American Express’s decision to cancel its representative network at the end of the year will create some interesting opportunities as former Amex representative agencies seek new affiliations in the industry.
Amex noted the changing travel environment in a statement about its decision last week.
“We are grateful to our representative network agencies for their cooperation and support for our Cardmembers over the years. The travel environment has changed as well as the way our customers book travel with us, so we are moving away from the franchise model and discontinuing U.S. Travel Network at the end of the year.”
In the entertainment agency space, Cruise Planners (#23 on Travel Weekly’s 2021 Power List) has prominently used the Amex logo in their marketing materials over the years.
In an email to agents, the Cruise Planners executive team acknowledged that the blue box should be removed, but said no further changes would be made to its proprietary systems.
In fact, Cruise Planners said it was the agency that actually developed the white label technology that Amex provided to representative agencies.
Cruise Planners said the announcement left a number of questions that will continue to be investigated, but co-owner and CEO Michelle Fee said she was optimistic about the future.
“While we have always been proud to be affiliated with American Express as part of their travel representative network, Cruise Planners has evolved into a powerful agency in the travel industry,” she said in a statement. “We have enjoyed a mutually beneficial partnership for the past 18 years, but we are looking forward to the next chapter of continued growth and exceptional sales.”
It is possible that current Amex delegate agencies have begun to evaluate options around new industry affiliations. It’s a process that Avoya Travel (#29 on the energy list) started even before Amex announced the network, according to Ashley Hunter, Avoya’s senior vice president of partnerships.
“American Express hasn’t served as a true union for a very, very long time,” Hunter said.
Avoya’s relationship with Amex goes back about 36 years, since 1986, she said. But over time, Avoya has virtually ditched the use of the Amex logo in its consumer marketing materials.
Avoya still uses the logo with some industry initiatives. The host agency uses the Amex Group program as its own add-on to offer additional promotions. Group programs are something you look for closely during conversations with potential consortium partners.
Hunter acknowledged that the use of the American Express logo and brand recognition distinguished it from other host agencies, as it has done with other representative network agencies.
“But would this be good for people? Probably not,” she said.
The interesting thing, Hunter said, is where the largest agencies land in terms of affiliation.
“Where do these agencies go?” And she said, “And is that going to make Travel Leaders, Signature, and Virtuoso bigger players if they’re going to bring in the cruise operators or Avoya or some of those other big guys that were part of the network?”
While the representative network will be around until the end of the year, Avoya plans to make the affiliation decision by the end of the summer.