We sat down with Brad Conner for coffee at a street-side cafe on Wacker Drive in downtown Chicago. As Director of Business Development at one of the world’s largest tour companies, Tourico Holidays, Brad’s tasked with building relationships with large entities for the firm’s fast-growing Last Minute Travel Club. Learn the story behind this impressive brand and Brad’s approach to landing big fish in this edition of Take 5.
What is your position with Tourico Holidays?
I’m the director of business development for our B2C channel. I’ve been growing a dot-com business of ours called the LMT Club, which is stands for Last Minute Travel Club.
We’ve been growing it primarily by reaching out to a lot of human resource departments or third-party HR companies that have discounts or perks for companies with anywhere from small business to fortune 500 companies.
We also work with a lot of the chambers of commerce because this program is especially great for business travelers. From the one-person owner to the person that has maybe 10 associates underneath them, we have some large companies that book travel through LMTClub.
What is LMTClub business model?
It is a members-only-type environment, $50 a year. Once you log in, you’re able to get access to wholesale rates. Today’s travel industry is run by online sites which don’t allow you to sell below standard set rates. However, as a member of lmtclub, you will get access to deeply discounted wholesale rates.
We also have expertly trained travel agents and we’re open 24/7 with our call center. So if somebody’s stuck right now in Chicago, they can get on a call and say, “Hey, I’m stuck; I can’t get out of town.” And we can find them a discounted rate on a hotel.
How do your inventory and rates compare to the large online travel agencies?
When it comes to inventory, we have strong coverage in major markets. Roughly 300 employees who work directly with hoteliers. In addition, we are directly connected to all the major hotel chain reservation systems. And since we are the aggregator/wholesaler, we have our markup, but that’s all we have. We’re not supplying it to an OTA that then does a markup of a markup of a markup.
The nature of your name would suggest: I need a hotel room tonight, I’m going to book it on LMT. What sort of date restrictions are placed on LMTCLUB?
I always say it’s last-minute travel prices all year round. So it’s not just a last-minute booking site. You can book from a month, two months out, six months out, six days or six hours. It’s to-the-minute and to-the-door, so the second you book it, it’s locked in. You receive a voucher saying that it’s been confirmed with the hotel.
Are you creating discount packages as well, or is this strictly hotels?
We have just about everything. Hotel discounts on average are around 35 percent but can be as much as 70 percent; it just depends on your destination, the time of year, the hotel star rating. Attractions are average around 30 percent savings. Rental cars have a smaller savings, probably closer to 15 percent. Nobody really has discounts on flights. We have a little bit of savings on cruises. We have vacation rental homes that have probably 10, 15 percent savings. And then package deals obviously depend on the packages, but they average around 30 percent savings. These are things that actually you can package on the site yourself plus we have true traditional packages as well. But you can actually make your own packages on there. For example, ski vacations with lift tickets, rental car, accommodations, together with flights.
Is Tourico Holidays doing anything specific in the group travel market?
We have in beta right now a group booking engine scheduled to launch in 2016. Basically, you log in, you put where you want to go and who you’re traveling with, say a wedding or girlfriends trip, along with how many rooms you need. Click submit and it goes out to select hotels within that specific area you picked. Hotels receive your request and submit their rate directly on the website. Customer then gets an email, says, “Hey, you got three out of five” or whichever. They go in, they find the one they want, they click submit and they book it. You will get answers within 24 hours.
The difference between our system and others is that hotels can actually bid back and forth. This is an open system. Say you’re going to stick to a budget of around $200 a night. You may have outbid your competition. The Hyatt says, well, OK, we’ll take that group for $180. It may be a half a star rating lower, but to the consumer they will take a half-star rating under and book it because it might save them $1,000 with the group.
Tell us about the Tourico Academy.
It’s been one of our most successful endeavors. We run four 10-week programs during the year, each focusing on different aspects of the travel business. We recruit all over the world and for anyone who enters the academy we house them, feed them, provide a laptop and they receive pay and company benefits. Over the course of the academy, trainees are immersed in every aspect of the rapidly changing industry.
What’d you do personally before joining Tourico?
I was in business development with government sales. It trained me to be ready for the travel industry because it’s very competitive. I’m a relationship owner…I can be a shark and I can be as aggressive as I need to be. However, when I’m working for the right company and I believe in the product, then I definitely can make some headway. I believe in Tourico.
How do you continue growing the business?
The answer is in ongoing relationships. We are constantly trying to find new partnerships, new hotels and better rates. We are constantly in growth mode.
Tourico Holidays primarily has been business to business, it’s 85% of our company. We’ve become the largest wholesaler in the U.S. and we have over 700 employees globally. We’re buying globally, so if you want to find savings for London, Singapore, Amsterdam, we’ve got it.
Even in the U.S., Sam’s Club Travel is actually a white label of the LMT Club. So, hence, when you ask about how good we’ve got to be, the prices, the value, the size comes down to everything. It’s not always about just the lowest rates. It is also about excellent customer service and integrity.