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Friday,  April 19, 2024 11:34 AM 

Jill Wykes: Watching TTAND grow from zero to 1,300 travel agent partners

  • Opinions
  •   03-21-2024  8:59 am
  •   Jill Wykes (Advertorial - The Travel Agent Next Door)

Jill Wykes: Watching TTAND grow from zero to 1,300 travel agent partners
Jill Wykes (Advertorial - The Travel Agent Next Door)

I have known Flemming Friisdahl for a long time now – we worked together at the former North American Leisure Group, which became MyTravel Canada, which became Thomas Cook North America.

I left the company in 2011 – I was supposed to retire but it didn’t work out that way. I started doing some contract work with different (mostly travel) entities and before long, I set up my own little business and had various clients over the years.

Several of them were startups and Flemming came to me in 2013 to discuss an idea he had for starting a new company and asked if I could help with PR and website content. I remember sitting at my dining room table with him as he talked about starting a host agency.

Back then ‘host agency’ was not an overly familiar term, although there were a couple of established host agencies in Canada by then. But the groundswell of home-based agents had not really started in Canada, unlike the U.S. and the U.K. where it had begun in earnest after the financial crisis in 2008 – where so many travel agencies closed their doors and experienced agents went into business for themselves, taking their clients with them.

From left (of TTAND): Christine Ufniak, director of marketing; Penny Martin, VP, agent experience; Nicola Gowe, director of finance; Chris Senior, CFO; Rhonda Stanley, VP, new agent development; Flemming Friisdahl, founder; Jeff Element, sr. VP, operations. (Pax Global Media/File photo)

Travel agencies and travel agents had taken several blows between the disruption of the big online agencies and so many suppliers enabling direct bookings over the internet. There were dire predictions of travel agents becoming extinct at the time.

It was against this backdrop that I listened to Flemming and was a bit skeptical about the likelihood of success.

I could not have been more wrong!

Flemming had persuaded industry veterans Penny Martin and Nancy Aube to join him – and marketing guru Brad Miron to come up with a brand name and logo.

Since those early days I have had a front row seat watching The Travel Agent Next door grow at lightening speed, going from zero agents 10 years ago – to over 1,300 today and growing every month! Not to mention a team of about 65 dedicated, hard-working staff in Canada and India.

How did they do it?

An old friend of mine who was tremendously successful had a mantra for success: find a way to build something – anything—but do it better than anyone else.

Well, that is exactly what the team at The Travel Agent Next Door has done. Flemming has had his foot on the gas down to the floor since opening day, challenging his team to bring more and more innovations to make the travel agent partner’s job easier.

I have watched the constant changes and improvements and innovation, year in, year out.

The whole idea is so simple really – take away everything from travel agents on the back end so they can concentrate on selling travel. Give them prompt, timely service and help when they need it.

And give them access – Flemming talks to every single agent who wants to join TTAND personally. He works 20-hour days as far as I can tell and has poured all his energy and efforts into building this company. I take my hat off to him.

Suppliers have benefitted from TTAND’s success too

But it wasn’t only about the travel agents. In the early days Flemming persuaded several top industry suppliers to take a chance on TTAND and give him sales contracts.

He has always stressed the importance of Win, Win, Win – a win for travel agents, a win for suppliers and a win for TTAND. If anything doesn’t meet the criteria, it is off the table.

Even the pandemic played a role

One thing that truly amazed me is that TTAND never laid one person off during the entire pandemic. And TTAND created all sorts of events and programs to keep their employees and agents engaged during the long months of isolation.

And while some agents left the industry, a lot of new ones flocked to join TTAND, deciding to take the leap to becoming home based.

Consumers learned the value of a travel agent when their travel arrangements were abruptly cancelled in 2020. And then when travel opened up again, consumers needed agents to navigate all the rules.

The pandemic also produced lots of new candidates eager to take TTAND’s course for new agents looking to join the industry.

Travel agents are back, we all know that – and TTAND is well positioned to support their success for years to come.

It has been exciting and fun to have a client become such a Canadian travel industry success story – I wish Flemming, Rhonda and the entire team in Canada and India many more wins in the next 10 years!


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