Back in 2008 I wrote the article Travel Consortia: Ensemble Travel, Virtuoso, etc. which set out the basic benefits of booking your cruise, hotel or tour with a travel agency that belongs to a consortium. Of late, and of course on Cruise Critic, some significant misinformation has been set out by a colorful, if not terribly accurate, individual so I thought it a good time to delve into the subject a bit more.
First, let’s set the record straight on cruise benefits:
OK, that said, here are some of the basics of – and the differences between – two of the larger consortia. Ensemble Travel Group, of which I am a member, is a not-for-profit organization. That doesn’t mean non-profit. It means that the money it makes is given back to its members. Virtuoso on the other hand is a privately held company that has a profit motive; giving back to its members only a portion of its profits and keeping a good bit of its profits for itself. The resulting products are, consequently, very different on the outside, but quite similar on the inside.
What do I mean by that? One is in the “travel business” and the other is in the “business of travel”. Huh?
Virtuoso essentially markets itself as being superior to the products and agencies it associates itself with. “This is a Virtuoso agency”, hotel or whatever…pushing its brand first and then the brand of the associated agency, hotel or whatever. It has been very effective in its marketing Virtuoso as a standard-bearing brand, but as an entity, it necessary favors its bigger agencies who profit off the smaller ones and it is quite expensive to belong to. (In theory the profits it brings the smaller agencies will be greater than its cost.) In other words, Virtuoso is in the “travel business”.
Ensemble Travel Group works differently, with all of its profits being given back to its members effectively in proportion to its production with each “preferred” supplier (more on that later). As a result, the brand being supported is each travel agency’s; not Ensemble. And because it has no selfish profit motive (only one for its members), you don’t have a situation where money is spent on pushing its brand or disproportionately on it larger members. As such, Ensemble is in the “business of travel”.
I looked long and hard at which consortium I should join and stay with. I compared amenities on cruises, which hotels were in each’s programs and the amenities provided, etc. And what I found was – honestly – there is very little difference between Ensemble Travel Group and Virtuoso properties and amenities. The differences are in how the consortia help its members (technology, marketing, profit-sharing, etc.) And obviously for Goldring Travel, Ensemble Travel Group worked the best.
But how do these consortia make money to either put into their pockets or give back to their members? It isn’t a secret: Similar to super-sized travel agencies, they make money from the cruise lines, hotels and tour operators. The more their members sell, the more they get paid. Pretty simple.
But what does this mean to you, the traveler? Dependent on the agency, it can mean a lot or a little. For example:
But that said, keep in mind that an onboard credit on a cruise or complimentary breakfast at a hotel cannot, ever, make up for the talents of a great travel advisor. You remember that person (or if not find one so you can “remember”) that promptly answers your calls/emails; says, “I’ll take care of that. It is easy.”; provides you with accurate information; seeks out the best pricing; and, of course, provides you with an overall great experience. I have earned my membership in Ensemble Travel Group just the same way I earn my clients’ business by doing just that.
[Interested in the “long version” of this topic? Please read my June 2011 article: Luxury Travel Agents and Their Consortia: Do They Make A Difference to Your Seabourn, Silversea, Crystal or Regent Seven Seas Cruise? ]
So if you are someone hell-bent on finding someone to share your tours, believes a cheap hotel is fine because you only sleep there even if it is 30 minutes round trip to anywhere, or thinks that “killing” a bottle of wine while “gnawing” on a lamb chop is the ultimate in fine cruising experiences, then all of this is meaningless. Just find the travel agency with the cheapest rate because all of the benefits of using a top travel agency that not only qualifies for membership in, but belongs to, a top quality consortium don’t really assist…except maybe for an occasional onboard credit.
Now you know. But, of course, if you have any questions or concerns, please give me a call or email me.