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The Pulse: Liberty Travel opens flagship agency in Philadelphia.
Why it Rates: As OTAs continue to proliferate, and as more agents close their brick-and-mortar locations to work from home, Liberty Travel continues to open storefront locations and innovate with new strategies. Its new flagship location will feature Mobile Vacation Experts who roam the office with iPads in hand, enabling them to perform virtually any task that typically would be handled from their desks. - Claudette Covey, TravelPulse travel agents editor
Liberty Travel's extensive history in Philadelphia, dating back 50-plus years, making it the lonest-running travel agency in the city, has just added a new chapter to its story: the opening of the Philadelphia Travel Center on Dec. 16, 2014. This new flagship, located at 1524 Chestnut Street, was selected for a variety of reasons, namely the excellent, centrally-located positioning in downtown Philadelphia which enjoys abundant foot traffic.
"You will never get from the Internet what you get from a travel professional," said Liberty Travel president Emma Jupp. As the inventors of the vacation package, Liberty Travel has done business with consumers face-to-face for over 60 years. Keeping true to its roots, while adapting to ever-changing ways that people like to shop, Liberty Travel has continued its growth momentum with a trio of flagship openings; New York, Boston and now Philadelphia. The Philadelphia Travel Center spans nearly 7,000 square feet and two floors; it is anchored by Liberty Travel and sister brands, including Flight Center and the business/corporate operations of Corporate Traveler and FCm. Also in the space is Travel Associates, specializing in leisure trips with consultants exclusively by appointment; all of the businesses in the Philadelphia Travel Center are under the FC USA Inc. umbrella, Liberty Travel's parent company. Upon opening 60 employees will be occupying the new space, with plans to grow to nearly 75 people in the coming months.
Keeping the historic charm of the building, which dates back to the 1920's, was important in the planning and re-design of the Philadelphia Travel Center. The FC USA team brought on Callison, which was recently named the number one Retail & Architecture Firm in the US by Building Design & Construction magazine, to help transform the space into a world-class travel retailer, leaving behind the traditional travel agency layout. The team met with the City Planning Commission and was careful to preserve the architectural touches from that time period, most notably on the façade of the building that lends rich character to the area. There is a one-on-one room that has full-wall map of Philadelphia to celebrate the great city and Liberty Travel's excitement in opening a flagship here. Like the Liberty Travel brand itself, there is a fusion of mid-century and modern design that purposefully merged the best of the old and new to create an environment that celebrates the best of both worlds. A tremendous amount of research and development was done around how customers prefer to shop for a travel experience and was then thoughtfully integrated into the design.
Adding to the 170-plus businesses around the country, the Philadelphia flagship store marks the 29th location for Liberty Travel in Pennsylvania (with three in Philadelphia); proof that bricks and mortar is alive and well. The store shares many of the new features of the New York and Boston flagships, both with its robust travel offerings and location with substantial foot traffic in the neighborhood. "The continued expansion of Liberty Travel flagships underscore the company's vision to continually evolve and grow, while staying true to its roots. Our commitment to brick and mortar stores demonstrate our unwavering belief in travel professionals. They are an irreplaceable part of the vacation-planning process and the foundation upon which our brand was built and continues to thrive on," said Jupp. Three more stores are planned to open by January 2015 and a fourth flagship is set to open in Los Angeles in mid-February 2015.
The newest Liberty Travel location is home to a team of 22 travel experts, who are focused on exemplifying the pillars of the brand - trust, knowledge and value - in a comfortable shopping environment that was critical to the design process. This will replace the other Liberty Travel that was one block away. The teams are experts in virtually all leisure travel segments within the Liberty Travel product line, including honeymoons and destination weddings; family travel; European tours; ocean voyages and river cruising; plus a long-haul product line featuring destinations such as South Pacific, Australia and exotic long-haul destinations, such as the South Pacific, from Worldwide Traveler, a sister brand to Liberty Travel.
The Philadelphia flagship features Mobile Vacation Experts who have the ability to roam and, with iPads in hand, and can do virtually anything that would have previously been handled while sitting at a desk. With new implemented technology implemented into the booking process, the travel consultants, who are now side-by-side with clients in a more casual atmosphere, can have a more relaxed and less intimidating time working with clients to plan their perfect escape. Systems that were previously exclusive to a consultant's desktop computer are now loaded onto their iPads, making the planning and booking process now a completely mobile, flexible one, allowing Vacation Experts and clients to roam the store. The Liberty Travel Direct and Liberty Travel Chat teams, which work 24/7 to be omnipresent and available for clients, will be based out of this location. A Liberty Travel Groups division will also be on hand, specializing in destination weddings, reunions and special occasion trips for 10 or more clients.
Noteworthy features of the Liberty Travel Philadelphia flagship include:
Product Discover Zone: This area is designed to be an interactive one that lives up to its namesake in the vacation exploration process. Guests are invited to use iPads, enabling clients to use rich media, viewing videos, photos and online reviews in the decision-making process. There will be a list of hotels in destinations and regions - spanning Antigua to Riviera Maya, Europe to Australia, California to Asia - that have a proven track record amongst Liberty Travel's clients. A digital screen with content unique to Liberty Travel, including brochures and an interactive map wall, also has the ability for travel consultants to write on the screen and detail the client's itinerary in real time.
The Flight Center is staffed with three airfare experts who specialize in booking airline tickets. From around-the-world constructed fares to air passes, domestic and international travel in all classes of service from coach to first class, these experts in air travel will make sure clients get from point A to point B in the most cost-effective, direct way possible. The tools and capabilities in these consultants' arsenal enable them to have access to fares and information, such as last-seat availability, that the average consumer would not be privy to when booking on their own.
Leveraging its impressive industry connections and relationships, Liberty Travel's, myTime offerings bring travelers the best of travel pampering at a number of exclusive resorts within its collection. Guests can explore the myTime participating partners and, at no additional cost, partake of VIP perks ranging from chauffeured airport transfers to spa treatments, resort credits, welcome gifts from the general manager, preferred reservations at the resorts most coveted dining venues, complimentary excursions and more. The myTime offerings are completely complimentary and available at over 160 resorts across 30 countries including The Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Aruba, Florida, Hawaii and Las Vegas. The myTime vacation concept recognizes Liberty Travel customers in a way that sets them apart from the rest of the crowd.
"Philadelphia was the first city of expansion for the Liberty Travel brand outside of the New York/New Jersey are where we began over 60 years ago," said Jupp. "It was an important market for us then and now; it remains to be one of our top two markets. We are thrilled to expand in a city where Liberty Travel has such a rich history and add our other brands to the portfolio here."
Travel consultants are certainly in high demand. Liberty Travel's ultimate parent company, Australian-based Flight Centre, which is comprised of all travel-agent driven brands spanning leisure and corporate travel, reported a profit growth of over 20 percent for its last fiscal year.
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