UNIGLOBE Travel is a leading provider of travel services for business and leisure travellers. They distribute travel-related products and services through their websites and physical locations around the world. They are the world’s largest single-brand travel franchise organization.
UNIGLOBE Travel was founded by U. Gary Charlwood in 1980 in Vancouver, British Columbia. Charlwood is a veteran of many industries, having earned extensive experience with travel, real estate, tourism, and airline businesses. In 1975 he and a partner bought the master franchise rights for CENTURY 21 Real Estate Canada. He later bought out his co-founder and has built CENTURY 21 Canada into one of the largest real estate companies in the country, with more than 400 locations and more than 8,000 salespeople.
“After five years of running CENTURY 21, he looked back on the history of the travel industry and saw there would be a great opportunity for a franchise travel brand. At that time, the industry wasn’t well-established,” says Vice-President of U.S. Operations and Industry Relations Andrew Henry. “He was a trailblazer that really helped get that going.”
Charlwood began franchising UNIGLOBE in 1981 and has since led the growth of the organization across more than 60 countries in North America, Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East.
What sets UNIGLOBE Travel apart from other global travel companies is the fact that their offices are independently-owned, making each owner responsive and accountable to their local clientele. From a size perspective, this means every UNIGLOBE office has the best of both worlds. They have the personalized focus that comes from being independently-owned, as well “the strength and power of our global network, our global brand and the interaction between our agencies.”
What also makes UNIGLOBE stand out is the years of experience their staff bring to the company. At their Head Office, the average industry experience is almost 20 years per person, says Director of Franchise Licensing Dan Evans. “You have really experienced people helping franchisees solve problems, make strong proposals and be creative as they help corporations save money on their travel and control their policies.”
While the organization focuses on the small to mid-size corporate accounts, they also service leisure customers in local markets. “Our range, I would say, is about 70 to 30 percent, corporate versus leisure,” says Henry. “Most of our focus is on the small to mid-size corporate account.”
As a service-based organization, making those customers happy is a top priority for UNIGLOBE. “We want to bring the best value possible to the client,” Henry says. “A component of the value we bring is a highly-personalized set of services. It’s the service and the 24/7 support that our customers buy.”
“From the traveller’s perspective, you’re never alone,” adds Evans.
Fun, freedom, belonging and power
UNIGLOBE Travel employs 35 people at the corporate level and operates more than 700 locations in 60 countries.
Evans sums up their work environment in four words: fun, freedom, belonging and power. “It really comes right from the top – right from the founder,” Henry says. “There is a tremendous sense of family and a tremendous sense of loyalty along with interactions between us and our franchisees. For most of them it is a hug, not a handshake.”
Many of UNIGLOBE’s franchisees have been operating between 20 and 30 years. “There’s a tremendous amount of loyalty and it really works in both directions,” Henry explains.
UNIGLOBE makes for an attractive investment because franchisees are provided with a structured business, an existing network of contacts, and the opportunity to create their own success. “It is an intellectual franchise,” says Evans. “It uses your head, not your hands so much. That really distinguishes it from a lot of the businesses you can get into.”
“You can go out and actually use your mind to create business,” he adds.
When UNIGLOBE looks for a new franchisee, they look for enthusiastic individuals with an outgoing personality. An ideal UNIGLOBE operator is someone who communicates effectively and has “a big heart,” Evans says. “You have got to care about people in order to go and make relationships last a long time. You can’t be cold about anything.”
“They have to have a culture match with the rest of UNIGLOBE. You fit right in if you like to have fun,” he adds. “We don’t sell franchises, we award them.”
Franchisees receive three or four days of personalized training at two different locations. One is at a centre in California where franchisees receive operational support on how to get their business started. The other training is held on a timely basis at their international management academy in Vancouver. “There’s an experience there to be had that is really valuable and gives you a global perspective on a personal basis,” Evans says.
Franchisees are also offered ongoing support year-round. No matter the issue or support they need, the company finds ways to assist them. “We’re going to help them get the resources they need to succeed,” Henry says.
At UNIGLOBE Travel, being environmentally friendly is almost as high a priority as customer service. Each region of the organization has their own version of the program to help offset carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions. “We recognize the travel industry has been a real focal point for environmental awareness and carbon emissions over the past five-plus years. Consumers are increasingly conscious about the choices they make and their impact on the world,” Henry says.
“We can provide them the information they need to know on what options are better than others,” he continues. “We provide them with data that shows them what their total emissions are for their travel during the month.”
The Green Flight Program that the Vancouver-based UNIGLOBE Travel (Western Canada) offers, allows passengers to purchase carbon credits in order to offset a portion of the CO2 that is emitted by an aircraft during their flight.
UNIGLOBE Travel is always growing and expanding, and looking for opportunities to reach new markets with new partners. “It’s a matter of looking at our footprint and see where we’re missing important business markets and finding partners in those markets,” Henry says.
Recently, UNIGLOBE rolled out their TRAVCONF initiative across the United States to add web, video and audio conferencing services to their “complete and sophisticated” travel management system. That system provides an end-to-end solution for corporations, Evans says. “We help them develop the policies as to when to get on an airplane or when to just meet online. By combining those services a franchisee can double their revenue stream.”
“No travel agency has the conferencing services and no conferencing company has the travel services. We’re the first ones to put this together in recognition of a real challenge that corporations face,” he adds.
Looking ahead longer term, UNIGLOBE aims to maintain their position as one of the leaders in their market segment. They will continue to expand, bringing their level of quality service to more markets internationally, while continuing to service more companies in their existing markets. “Having a quality travel service at your disposal really makes that whole process so much easier for customers,” Henry says. “We think everyone should experience that.”