Interview with Erwin Willems, Sales & Account Executive Omnia Travel

1.Can you tell us a bit more about your role at Omnia Travel?

In 1998 I started working at Omnia Travel for the corporate travel department in Leuven where the HQ is located. I was involved in the reservation and ticketing for the corporate customers. Those days we did not have a sales or account manager, so they asked me if I would like to do that in the future. Step by step I learnt the job, mostly by myself, but in the meantime I was still involved to make reservations for our customers. Until 7 - 8 years ago I still had a few loyal customers, mostly KU Leuven university professors… Now I am responsible for sales and account management of our corporate customers in the area of Vlaams-Brabant, Limburg & Brussels. Due to the reservation and ticketing experience in the past and the fact my desk is in the same physical room as the corporate travel colleagues, I know very well the different needs and questions corporate customers might have.

2.What are the services offered by Omnia travel?

We have 3 departments at Omnia Travel:

Corporate travel (65%) with a focus on the SME market but we also have some big, international accounts in our portfolio

MICE & Incoming travel (20%) with a separate DMC and PCO, Flanders Travel

Leisure travel (15%) with a focus on tailor made travel

The mixture of these services is one of our strengths as we can deal with different kinds of travel both for corporate and private customers: “one stop shop”

3.What are the most challenging aspects of booking a business trip?

The most challenging has always been to find the best price of course but these days it is getting more difficult than before due to the fact that many airlines still don’t offer their best fares in the reservation systems like Amadeus or Travelport. Corporate travel agencies, who want to offer ALL fares to their customers, need to invest in “direct connect systems”. This is really a game changer in our business! Due to the membership of our international network we can say we are a pioneer on the Belgian market as far as direct connect systems are concerned. This is also a time consuming matter as our travel consultants need to check more systems than before. I regret the bad relationship between airlines and travel agencies these days. We should be partners, not ennemies. Another challenge, but it is also related with the first one, is the automation and digitalisation in our business. Due to the very low margins, we need to work faster on one hand but if you have to check more systems to find the best fares and rates, you spend more time on a reservation on the other hand.

4.How can companies save travel costs ?

To work with a reliable corporate travel agency. It is very strange that travel managers and purchasers focus so much on the amount of service or handling fees charged per ticket or reservation. The amount of fees is only 5 to 7% of the total travel turnover. We think it is better to focus on the other 93 - 95% of the real travel costs. Due to the regular trainings our staff can attend, combined with a state of the art, travel technology, we know how to find the best air & rail fares, hotel rates etc… Our travel consultants continuously challenge each other and can discuss different pricing issues together. Unfortunately there are some competitors on the market who approach their prospects and customers with very low service fees to give the impression they work cheaper. But in fact they put some margin, and sometimes it is very big, in the price of the ticket. For me it is really surprising they get away with it as customers are so critical and they check many fares and rates themselves. We have proof of that practice and it is also confirmed by some colleagues who used to work for those agencies. It is really unbelievable, the amount of margin they take per month! I have one word for that: theft!

5.How do you ensure that your clients are satisfied?

We focus on a high level of personalised service. No call centers at Omnia Travel but fix, dedicated travel consultants. As we have a very low staff turnover, we can build up a close relationship with our customers and we also think it is very important to meet our customers regularly. Recently, “duty of care” became more and more important: we do not only need to make reservations for our customers but we also need to take care of them in case something happens like strikes, political problems, terrorist attacks, natural disasters etc...

6.Do you also offer corporate rates to clients?

Yes, we do of course but corporate rates are generally not the cheapest rates. In general you get a discount on a more expensive, flexible economy ticket. In most cases, when you make a reservation, you will find cheaper market fares. That is why airline incentive programmes like BlueBiz or PartnerPlusBenefit of the Star Alliance are so popular. Depending on the travel volume, destinations, travel policy etc., we advise our customers what the best option is.

7.Why should a company work with Omnia Travel and not with somebody else?

We believe that working with a reliable corporate travel agency can bring a lot of added value to your travel. When I visit prospects, I am always more happy they work already with a competitor instead of doing all themselves via internet. Because that means they are already convinced of the added value of a travel agency. I see so much inefficiency with companies regarding the organisation of their travel. I really believe we can help them and the biggest challenge is to convince them to try our services. As I already mentioned before, we have a very low staff turnover which means we can build up a close relationship with our customers. We want to see and meet our customers regularly and not only the sales people, like me, but also the travel consultants. When we start up a cooperation with a new customer we schedule an implementation meeting together with our dedicated staff and the travel manager and bookers of the customer. This kind of meetings is so helpful to start up a fruitful collaboration! After that, we schedule evaluation meetings and yearly reviews. The amount of money you save when you know your customer well is much higher than the amount of service fees you have to pay… amazing that so many companies think they pay too much service fees... So I can proudly say that the “personal touch” of our approach is really a strong USP!

Interview with Laura Temmerman, Meetings & Event Manager Parker Hotel Brussels Airport

Why did you decide to work for the brand Parker Hotel?

I saw the application on LinkedIn as Sales Manager and thought that this would be a awesome opportunity. I didn’t know the brand Parker Hotel. We are an independent hotel and not a chain that’s why we can make the difference from all other chains in the neighborhood of the airport. After 7 months I received the opportunity to be the new meeting & event manager of the Parker Hotel. I just love this new challenge and job!

How does a work day look like in your job?

I always start the day by checking every meeting room who will be in use this day. That the signages are all right, the room itself and that all department’s knows exactly what have to happen. After that I go and check all mails. Look that everything is running smoothly with the events or meetings. I’m also responsible for the follow up, invoices and briefing of the next week to all departments.

What types of events does your hotel organise?

We organize every type of event. It can be seminars, meetings, workshops, congresses, marriages, party’s,…

How do you make sure every event is successful and every client satisfied?

The number one key is to listen exactly what the client would like. I’ll do everything to make the client happy and to realize exactly what he has in mind. The second important thing is to be flexible for last minute changes and to offer the best service. Teamwork is also a very important point in organizing a event or meeting. Without a good team you can’t run a meeting or event.

What are the advantages admin professionals have when they join IMA?

They have the possibility to network, sharing their knowledge and to getting to know each other.

Interview with Vicky Martens - Guest Loving Sales Manager Different Hotels

1.What makes your job exciting?

One of the most important factors for me is the variety I have in my job. In the hotel industry everyday is different and a constant adventure, no day is like any other. Besides that, I like the fact that I meet a lot of different people from different industries (being hotelguests, clients, partners, colleagues, fellow members of a network, …) and I always learn something new from everyone. I get great satisfaction from taking people with me in the story I’m telling and convincing them to try it. When they are also satisfied afterwards, it makes my day.

I also love the freedom I get from our ‘Different’ management to use my creativity and work on my own ideas instead of executing someone else’s. They allow me to innovate and have aboslute autonomy over my responsibilities, with a flexible schedule and in a “family environment”.

2.What would you say to convince someone to book a room in one of your hotels?

I’d tell the them ‘Different’ story linked to the hotel that fits best with their needs, as well as my personal suggestions & invite them to discover the different experience by themselves.

3.How do you overcome the challenges of your job?

For me, one of the biggest challenges is to deal with the unexpected extra tasks on top of my busy schedule (the fact that I get up in the morning with and have absolutely no idea what my day will look like). Therefore it’s important to have a good basic structure with a pro-active year planning/time management and keep room for unexpected tasks. It is also important to ask for help when needed and not try to do everything on your own. I believe good contact and teamwork with the managers & board of the company is essential. Furthermore, the expectations of the clients have never been so high, most of them expect an answer right away. Within our company, we have a 24h reply policy that we try to achieve. There are also sales systems on the market that help us to keep track of all activities and goals. It is necessary to stay up-to-date about the latest technologies – for example some activities can be automated which can help us spare time. Some days extra work after hours is required. In order to maintain a good work-life balance, I try not to let this become a habit, and make sure personal activities will not get cancelled because of this.

4. What makes Different hotels different?

Each hotel has its own look and feel, character & approach. Every hotel in the group spoils you in its own typical way. Nothing is the same, except for the common desire to make something special out of your stay. We have hotels for every budget, every lifestyle. Each hotel also has its own story and theme. In the Carbon Hotel for example everything is linked to the mining history of the city Genk, where the hotel is located. YUP Hotel is kind of ‘hipster’ hotel focussing on the young urban professionals who like to network, M Hotel is located at a beautiful lake, Eburon Hotel is a former cloister in the oldest city of Belgium, …

5. Which kinds of events can be organised in your hotels?

All kind of events, from standard meetings for 2 persons up to staff parties, offsites, incentives, seminars, client events, receptions, product launches up to 180 persons. You name it, we make sure it gets organized. All our hotels can be fully privatized & personalised as well. Your company’s own hotel, how cool is that right? :) Even for bigger events, we have possibilities. We have for example a succesful partnership with Thor Central, a unique meeting venue located in the former mine building of Waterschei, located at 5 minutes from our hotels. In combination with our hotels in Genk, we accommodate up to 385 persons. The location doesn’t have a hotel on-site so we make sure the guests have the required services: they can already check-in to their hotelroom from the meeting venue, their luggage will be transported to the hotelroom during the seminar or event and so much more.

6. What is the customer experience you offer to your customers?

Our slogan is ‘Happy when you are’ – this means we are not happy until the guest or organizer of the event is satisfied. We always go the extra mile and try to offer just that little extra service they don’t expect.
We help to plan the events from A to Z (from finding the perfect teamactivity - even if that includes building an ice rink - to transforming a hotelroom into a fully equiped kitchen, even for a short time) and make sure everything is arranged for them so they don’t have to worry. It doesn’t stop when the rooms and meeting room are booked. Flexibility is our middle name. Flexible, with last-minute changes for example. You can reach us through Whatsapp during your meeting, we have one central contactperson for the entire group that can centralize offers and questions so the organizer doesn’t need to contact each hotel individually. These are just some examples of how we try to offer our customers a different experience. We love to go banana’s. Everything is possible and there is no inquiry we can’t handle. No is not mentioned in our dictionary.

Interview with Biba Waltjé, Sales Manager Bilderberg Kasteel Vaalsbroek

Could you please tell me a bit about the history of the Bilderberg Kasteel Vaalsbroek? The castle dates back from the 15th century and the owner, at the time, was a German sheet-manufacturer who used the castle as his second house. His name was Mr. Von Clermont and we still have a special meetingroom that is named after him! It was destroyed in the 16th century and after that the Italian architect, Mr. Moretti, designed and built up the castle again together with his friend, Mr. Von Clermont.

What do you like about your job? My job, as Sales Manager Belgium for the castle, takes me to a lot of different companies who frequently organize their various meetings and events at our beautiful venue. I love to interact with different people from different cultures and backgrounds. Furthermore it is fun to work such a special venue, as everyone is always really impressed with our hotel and it’s facilities.

Does your hotel prepare special promotions for Christmas and New Year? During Christmas and New Year our hotel is often booked, as our guests love to visit the Christmas Market in Aachen which typically runs from end of November through beginning of January.

So we do not offer special promotions but at this moment we do still have some seats left for our Christmas brunch which is served on December 25th. For reservations, just give me a call!

How is it for you to be an IMA member? Being an IMA Member has enabled me to mingle with many management assistants and thanks to that I was able to broaden my network extensively in a short time frame. Also the workshops that IMA organizes are often held at different hotels, this way I get to learn from our competitors. Even this Christmas the Dutch IMA members are celebrating their Christmas dinner at one of our Bilderberg hotels!

What kinds of events can your hotel host ( events, seminars, weddings etc)? We can host any kind of event our customers ask for, we have a salesteam of about eight and each of them specialized. Events such as: Weddings, Car Rallies, Kick-Off or Cycle Meetings but also huge theme-parties up to 800 participants. Our castle belongs to an estate that includes 18 acres of park and a wonderful lake, also we offer 350 free parking spaces. If you wish to discuss details of what we have to offer, please contact me directly on +31 6 22865397.