Guest Comment: Simon Hills, managing director of Icon Holidays and co-founder of Maestro Travel

Guest Comment: Simon Hills, managing director of Icon Holidays and co-founder of Maestro Travel
By admin


The lot of the independent wholesaler is getting tougher every day. Traditionally, independent wholesalers have been the knowledge-bank of the industry, and they still are. They have provided the very products that line the walls of most travel agencies, and they still do.

Yet so many agencies and consumers are now prepared to by-pass the wholesalers and buy direct overseas, usually with no real idea of who they are dealing with.

One must wonder why this is so.

Independent specialist wholesalers are committed to their products and their destinations. They know their destinations better than anyone else in the market, and they provide great service.

Unfortunately the continual pressure put on agencies by their chains' Head Office to support only preferred suppliers, plus the endless offers of specials and deals orchestrated by the same HO's (and by many of the larger aligned wholesalers) have had damaging repercussions for smaller independent wholesalers. Margins are continually threatened and volume is becoming more important to survival than quality and content.

To further complicate things, every product on every shelf in every travel agency is replicated over and over again, with the only difference being price.

Sadly the specialist wholesalers are lost in the traffic as consumers are taught to chase deals rather than quality, and product differentiation is hard to find.

As a result, many individual agencies (and one entire agency group) have started working directly with overseas suppliers who can provide first-hand information and a range of product ideas that enable the agency to provide their clients with options that separate them from the repetition found in brochures, and the sameness found amongst their agency competitors. They also can greatly improve their margins.

Maestro Travel was formulated because of all the above issues. Rather than agencies attempting to source direct business from random and largely unknown international suppliers, we decided to build a business which offers security in terms of the product source and allows those agencies who, for whatever reason, have decided to work directly with international product providers.

Maestro is all about channelling agencies who are either already bypassing wholesalers or who are looking to buy direct but have not developed the relationships they need to move ahead, in to a safe and proven range of product suppliers.

At this stage, we are not having any trouble finding new members keen to take control of their futures and develop great relationships with our international partners.

Change is not a concept restricted to the future. It is happening now, and pressures on distribution methods, industry structures and margins are real and they are current. Agencies and wholesalers must start to ask themselves some serious questions. Is my current way of doing business relevant? Are preferred relationships empowering or restrictive? Who are my enemies in the new paradigm? Is the Brand of my agency chain tarnished? Is it the type of Brand I want to be associated with? Does that Brand really build my business?

It's very hard to come up with the answers if you don't ask the questions.

As the owner of a wholesale business and a retail agency as well as Maestro, I see the benefits of all sides of the story as well as the pitfalls. It is clear to me that only dynamic businesses prepared to move the goal posts and embrace change as well as challenge the old paradigms, are those likely to succeed.

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