Harris & Johnson Say Members Are “Embracing The New Ensemble”

“We’re in a really good spot,” says David Harris, Executive Chairman of Ensemble.

TravelPulse Canada caught up with Harris and Ensemble President Michael Johnson a year after the consortium – a cooperative for over 50 years – was acquired by Navigatr Group.

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At the time, Johnson said: “Travel has evolved and it’s time the consortium did too. Ensemble is the 50-year-old new kid on the block.”

Although 95% of the former cooperative’s shareholders voted in favor of the acquisition, it still was a tumultuous time for Ensemble, especially as it happened just as the pandemic that devastated the travel industry was beginning to release its hold.


Ensemble Travel Group CEO David Harris
Ensemble Travel Group has named David Harris as CEO, a newly-created position. He’ll be based in Toronto.

“We had to prove ourselves,” says Harris. “We’re thrilled with where we are.”

During a conversation at last October’s Ensemble agency owners and managers meeting in Miami – the first such gathering since the acquisition – Harris likened the evolution of the company to “changing all four tires of a car at once.”

Today, the process continues, but Harris says there’s a critical difference: “The confidence in our membership is back.”

As evidence, Harris points to a recent employee engagement survey which revealed a 62% increase in engagement levels.

“Engaged teams are strong teams,” says Johnson. “And our main mission right now is to maintain the members’ experience, while building a new company.”

It doesn’t hurt that the travel industry has been on fire in the year since Ensemble’s acquisition, as pent-up pandemic demand was unleashed. Year-over-year sales are up 97%.


Ensemble President Michael Johnson
Ensemble President Michael Johnson.

“That creates different complexities,” says Johnson, “but much more pleasant ones.”

Navigatr is a technology-driven company with US$4.5 billion in annual sales. The organization’s vision is to “invest thoughtfully in travel companies that elevate the customer experience.” Navigatr-owned companies include Kensington Tours, TripArc, Travel Edge and the Travel Edge Network.

While Navigatr’s deep pockets are an obvious asset for Ensemble, Johnson and Harris say the biggest benefits stem from Navigatr’s technology products that are designed to make the travel advisor’s role easier, and the end customer’s experience enhanced.

“Navigatr truly understands the value that humans bring to travel,” says Johnson. “We want to automate for efficiency, to support the craft of the travel advisor.”


Pat Probert and Mary De Almeida
Ensemble members and TravelOnly top-sellers Pat Probert and Mary De Almeida.

TravelPulse Canada spoke with Pat Probert, a top-seller with Ensemble member TravelOnly, about the value Ensemble brings.

“They’re an awesome partner of ours. The strength and support of the Ensemble means a lot to our personal business.”

Probert sells a lot of higher-end ocean and river cruise products, using Ensemble’s locked-in group rates, onboard credits and other perks. “The savings are $100s to over $1,000 per cruise. I don’t call any cruise line’s regular number.”

Ensemble members now have access to the ADX platform developed by Navigatr subsidiary TripArc, which enables advisors to bundle air, hotels, cruises and tours into one itinerary, seamlessly embed fees and set a desired margin, while also offering auto-invoicing and secure customer autopay .

ADX represents more than a decade in the making and an investment of upwards of $30 million. After initial resistance – typical when advisors are asked to change the way they do things – Harris and Johnson say ADX adoption has been taken off, with more than 10,000 advisors now using the platform.

“Yields are holding around 7%, and every day sees growth in sales and adoption,” says Johnson. “The biggest hurdle is getting people to try it. And we’re only using a relatively small percentage of the overall ADX opportunity.”

As ADX continues to roll out enhancements – cruise search is a recent addition and cruise booking is next – Harris expects “the hype around it will go through the roof.” ADX will also soon offer NDC capability, enabling users to access more air inventory.

Marketing resources are another priority for Ensemble, and since the Navigatr acquisition, the consortium has created “an entire new marketing strategy, with a sophisticated, elegant approach.”

“I’ve always thought of us as a strong family,” says Harris. “Now the roots are so much deeper, and the Navigator culture is very strong.”

Between the disruptions of the COVID crisis and the acquisition, Ensemble hasn’t been actively recruiting new members for more than three years. According to Harris and Johnson, that will change in the near future.


Gala dinner Ensemble conference
It was an energized group at the Ensemble conference closing night gala dinner at the Eden Roc in Miami last fall.

“We have a lot of things to improve. The timing wasn’t right to be in the recruiting marketplace,” said Harris. “But the pipeline is incredibly strong. We’re seeing new member interest from some very significant players.”

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