Old, but not old-fashioned - Brownell Travel

Old, but not old-fashioned

By Laura Del Rosso · From Travel Weekly (10/02/2006)

After nearly 120 years in business, Brownell Travel, one of the country’s oldest travel agencies, has quietly unveiled a new name and logo. The intent is to more effectively convey the image of an upscale, service-oriented company, said Troy Haas, president of the Birmingham, Ala.-based agency.

The new name is Brownell, with the tag line “Travel Beyond Your Expectations.” The name change is a response to the increasing demands of sophisticated travelers and their sometimes low regard for travel agencies, Haas said.

“We wanted a new image that moved us away from looking like a travel agency and more like a travel company that delivers an exceptional travel experience. With the Web being more and more prominent [enabling consumers to do their own travel research], the demand is for travel experience and knowledge. Consumers don’t always think of a travel agency as delivering that. It was time to evolve the image.”

Brownell’s strategy is similar to that traditionally used by architectural or law firms that use only principals’ names in their business names, Haas said. “If you look at the name of an architectural firm, it doesn’t scream ‘architecture.’ It’s the same with us. We don’t have to say ‘travel’ in our name.”

Brownell, a longtime member of Virtuoso, followed the advice of the same rebranding specialist that the agency network used when it changed its name several years ago from API.

“We were a strong supporter of the Virtuoso name change and feel it was a smashing success,” Haas said.

The name change by Brownell is just one of several evolutionary steps that Brownell has taken.

The company was founded in 1887 by George Brownell, a professor of geology who led tours abroad. His grandson, George Brownell, a member of the ASTA Hall of Fame and one of the founders of the Institute of Certified Travel Agents (now the Travel Institute), sold the business in the 1970s to Haas and Meg North.

Two years ago, Brownell acquired Sterling Travel of Atlanta, an upscale, Virtuoso agency. Two Sterling owners, Martha Gaughen and Rebecca Willson, stayed on with the company, operating what is now known as Sterling-Brownell in Atlanta.

This summer, Brownell, which has $50 million in annual sales, sold its corporate travel division to focus entirely on leisure and incentive travel. The restructuring also involves what Haas believes is the biggest challenge facing travel agencies today: finding talented agents.

To that end, Brownell is expanding its host agency division, based at Sterling-Brownell and headed by Willson, through a mentoring program to train people outside the travel industry who are gifted sales professionals and passionate about travel, Haas said.

Willson recently accepted the mentoring program’s first three applicants, all “extremely well-traveled, well-educated people with a business or academic background,” she said. One has a doctorate in theology from Princeton and hopes to organize tours for seminarians. Another is a former vice president for a major accounting firm.

In the next year, they will be coached by veteran Brownell staffers, many of whom have made annual lists of the country’s top travel agents for Conde Nast Traveler and Travel + Leisure. They also will complete the Travel Institute’s basic training course and a number of monthly, Web-based training sessions given by Virtuoso preferred suppliers.

“We want to help them succeed,” said Willson. “Some travel agencies don’t really accommodate independent contractors. They are like stepchildren. We will be very focused on them, and we are only looking for serious people.”

After their year of mentoring is up, participants will become part of the agency’s host program.

“It’s a way of bringing in really qualified, highly motivated, successful people from other industries and get them immediately working with some of the finest travel consultants in the country,” Willson said.

Haas added, “All of us in the industry need to be looking for new talent. We don’t have new people, and the skill set that it takes to compete today is different from 10 years ago. The hosting and mentoring programs are two side-by-side vehicles that we hope will help us attract people to tie into our community of agents, and to share knowledge and help us achieve our goals.”