Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
Uniglobe Travel has blended its Eastern and Western Canada companies – two entities that, for more than 40 years, have operated independently – into one singular brand called Uniglobe Travel (Canada).
The merger, which was completed last Tuesday (April 25), was officially announced to nearly 200 travel advisors, agency owners, managers and suppliers on Saturday (April 29) at Uniglobe’s national conference – its first in-person event in more than three years – at the Holiday Inn Toronto International Airport hotel.
The restructuring means Uniglobe Travel (Eastern Canada) will formally acquire the territory rights for all of Canada.
“The notion of having a national brand, coast to coast, always made sense,” Uniglobe Regional President Dean Dacko told PAX at the event. “Everyone across our network recognized the opportunities, advantages, and how much better it would be if we were one organization."
Amid a wave of rapid post-COVID growth (Uniglobe has opened 12 new locations, mostly concentrated in Southern Ontario and Quebec, in the last 12 months), the bridging of the company’s east and west entities is set to streamline processes and deliver a greater value proposition to all stakeholders, Dacko explained.
A “one Canada” approach
Historically, Uniglobe’s operations in Eastern and Western Canada marched to the beat of their own drums. They had separate business models, contracts and audiences, and delivered services in different ways.
Sure, there were collaborations between the two, but “90 per cent of what we did was distinct,” Dacko explained.
Now, with a “one Canada” approach, Uniglobe “can really enhance our value proposition by focusing on our core strengths,” Dacko said.
For agency owners, the merger is expected to open broader support services, on a national scale, compared to what was previously available. For travel advisors, there will access to more products, customer support and technical resources.
And for suppliers, the unification will simplify transactions, Dacko said.
“They're not going to have 50 different contracts, from 50 different levels of support, and take calls from 50 different places,” as Dacko put it. “We're going to make it more efficient and productive with one contract and one marketing plan.”
Martin Charlwood, president & COO of Uniglobe Travel International LP, was on hand Saturday after the announcement was made.
“We are very supportive of today’s announcement regarding the formation of the new Uniglobe Travel (Canada) region,” he said. “This newly-combined Canada-wide region will be able to take advantage of many synergies that will help drive Uniglobe to new heights in Canada.”
“In fact, we’re coming back full circle to the early days when Uniglobe first entered the Canadian market as one region, and we feel strongly that some of Uniglobe’s best days here in Canada are yet to come.”
“Geography no longer matters”
The restructuring, it appears, has been in the cards for some time now – discussions, Dacko said, had “been going on for years” until they was interrupted by the pandemic.
Vancouver-based Uniglobe Travel International, a vast network of retail franchises that specialize in corporate and leisure travel, operates on six continents. Canada is the largest producer on a total-sales basis.
The last time Uniglobe’s Eastern and Western branches got together for a conference was back in 1999 and merging the two, ultimately, reflects “where the future is going,” Dacko told PAX.
“Travel is evolving,” he said, “and geography no longer matters.”
“We have flexible work environments where you can live in a different market, with your family and your laptop, and still do the same thing. That is the reality for a lot of our clients and businesses.”
Key to this is the evolution of independent contractors – home-based travel advisors living and working in their own spaces, outside of traditional brick and mortar offices.
“It doesn’t matter where their geography is,” Dacko said. “They're looking for the same support and services.”
The consolidation comes with a recognition that, coming out of COVID, there are even more travel advisors working from home these days.
“COVID accelerated that,” said Dacko, who expects the independent contractor model to “continue to expand and grow.”
“We're now better positioned to support [independent agents] and deliver products, services, and most importantly, the revenue they rely on, in an impactful way,” he said.
Strengthening the value
Happening in the background here is a strengthened value proposition that Dacko breaks down into three areas.
The first is technology, which “can be a huge inhibitor in your ability to grow.”
“There's a big gap between what technology says it can do, versus what your expectations are, and what you'd like it to do. And so, there's massive disruption,” Dacko said.
In looking at all aspects of technology, Uniglobe can now deliver “out-of-the-box solutions” that individual agencies can customize to suit their needs, in addition to enhanced technical support, Dacko said.
Technology, arguably, has been at the forefront of the travel industry’s evolution. But it can also be the single-biggest challenge for any travel agency owner.
The implementation of New Distribution Capabilities (NDC) by airlines, for example, may be a bumpy road for some, but it’s one that Uniglobe is preparing for.
On NDC content (which Air Canada, for one, will launch on June 14): “We are actively involved in it and doing it,” Dacko said.
“We’re really trying to understand what is happening and what is actually going to be different on June 14,” he said.
Whatever the outcome: “It needs to be a fully-integrated solution.”
And, as goes with most new technology, NDC “may not be the solution that anyone anticipated or expected,” Dacko said, noting that Uniglobe is relying on its “significant partnerships” to alleviate any “bumpiness” that may happen once the program kicks in.
The second pillar is marketing and communications, which Uniglobe “kept intact” during COVID, Dacko said, noting a new suite of tools that can generate customized content to each individual owner.
And thirdly, there’s also something to be said about who you know. Uniglobe is promoting its value in the “senior-level” relationships it has secured with partners over the years.
In travel, “a normal day doesn’t exist,” Dacko said, noting how unexpected situations (like snowstorms or hurricanes) can throw a wrench into itineraries and work flows.
When disruptions strike: “We get answers much more easily and more quickly,” he said.
“It’s not at the booking stage when the value comes through. It’s when stuff happens.”
"Our future looks amazing"
The update comes as Uniglobe projects numbers that may surpass pre-COVID levels.
In 2019, the company was just short of a billion dollars in gross sales, Dacko said.
“We think that by the end of 2023, we will exceed that number by a good 10 to 15 per cent. That’s important for a lot of people,” he said.
Saturday’s conference built on that momentum as attendees participated in workshops and training sessions to sharpen their skills and exchange ideas.
A trade show with 52 suppliers was also organized – it was the largest exhibit Uniglobe has ever held at a conference.
The response to Uniglobe’s new direction has been “100 per cent excitement,” Dacko said, noting that the company will retain the infrastructure it has today “and build on it.”
“We're not going backwards, we're going forward,” he said.
Dacko noted that “we're going to take our time to understand what is working” before making any bold changes within the company.
“Coming out of COVID, we're bigger, stronger, and better positioned for where we want to go. Our future looks amazing,” he said. “Everyone has the same absolute benefit, by all pushing together.”
Current Regional Owner Frank Dennis Jr., son of past Regional Owner Frank Dennis Sr., delivered a heartfelt tribute to his late father on Saturday that complimented the success of the region over the past four decades.
“Uniglobe Travel has always led the industry with leading edge technology and marketing solutions that allows our members to focus on delivering exceptional customer service that drives increased client growth and profitability,” he said. “Our ability to deliver value will be greatly enhanced as a national entity and we look forward to strong growth in the months and years to come.”
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