From the Travel Trade Press Release (www.traveltrade.com)
Agency Vets Launch Mktg Group
By George Dooley
The founders of Leisure Travel Alliance are (l.-r.) Steve Kaplan, Stuart Godwin and John Shands. The new organization plans to target midsize to large agencies in the West and Southwest.
Former Vacation.com executives Stuart Godwin, CTC, John Shands and Steve Kaplan are launching a travel agency marketing organization, Leisure Travel Alliance (LTA), targeting midsize to large agencies in the West and Southwest.
According to Godwin, LTA president and CEO, the marketing group is negotiating vendor agreements and securing preliminary agency commitments. LTA expects to be fully operational by Feb. 1 and hopes to attract 200-300 agency and agent members in 2007, with similar numbers added over the next two to three years.
Godwin said that a group of private investors in Houston and Austin, TX provided the majority of the equity funding for the new venture. Godwin and Shands are also investors and shareholders in the new enterprise, based in Austin.
Shands is executive vice president and Kaplan is director of industry relations.
Godwin, Shands and Kaplan said that there is a demand and need for a high-touch travel agency organization that is responsive to regional needs.
All three LTA executives were associated with regional travel agency organizations acquired by Travel Agents Network (TAN) and Vacation.com in 1998 and 1999.
Kaplan was president of Crown Travel Group, a regional agency group based in Phoenix. Godwin was president of Texas-based Consolidated Travel Services for 15 years prior to its acquisition by Vacation.com.
Shands, former owner of Shands Travel Group, a multibranch travel agency in south Texas, was one of Consolidated’s initial travel agent shareholders in 1984. Shands later joined Consolidated’s staff as its director of sales.
Shands left his Vacation.com position as a business development manager for an 11-state territory in November.
Godwin was senior vice president for Vacation.com’s Western region prior to Vacation.com consolidating its sales department under one vice president last year. Kaplan resigned his executive role at Vacation.com in 2002.
The new company will focus its efforts on midsize to large agencies in geographically compatible areas, according to Shands.
“One of the phenomena we’ve observed throughout the consortia and co-op community in recent years is the attempt to serve all member travel agencies regardless of size,”he said.
Core Group Overlooked
“The result has been that a core group of midsize to large agencies has been overlooked in recent years. It is this group of members that we can best support as a travel marketing organization. Moreover, suppliers want us to focus on the growth-minded agents within this group, and we intend to do just that.”
Kaplan, a long-time proponent of regional networks, believes that both supplier and agency needs are influenced by geographic location.
“Travel agencies in New York do business with tour operators and consolidators on the East Coast that agents in Arizona, Utah, Texas and California have never even heard of and vice versa,” he said.
While most travel agencies book clients on all major cruise lines, some cruise lines have stronger regional identities than others, noted Kaplan.
“We can’t promise that we will satisfy every supplier need, or the desires of every individual agent in every region, but we are going to place a lot of emphasis on matching vendor programs to regional agency needs,”Kaplan said.
While a for-profit enterprise, LTA will adopt some characteristics of agency co-op models, including pay-for-performance revenue sharing and an agent-friendly dues structure, Godwin said.
LTA will have robust marketing, technology and training programs, but Godwin said he sees no need to reinvent the wheel.
“There is already an abundance of proven marketing strategies and fully developed travel technology tools in the marketplace,” he said.
“Our goal is to consolidate and organize existing marketing and technology tools on a platform that serve the needs of agents and vendors in logical, efficient and effective ways.”
Godwin added, “We are not going to waste one minute of our time, our members’ dollars, supplier dollars and our own dollars just for the sake of reinventing an array of excellent supplier technologies, GDS technologies and other third-party technologies that already exist.”
“The agency platform we have acquired will accommodate the best of these existing and future technologies very nicely.”
With respect to marketing programs, Godwin said that direct mail and online marketing will both be components of LTA’s program.
However, he noted that the direct mail channel is heavily saturated with travel offers and LTA is considering alternative channels that are not as heavily used.
Godwin, Shands and Kaplan, all long-time travel agency advocates, said that they hope to resume their advocacy activities with ASTA and other agency associations.
Godwin was a former co-chairman of CTIP, the travel industry advocacy group in Washington, DC founded by Travel Trade editor and publisher Joel M. Abels. Godwin was subsequently recognized as Travel Trade’s Travel Agent of the Year in 1998 for his lobbying efforts on behalf of travel agents.
Shands was also a CTIP participant and is the current allied chairman for the Southwest Chapter of ASTA.
Kaplan was formerly the director of the Arizona Travel Agents Association (ATAA), the predecessor of Crown Travel Group. Kaplan, ATAA and Crown were active supporters of both ASTA and CTIP.