Travel Agent Ensemble Travel Group Bruce Parkinson November 08, 2022
There are many paths to becoming a travel professional these days – or in the case of Montreal-based Alain Robert, a ‘Travelogist.’
TravelPulse Canada met Robert over casual conversation at the recent Ensemble conference in Miami. He had an interesting story to tell, so we met up later for a more in-depth chat.
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Robert has spent over 30 years in various aspects of travel, starting as a tour director with student travel company EF Tours. After 9/11 and the Iraq war disrupted the business, he took on roles with cruise lines.
On a stopover in Florida he saw a large circus-style tent and went to investigate. On learning that is was Cirque du Soleil, he took a flyer and sent the company a CV, inquiring whether they needed help with travel planning for its touring shows. They did, and he was hired as a travel coordinator, handling complicated logistics and providing customer service for Cirque technical staff.
After spending several years with Cirque, Robert moved on to planning small corporate events. Things were great, until the pandemic hit, and travel hit a wall.
But an interesting thing happened. Robert began getting a flurry of calls from people he had served in the past, who now needed help to get home.
“I saw the magnitude of the consequences of travel shutting down, and it gave me the idea that there was a need for a person who knows what they’re doing to offer concierge-style service in a world where travel planning had become so complex,” Robert says.
“I decided to build a business where I could provide travellers with a smooth experience in a very chaotic ecosystem,” Robert adds. “I came up with the name ‘Travelogist’ because I wanted something that implied science and specialization. Anyone can just go buy an air ticket, but it’s complicated to book the right ticket. The name resonates with my own outlook.”
As the ‘Travelogist,’ Robert offers high-value clients a hybrid of travel coordination and travel planning, with a high-touch service level. “I check my clients into their flights, send them updates and work on ‘Scenario B’ plans. In the hours before a flight I make sure the plane is in place. All my clients have to do is show up at the airport,” Robert says.
“Part of providing excellent service is understanding what a customer needs. I try to get in their heads and find out ‘what is wow’ for them, what is their perception of value. I get very granular, looking at things like the age of a plane, luggage capacity, seat size and aisle access in business class.”
Without a GDS background, Robert sought out membership in a consortium that would provide simple-to-use technology tools that would speed the booking process and allow him to focus on servicing the client. He tried one but found its tech tools lacking, before being introduced to Travel Edge, the Toronto-based upscale leisure and corporate travel host agency that has made technology the backbone of its offering.
“As I learned more about Travel Edge, I thought, ‘This is great. This is what I need,’” said Robert.
At the heart of Travel Edge is the ADX platform. Over more than a decade, the company has invested over $30 million in ADX, with the goal of enabling travel advisors to be more productive, efficient and profitable.
By linking together legacy systems and enabling access to vast GDS data – without the onerous commands – ADX frees up advisor time and gives them access to more products and services, so they can offer more to their clients, and earn more for themselves.
Earlier this year, Navigatr, the parent company of Travel Edge, acquired Ensemble, the 50-year-old travel advisor consortium. That’s how Robert was introduced to Ensemble, and he says the combination of Travel Edge’s leading-edge booking technology, Ensemble’s buying power with key suppliers and a strong member support system works for his business.
“I’m so happy with this model. I don’t want to play with GDS, and ADX helps me save time and simplifies things for me. When I need help, I can email or call the Travel Edge air desk and their GDS experts will solve the problem. They’re really good,” says Robert.
Membership in Travel Edge and Ensemble also gives Robert access to hotel benefits for his clients through program’s including Marriott STARS and Luminous and Hyatt Privé.
“Not every agency has that,” Robert says. “And with ADX I have a reliable tool that gives me lots of options, provides richly formatted itineraries for clients, and makes payment and invoicing simple.”
Robert’s business model isn’t based on commission. He charges for his time and delivers service that corporations are willing to pay because their travellers are looked after every step of the way.
“In my profit forecasting I don’t even account for commission. But with ADX, my commission is displayed right on the screen for anything I sell. This system is a gold mine for my business model.”
Robert’s pandemic-inspired business is booming right now, to the point where he hopes to add a couple of employees within the next six months. “Maybe someday I’ll be able to go to bed without my phone,” he laughs.
Alain Robert, aka ‘The Travelogist,’ says there’s been a common thread in all of his career roles. “I enjoy taking care of people. I tell corporate clients, ‘We’ll look after your people like they’re our own.’ In today’s competitive job market, well-managed travel is good for retention and differentiation,” he says.
“I provide a level of service that people to not expect. And for my clients, it’s a lot cheaper than having their own resource. The need for customer service is back. I’m here to take out the pain-points, prepare the terrain to avoid risks, and if something happens, to deal with it. That makes people happy, and it makes me happy too.”
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