They may be on opposite sides of the world but Travellers Choice and independent UK retail network Advantage Travel Partnership (ATP) share a unique bond. The relationship was further strengthened recently when Travellers Choice Managing Director Christian Hunters travelled to Spain to attend ATP's annual conference, where digital disruption and a resurgence in support for traditional travel agents was high on the agenda.
Hunter travelled to Cadiz, a port city in the Andalucía region of southwestern Spain, for the ATP conference, which each year attracts travel agents from across the UK and in the past has drawn speakers such as Joanna Lumley and Martina Navratilova.
Among this year's keynote speakers were former Special Forces soldier, TV presenter and best-selling author Ant Middleton, who addressed business leadership skills, and BBC Scotland Editor Sarah Smith, who highlighted consumers' demands for ever more immediate and flexible product delivery.
Hunter says Smith's presentation reaffirms just how pioneering - for both the UK and Australian markets - is Travellers Choice's partnership with online travel agent TripADeal.
However, as always, the most valuable benefit from attending the ATP conference was the opportunity to meet with UK travel industry leaders and share insights and creative solutions to some of the common challenges facing independent travel agents globally.
"I doubt there would be two independent agency groups anywhere in world more closely aligned structurally and operationally than Travellers Choice and ATP," says Hunter. "The way we interact with our members and the support services they offer them are closely aligned, and that means we are continually learning from one another.
"One of the trends they are witnessing now in the UK, for instance, is a resurgence in the use of travel agents. Despite an ongoing decline in the popularity of the traditional British high street, travel agencies in the UK are currently thriving. Partly it's in response to uncertainty generated by the collapse of non-bonded travel companies, but also the fact that consumers are reawakening to the expertise and depth of products agents can tap into.
"From a Travellers Choice perspective it certainly validates our network's investment in our training, education and mentor programs and our decision to guarantee that 100% of our members are ATAS accredited."
Travellers Choice and ATP are both members of the WIN Global Travel Network - a collection of independently-owned retail groups spread across 70 countries. Founded in 1985, the network now boasts more than 6,000 locations worldwide and an aggregated annual turnover in excess of US$15 billion. Members support each other in servicing client accounts and exchange information and traveller support when required.