best prices that are out there. When you’re a large company, you can scale and utilize those resources," Robertson says. 

Vision has a significant leisure side to its business as well, and the 45 leisure locations in the Canada West side of the company will retain the Vision branding. Lynda Sinclair, Senior Vice President of Leisure, says being part of a large, international company brings major benefits including tech innovations and having a seat at the table when discussing large contracts. 

"We started a fantastic hotel program and they have asked for the leisure people to be part of what was originally going to be corporate," she says. "That allows us to compete at a level that we never thought we’d be competitive at. Those kinds of synergies, even things like having a better accounting system, we would never be able to have afforded on our own."

The Power Of Tech

With more than 60 years of travel industry experience between the two of them, Robertson and Sinclair have seen the industry change immensely, from shifting travel patterns to massive industry structural change to rapid advances in technology. And they've had to adapt, sometimes painfully. Being part of a larger organization helps make seismic changes more manageable.

"When it comes to technology, because of the scale and size of our organization, we can have the best technology providers as part of our offering to our clients. We ourselves are not a technology company, we are a travel company, but we utilize the best technology available and because of our size, we can afford it," Robertson said. 

Matched appointments session on 4OCT.

Embracing and harnessing the power of technology becomes especially important where safety and duty of care are concerned, and large TMCs are directly responsible for their clients' security. For that reason, real-time awareness of global travel concerns is critical, and being part of a global organization makes that easier.

"We have a risk management program, a full duty of care program, we are open 24/7 globally and we are on top of everything from travel advisories to emergency situations worldwide," says Robertson. "That’s one of the reasons why travel management is thriving, because companies have a duty to their employees to look after them, and TMCs, as the outsourced travel provider, do that."

The Power Of The Advisor

Despite the howling winds of change, Robertson and Sinclair believe the travel advisor role is as important as ever, both on the corporate and leisure sides. 

"Travel advisors on the corporate side are very important because you might be able to do a simple transaction online, but once it gets to be complex, you really need qualified travel advisors to do that," says Robertson. "We offer online booking tools for our clients because they’re asking for it, but that also allows our travel advisors more time to handle more complex transactions."

On the leisure side, Sinclair says advisor value is focused on relationships, between supplier and agent and agent and client. 

"It's more about the human touch and making the experience more memorable, creating something that the traveller didn’t even know existed before they came to us," says Sinclair. "The global connections that we’ve got, all the Virtuoso product, the ability to upgrade, to troubleshoot, the support that we provide before, during, and after... We’re there for people. We don’t feel threatened. We just keep getting better at it and keep using the technology that make us faster."

Anna Kroupina

Anna Kroupina Journalist

Anna is OJ's newest member and she joins the team as a writer/reporter. She co-writes the daily news and covers events. Although she's new to the industry, pursuing a career path in travel/tourism has been a goal since her first family road trip to the Florida Keys sparked a desire to discover the world and this exhilarating, fast-paced industry.

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