Corporate travel management has lost its way. The industry’s biggest players, looking to shave dollars off the bottom line, have become ensnared by the siren song of the call centre while delivering subpar services. Qualities like attention to detail and customization have gone out the window.
Fortunately, one company has not followed suit: Vision Travel Solutions. As Canada’s largest independent travel-management company, the organization has remained dedicated to the service precepts of the past and is projecting to reach $700 million in 2015, with a goal of $1 billion by June 30, 2018.
“We’ve taken the ideas of high-touch, great service that people used to welcome from their travel consultants, and we’ve modernized it with all the bells and whistles and tools of modern technology,” says Joel Ostrov, the company’s president. Ostrov, along with COO Brian Robertson and CEO Arend Roos, runs Vision Travel by servicing companies that seek travel assistance with a more customized approach. “We have not sacrificed individualized service for the sake of better profits,” he says. “I don’t know if you’d call what we do innovation or just a move back towards the past.”
“We’ve taken the ideas of high-touch, great service that people used to welcome from their travel consultants, and we’ve modernized it with all the bells and whistles and tools of modern technology.”
Today, the organization is guided by its tagline, “Seeing travel your way”—a notion that applies to both its clients and its workforce. For employees, the tagline means not following a script when dealing with clients. “They’re empowered to service that client, service them well, and service them in their own style,” Ostrov says. The organization operates in a team environment where an individual agent is assigned to accounts based on the client’s need and personality, as well as the expertise required. “We fit the agent to the account,” Ostrov says. “We’re not a cookie cutter, so we go into their whole business philosophy and customize the travel-management program around them.”
In order to meet those needs, Ostrov concentrates on fostering, maintaining, and nurturing Vision Travel’s strategic relationships with its clients and suppliers. One of those major relationships is with Canada’s flagship carrier, Air Canada. Ostrov regularly meets with the airline to discuss strategy and industry news. “I’ve known Joel for a long time, and he is passionate about his people and our industry,” says Duncan Bureau, vice president of global sales at Air Canada. “That passion has driven the incredible success of the Vision Voyages/Travel group, and Air Canada is pleased to count them as partners.”
To that end, Ostrov understands the need to not only maintain relationships but to also keep evolving Vision Travel’s offerings to meet the needs of the modern traveller. One such offering is a product called Vision Intel, a customized online reporting dashboard that allows clients to access data such as the location and spending of their travellers in real time. Vision deploys Travel GPA, a product that allows clients to benchmark spending and booking patterns against more than 25,000 North American companies.
Perhaps the most exciting differentiator, though, is its Vision Assure product. The app is tied to an alert program that notifies travellers about storms, cancellations, and delays in real time, through a single access point. With it, clients can connect to their agents, access their files, and make changes while events are happening. Instead of waiting in line to rebook a cancelled flight, Vision Assure protects travellers and allows them to rebook via the app. HR departments of the clients or their travel managers can also access a map and see if there are issues in any particular city through a duty-of-care component. This enables clients to reach out to their personnel and make sure that they’re safe.
Ultimately, from the top-down, Vision Travel is committed to forging relationships, and these products are merely an extension of that philosophy. But not just connecting clients with different parts of the world, the organization connects with vendors alike. Technology hasn’t replaced the human touch; it has just made that connection a little bit easier.
5 Questions with Joel Ostrov
What does innovation mean to your company?
Right now, it’s in mobile technology and duty-of-care products—just making sure that our clients have the ability to use things like smartphones in an efficient way.
Where do you hope this innovation will lead you in the next five years?
It’s not really innovation that’s going to lead us; it’s continuing to differentiate ourselves from our competitors by offering more products that make the lives of travellers better.
How do you cultivate innovation within your workforce?
It’s just keeping your door open and welcoming suggestions. Every time you have an idea, bring it forth to senior management and run it through.
What defines an innovative company in the 21st century?
It’s what has always defined an innovative company—a company that looks every day at how it could do things better and more efficiently for the benefit of both the bottom line and the happiness of customers.
How can a company encourage innovation without breaking the bank?
That’s the biggest challenge! Vision is privately held, so we’re not accountable to shareholders. We just have to make sure that we are strategic in our purchases and expenditures.