Blake Wolfe is an award-winning journalist and editor, who joined PAX after nearly 10 years in Canada’s newspaper industry. In addition to PAX, his work has been featured in publications such as the Metroland Media group of newspapers and the Toronto Sun.
A lot can happen in two years.
In 2017, TRVL.com launched its service in Canada, offering a unique consumer-facing booking portal that enabled travellers to essentially become their own travel agent and receive payment for contributing recommendations to a global network.
Fast forward to late 2019: following a complete turnaround, TRVL.com has now partnered with Discover The World and rebranded as a B2B hotel booking platform embracing traditional travel agents over travellers themselves, bringing their expertise online and giving them a cut of the ever-growing OTA pie with an agent-exclusive platform, while building an international network of agents.
So why the change?
Speaking to PAX during an exclusive interview this week, TRVL.com founder Jochem Wijnands provided some insight into the shift, which took place following an analysis of the site’s most frequent users.
“When we started out, I thought that travel agents were pretty much gone,” he explained. “But there’s many out there and they’re very active and passionate…. We made that pivot because we looked at our numbers and we learned that 80 per cent of all bookings made on the platform were made by professional agents.
“What we’re trying to build in the long run is a global travel agent network. We want to bring that type of information to all of the travel agents – almost like a Wikipedia for agents.”
And with Canada as its pilot market for the new format, Canadian travel agents have the chance to get in on the ground floor; while the site is currently only available in English, plans are in place to launch in French and other languages, Wijnands said.
It’s the latest incarnation of what started out as a travel magazine and the world’s first mobile publishing platform, a spin-off of which was sold to Apple in 2014. It’s also a very different platform from what it was 2017, when the original incarnation of TRVL.com caught the attention of the Travel Industry Council of Ontario (TICO): by providing financial incentive to travellers to make travel recommendations, TICO argued that the site was operating as an unlicensed travel business in the province, prompting TRVL.com to temporarily suspend operations in Ontario at the time.
“We’ve come full circle – I think TICO’s going to be pleased,” Wijnands joked.
"The currency of wisdom"
Open only to registered and active travel agents (all registrants are vetted before their accounts are activated), TRVL.com has partnered with OTAs including Booking.com, Hotels.com, Priceline, Agoda and Expedia (former Expedia executive Arthur Hoffman is currently CEO of TRVL.com) to offer agents more than 2 million properties around the globe. Wijnands said that while the site will focus on hotels and resorts for now, TRVL.com plans to expand into tours and packages in the future.
Users can also compare price and commission rates amongst OTAs on the same hotel and search by a number of criteria, including room features, travel style, proximity to local attractions (which can also be displayed in a map view) and more. A world map displaying agents’ clients booked through TRVL.com allows users to keep track of and contact those travellers in-destination, Wijnands added.
The heart of TRVL.com, however, is what Ian Murray, executive vice-president at Discover the World – Global, described to PAX as “the currency of wisdom.”
Agents make recommendations on properties to their peers, with the most-recommended hotels more likely to appear in searches and creating a community-generated database; in turn, quality recommendations can earn agents a thank-you from a fellow user, building their reputation as a reliable source for travel information. Agents can also create lists of properties based around a theme (for example, properties geared toward different types of travellers or those found within a specific region, such as hotels along the U.S.’ famed Route 66) and share them with other TRVL.com users.
“We know in our private lives that we want to share an amazing experience with others – it’s almost a human condition,” Murray said, adding that Canada was chosen as a test market for the new format due to the “size and adaptability” of the travel agent community here. “It’s an agent platform – it has its own momentum and that sharing will create further value down the road. The ultimate value will be the improved customer experience. That’s the final endorsement that this community is driving toward.”
The perfect match
To bring the new TRVL.com to Canada’s travel agents, Wijnands told PAX that he chose Discover The World based on the company’s experience and reach, selling dozens of travel brands in more than 100 countries around the globe in an exclusive B2B capacity.
According to Joanne Lundy, Discover The World’s director for Canada, the feeling is mutual.
“We love nothing better than finding something brand new that travel agents are going to really like,” Lundy told PAX. “We’re the pilot country for agents to say ‘I wish you could add this.’ It’s exciting because they’re helping us design the platform. Agents are excited to have one platform that doesn’t force them into others. They also like the opportunity to link with their peer group.”
For Wijnands, it’s all part of an effort “to put the human element back into the travel booking process.
“We don’t want AI, we want IA – intelligent advisors,” Wijnands said. “Our most precious intelligence is human. If you have hundreds of thousands of passionate people out there already, we just want to get those people connected to take a journey that will ultimately put them centre-stage.”
Travel agents interested in joining the community can start by visiting TRVL.com.
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