GOGO Goes Global
GOGO Vacations, which recently celebrated 65 years in business, has undergone a tremendous transformation in the 10 years since it was acquired by Flight Centre Ltd., a global travel group.
Yet, in many ways, it remains the same company that travel agents came to know over its first 55 years.
Company President John Van den Heuvel noted that there has been no wavering from GOGO’s policy from the beginning of working exclusively with agents. GOGO is still 100-percent agent-oriented, he said, with a motto of “Only at Your Travel Agent.”
While it started with vacation packages to Miami and the Poconos, GOGO became a pioneer over time in creating air and land packaged programs, eventually becoming best known for holidays in Mexico and the Caribbean.
The acquisition by Flight Centre has brought dramatic changes as far as geographical spread, with GOGO adding its Worldwide Traveler product. This includes offerings to Australia, New Zealand, Africa, South America and Europe.
Van den Heuvel said that the transition for GOGO after its acquisition presented some challenges: “When a merger like that happens, you go through a lot of internal transformation—your systems change as does the way you do business.
“Agents faced significant differences in dealing with us. But we are now on a smoother highway and have learned a lot from that experience. Today, we can offer a better product because of our global presence and buying power.”
GOGO has worked to stay close to agents in every way, including geographically.
“We did not want to become just a call center environment,” Van den Heuvel said.
With the aim of maintaining a local presence, the company aligned its sales offices and business development manager teams so that there are now 26 GOGO teams around the U.S.—in places where agents are. As a result, travel sellers can easily meet the BDMs in their region, at open houses or other events. There are also VIP dinners where agents from a region are invited, and there is always a BDM or operational executive in attendance.
“It’s very important to me that agents not have only telephone relationships,” Van den Heuvel said. “I will even fly to some of these events myself.”
Education is also a priority: GOGO has set up a national sales team especially for educational programs.
“We work daily to create personalized educational programs, and there is a robust calendar of fams that are led by BDMs and joined by operations team members,” Van den Heuvel said.
On the commission front, GOGO recently launched a bonus pay program for over 60 resorts in the Caribbean and Mexico where agents can earn a 1- or 2-percent bonus on top of their base commissions for FIT or group business. Otherwise, commissions are based on annual volume.
As for the product itself, GOGO Vacations continues to focus on Mexico and the Caribbean with most trips to all-inclusive properties. The tour operator also sells North America and some European cities.
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For touring around Europe or other long-haul trips, Van den Heuvel said Worldwide Traveler is the appropriate product. Worldwide Traveler, which features its own website, offers FIT vacations almost exclusively.
Agents can call counselors and work with them to put together “the vacation of a lifetime,” Van den Heuvel said, adding that one reason the Worldwide Traveler product works so well is that counselors are specialists who have lived in the destinations that they handle.
Looking ahead to 2018, GOGO is seeing significant growth to Australia and double- and triple-digit growth to southern Europe—including Italy, Greece and Spain.
“What’s really exciting about 2018 is the return of so many great places in the Caribbean that were affected by the hurricanes last year,” he said.
A surging source of growth for GOGO is groups, notably the phenomenal trend toward multigenerational travel. Whether it’s couples or groups, however, Van den Heuvel said GOGO customizes it all.
Another focus is wellness.
“We are partnering with a number of properties on wellness programs because that is what travelers are looking for,” he said.
Van den Heuvel said the company is working with a lot of newer agents who are joining large networks and consortia and who need help with bookings for clients like multigenerational groups. There is also a lot of demand for more unusual destinations like Australia and New Zealand, where agents need extensive information.
While GOGO has always been known as a value-oriented operator, “We can work with any budget, but the point is that we are offering a high level of service to agents from the beginning to the end of a trip—and afterward,” he said.
“We like to think of ourselves as a one-stop shop for any kind of travel to just about any destination.”