“Once I got the travel-industry bug, I never left,” says Brian Robertson. The co-founder and COO of Vision Travel Solutions (and this week’s BusinessCast Guest) is talking about his 30-plus year career in the travel industry—the past 14 of which have been at the helm of his own company.
Vision Travel is Canada’s largest independently-owned business travel company, with 16 locations across Canada and 600 people. The company has three major lines of business—corporate solutions, meetings and incentives and leisure travel—with corporate work representing 70% of its work.
The company has grown strongly since its inception, which may seem an anomaly in the digital age. After all, shouldn’t Skype and GoToMeeting have replaced the old-fashioned business trip by now?
Not quite, says Robertson. “Technology has improved the way we communicate, but the reality is there’s nothing like a face-to-face business meeting,” he explains. “As we like to say, being there is everything.”
Aside from the enduring appeal of face-to-face contact, there’s another trend keeping the business travel sector thriving: the increasingly global nature of companies. “Business travel is a growth industry because corporations are growing regionally and globally,” he says. “We’re seeing a lot of Canadian companies spread their wings into emerging markets.”
This, plus a series of acquisitions, means that Vision Travel is busier than ever. And as exhilarating as it is to run a growing business, it’s not without its challenges. Having been managing growing pains for nearly a decade and a half now, Robertson has the following advice for his fellow entrepreneurs in the same position:
1. Always manage your cash flow
“It’s crucial for smooth business operations and it’s allowed us as a company to acquire other organizations, for the most part using our own money,” Robertson explains. “Managing cash flow is key.”
2. Network with your industry peers
Too many busy entrepreneurs don’t make the time to meet with their industry peers. That’s short-sighted, says Robertson: “We’re active in all the major trade associations. For sharing ideas, it’s really priceless.” Vision Travel is a member of the Global Business Travel Association, the Association of Corporate Travel Executives and a global network for corporate travel management called Radius. “These are organizations that are global in scope,” he says. “They’ve helped us to deliver client satisfaction around the world.”
3. Hire the best people and create a culture of service excellence
The two go hand in hand, Robertson says. “Our core values state that our first responsibility is to our client, and that our team members are the key to our success,” he explains. And that’s not just a mission statement on a wall: “We have a 97% customer retention rate, and the tenure of our team members is unmatched in the industry,” he reports. “So, we must be doing something right.”
For more from Robertson, listen to this week’s BusinessCast, which you can download by clicking on the iTunes logo below:
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