Interviewing: Kelly Bergin, President, OASIS Travel Network
Interview By: Andy Ogg, CTIE, Co-Owner – Travel Professional NEWS
OASIS Travel Network began with a vision. In the midst of the financial crisis of 2008 and 2009, Lee Smolinski, founder and Chairman of OASIS saw that the travel agency industry was once again making a transformation. Brick and mortar travel agencies were closing in record numbers and individual travel advisors increasingly went home based. Senior travel advisors were retiring and weren’t being replaced.
There were already host agencies in the space and they were doing quite well. However, Lee Smolinski found that the sector needed fundamental change to greatly increase compensation for advisors as well as attract new entrants to the industry. A healthy industry must attract new blood with entrepreneurial spirit. Hence, OASIS was born, and was the first host agency to offer advisors 100% commissions.
With over 30 years in the travel industry, all as a small business owner, Lee knows what you need to build your brand, be successful and survive. Strong industry relationships have been developed over many years and are key to successful negotiations that benefit our OASIS members.
For the past ten years, Lee has built a team, together with Kelly Bergin, President of OASIS to become one of the most highly respected and fastest growing host agencies in the nation. OASIS is also proud to be the only host agency in the World that provides free ASTA membership to all its members. Lee & Kelly both believe that ASTA serves a vital role in the travel industry and cannot be replicated.
Today, OASIS offers every tool that a travel advisor needs to succeed in this competitive industry. We plan for the future, by learning from the past. Ethics and professionalism guide us every day.
First off, thank you very much for the time today and joining our fantastic Travel Professional NEWS readers!
What a year it’s been! How has the 2020 year and all that has happened been for you all at OASIS Travel Network?
I have to admit it has been a challenging time, but also a time of rethinking and renewal. Like many other companies we decided to take this opportunity to update and improve some of our tools and processes for our OTN members. The first thing we changed was the cost of OASIS membership. Our new Build-A-Plan program offers many choices with various costs beginning at $19 per month. We also upgraded the websites we offer and lowered the cost all at the same time. If that wasn’t enough, we added a consumer cruise and hotel booking engine at no cost. We listened when our members told us they wanted the ability to manage and personalize their websites. We are now offering that solution as well.
We have seen the inclusion of the ASTA membership when partnering with OASIS Travel Network, how did that offering come about?
OTN has always been an enthusiastic supporter of ASTA. We were always looking for ways to promote ASTA and to encourage members to join the only organization that supports them. When we decided to restructure our OTN membership we knew it was the perfect time to not only lower costs for our advisors, but to also add value to an OTN membership. What better way than to offer two memberships for the price of one: OASIS and ASTA!
How has OASIS Travel Network continued to educate travel advisors throughout the COVID-19 crisis?
We have a very strong relationship with our suppliers and they have continued to offer training and support. Webinar and Zoom meetings are popular. Our panel discussions about Covid-19 challenges, river cruises, and best marketing methods for this time have been very well attended. We are also a member of Signature Travel Network which has an incredible training program including the new proprietary Discoveries and Nolan Burris training courses. These cover such topics as building destination itineraries, implementing fees, handling objections, closing the sale, selling your value and much more. This is the perfect time for advisors to catch up on training and gain the knowledge they’ve needed, but were perhaps too busy accomplish.
Are there other avenues you have pursued in order to keep agents engaged and connected with your host agency, and each other?
After making the decision to cancel two in person New2Travel boot camps, we have changed this training to a virtual learning experience. Typically, we require our new to the industry advisors to complete our 98 module online training courses and then we bring them to Boca Raton for our live boot camp. This allows them to meet the OTN staff, network with supplier partners and each other. Because that cannot happen now, we hope this virtual boot camp will give our participants a type of in-person interaction they would have experienced. We anticipate beginning our in-person training again in early 2021.
For those new to travel, what aspects of education should they be focusing on right now?
This is the perfect time to begin a travel career. There will be more time to focus on the set-up of a new business and to plan how to launch it correctly. People that are new to the industry should research and learn about LLC’s, E&O insurance, and accounting practices so they know what is best for their business situation. The next step is to study marketing and sales because without that there will be no business. And lastly, a new advisor needs to decide what they are going to sell and study those products and destinations.
As we look forward, what do you think we, as an industry, can do to help the world of travel begin its rebuilding process?
I believe we should learn as much as possible about the new protocols that suppliers are putting in place. We need to keep up to date on all the guidelines and rules that countries are establishing. We need to begin traveling ourselves and explain to our clients as we go our experience and observations. By becoming the expert about traveling during Covid-19, an advisor can help to energize those clients that are ready to travel and they will be ready when those other clients come knocking and they will!
All advisors also need to complete the CDC survey requesting information about resumption of cruising : https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2020/07/21/2020-15812/request-for-information-related-to-cruise-ship-planning-and-infrastructure-resumption-of-passenger
Is there anything else new on the horizon for OASIS Travel Network as we look forward?
As highlighted above, we have our new Build-A-Plan program that saves advisors money and our new state-of-the-art websites. We also just launched a new air booking engine that includes scheduled air, private consolidator rates, a concierge air desk with support and soon to come Air/Sea rates. So, we have been quite busy these last six months and will continue to be. There are always a new and better ideas and at OASIS we embrace those.
Thank you for the time today and for sharing this wonderful information with our readers of Travel Professional NEWS! I look forward to catching up with you again soon!