Controlling the Controllable

NOTE: Acendas Travel was recently honored by the Kansas City Business Journal along with 15 other Kansas City businesses as a 2020 Champion of Business. The program honors metro area for-profit companies that set the gold standard for financial performance, innovation and community involvement. Acendas Travel is a corporate supporter of the Don Bosco Center and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City. Below, Acendas Travel President Brent Blake reflects on the award and the future.

By Brent Blake

I’m a huge football fan.

While I enjoy the Xs and Os of the game, I do find considerable intrigue in how the teams (owners, executives, staff, coaches and players) address the many challenges they face outside the lines. That must be the business owner coming out in me.

Living in Kansas City the past few years has been enjoyable as its NFL franchise – the Chiefs – have been among the best teams in the league, including most recently as Super Bowl champions. Those who have achieved success will tell you that while it may be difficult to get to the top, staying there is oftentimes more of a challenge. That is why I marvel at the steady hand of Kansas City head coach Andy Reid. He never seems to be fazed by a setback which threatens the success of his team. And, he never loses his focus on the foundational aspects that foster success.

Far be it for me to compare what Acendas Travel has accomplished with the achievements of the Chiefs. But we have been on a pretty good run ourselves. The previous three years for Acendas Travel have been the best in the company’s 35-year history: record revenues, expansion to St. Louis and Sioux Falls, considerable technology enhancements, high customer satisfaction and increased philanthropic support. The credit goes to our outstanding team and wonderful clients who have placed their trust in us.

But we all know the game has changed. The pandemic hit and the travel instantly suffered extensive losses. Few industries have been more affected.

So, what did we do?

First, we had to take care of our people — our clients and staff. We identified what they needed to do to limit the disruption in their personal lives and allow them to continue their professional obligations. Within days of the pandemic announcement, we had become completely virtual and created mechanisms to seamlessly communicate with our staff and customers.

Second, we had to create resources and processes to address immediate client needs. For both our vacation and corporate clients, we created an online dashboard with real-time information on a variety of travel subjects such as airline policies, destination accessibility, travel vendors, government information, health and safety information, and the like. We were able to direct our future travelers to resources to help them make the appropriate plans. We also implemented regular virtual meetings for our clients to update them on the travel environment and be accessible to them to answer questions.

You might call that the triage phase.

Next, we had to look at processes to help companies and vacation travelers as they began to take a longer term view of the situation. On the corporate side, we created pre-trip authorization resources to help companies streamline the evaluation process for future travel. In addition, we built a platform to manage unused tickets to keep companies from incurring unnecessary expenses. For our vacation travelers, we examined how those holding travel credits could get the best value as they looked to future opportunities. We leaned on our relationships with out travel partners such as cruise lines and tour operators to ensure prior client investments were not lost.

That is what we referred to as our rebound phase.

Lastly, we took a peek way down the road. It has been reassuring — and I might add impressive — what the travel industry has done to enact health and safety protocols to support travel. While we know travel will not fully return to previous levels for several years, the desire to travel at the appropriate time remains high: both for businesses and individuals. And, because of what the industry has done in response to the pandemic, the future travel experience will be much better.

As a company, after the smoke cleared, we asked ourselves: “How can we minimize the impact of a similar issue that could arise in the future?” No doubt, the experience of COVID19 provided somewhat of a roadmap:minimizing fixed costs, removing the variability of income, further enhancing our technology platform, etc. It all speaks to enhancing our value proposition.

We look at this as our growth objective.

Putting my sports fan hat back on, I cringe to think what Andy Reid would do if a handful of his top players got hurt and couldn’t suit up for a game. But then I step back and remember he has a track record of success with the foundation of building quality player depth, having a successful offensive and defensive philosophy, and surrounding himself with talented coaches and staff.

I’d like to think that is a similar formula for success at Acendas Travel.

(You can read the October 27, 2020 Kansas City Business Journal article here)