New Travel Bound President Plans Radical Changes
Photo courtesy of Travel Bound
James Phillips, the new president of Travel Bound after the recent departure of the former president Elizabeth Crabill, plans to focus on several different areas as he takes the company into its next stage of evolution.
Phillips began his travel industry career in the tour operator space, working a four-year stint with Saga Holidays in the late 1990s. He then had an eight-year term with Starwood Resorts, a stretch with Kempinski Hotels and then landed at GTA, the parent company of Travel Bound, previous to its acquisition by Kuoni in 2011.
After the acquisition of GTA by Kuoni, Phillips was appointed vice president of hotel sourcing in Africa and the Middle East. He later moved to the U.S. where he successfully restructured the America's sourcing division. Phillips is still handling the duties of that office during the current transition, though he has also taken on the role of president.
Following former Travel Bound leaders Richie Karaburun and most recently Elizabeth Crabill, Phillips says he has some “big shoes to fill.”
“Elizabeth did phenomenal work,” said Phillips. “It was a pleasure working with her. She had extraordinary ambassadorial skills.”
Now that he is at the helm of Travel Bound, Phillips says he has “lots of plans.”
“I’m fortunate to have been on the inside of the association,” he said. “GTA and Travel Bound are hand in glove. I came to the role with some thoughts. The last few weeks have sharpened my thinking.
“The first thing is that I want to move the culture forward. We have a very successful history. Now we have the opportunity to look at how we engage with the travel industry community, to look at our culture and see how we can move to the next level. We’ll be making some structural changes.”
A New Sales Department Unit
Probably the most significant structural change will be the addition of a new unit in the sales department, a unit dedicated to national accounts and partnerships.
This new sector of the sales department will work with national accounts such as consortia and partnerships. The company will continue to maintain its network of business development managers that will focus on retail branches.
The four sales operations departments going forward will break down like this:
Strategic account unit, which will serve consortia, national accounts and owners; field sales, which will work with branch networks; inside sales, which will service the occasional user; and host management. The company will be adding people to fill out these divisions.
Overall the sales divisions is marketing, said Phillips, which he has some plans for as well.
“We could do so much more with marketing,” he said. “We have scale, 50,000 hotels, 12,000 tours in 152 countries, with 30 offices globally. But it’s not just about scale or what they already produce. We’re looking at how they can do it better. We want to help them be successful. We’re challenging ourselves to look at the market and to understand how it is structured.”
An overhauled website is also in the works. It will appear next year. The system is designed to provide richer content and better searching. But Phillips said the company will be watching the user feedback closely to be sure that users are still able to get the benefits the site previously provided.
“The word ‘love’ is often used in our user feedback,” he said. “We want to be sure the change we launch is seen as positive.”
The new site will have richer content, better entry systems, images travel agents can use in their marketing and a point-of-interest search system.
“It has a useful, intuitive search functionality,” said Phillips. “It allows them to better merchandise things. We are confident that it will be a big upgrade, but we are really aware of what makes our site so user-friendly today and we want to make sure to retain that.´
Sales Training for Travel Agents
Travel Bound is also planning to develop a new sales training program for travel agents.
“We could be build a sales training program that enriches the recipient’s business. What we do is go into (a) company and try to enhance the recipient’s business skills.”
While Phillips is restructuring the upper levels of the corporate hierarchy, the real focus is on the front lines.
"We want to have stronger engagement at owner level," he said. "This means three things: deployment of human resource, investment in marketing (which means a whole range of potential activity), where relevant, to connect to the customer’s proprietary system. Our ideal is that transactions occur on our point of sale, but we need to ensure that out content features where the agent wants it to be."
Phillips also wants to help the team gain "a sharper sense of purpose: to ask ourselves how we add value in the sales interaction — how we help the agent to grow their business (which is our purpose)."
He wants to better align the customer support policies with the overall sales strategy.
In regard to marketing, Phillips would like to "change our rule-book on this issue to move the conversation from one about our scale, to one about user case, customer experience or unique insights."
Phillips also wants to fine tune Travel Bound's value proposition, and sees the upcoming new web-based point-of-sale system as central to that effort. Given the popularity of the web system as it is, Phillips is going over the upgrades with a fine-tooth comb, "being cognizant of the need to retain what’s loved and improve what’s not."
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