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Grand Expansion

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  • | 7:24 a.m. November 2, 2012
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With the advent of travel booking websites and Internet deals, the landscape of the travel industry has changed, but it's not dead. In fact, one such business, which has built a new 9,200-square-foot state-of-the-art call center across the street from its 14,000-square-foot corporate headquarters north of Sarasota Bradenton International airport, is in expansion mode.

The two facilities — which reside in Manatee County but operate with a Sarasota postal address — house three related companies. The parent company, Grand Incentives, offers travel incentive programs to corporations designed to enhance customer and employee relationships. The Coast to Coast Grand Getaways division is a membership-based travel club. And most recently, the firm launched Grand Excursion to provide concierge travel services at no extra charge to Coast to Coast Grand Getaways members.

Grand Excursions received $150,000 in financial incentives from Manatee County to support its growth, including $81,890 to be used toward new employee training, $60,000 in incentive-based grants, and $7,797 in impact-fee waivers, according to a statement from the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

To accomplish this, travel industry expert and founder of Anna Maria Island Concierge Services Susanne Arbanas was hired as director of contagious enthusiasm. “Our philosophy is to work hard and to have a lot of fun at the same time,” says Arbanas.

Arbanas explains that Coast to Coast was formed in 2006 when CEO Jose L. Martinez purchased and combined a number of “loyalty” travel databases into one company. It provides discounts on more than 5,500 resorts in 105 countries, vacation packages and more to its 40,000 national and international members. Although the company declined to release revenues it says its parent, Grand Incentives Inc., is “a multimillion-dollar company that has achieved double-digit growth for the past three years.”

Grand Excursions has already brought jobs into the area. Arbanas confirms that 60 positions were created and about 35 have been filled to date. “We are aggressively hiring right now — mostly for sales positions in the call center,” she says.

A major victory for Arbanas was how fast she and her team were able to ramp up Orlando as Grand Excursions' first concierge-serviced location. “Normally it takes 12 to 18 months to get in with Disneyworld. Because of our team's connections and contacts we were able to roll that out in three months,” she says.

As soon as Coast to Coast travel club members book a trip to Orlando, they will get a call from a Grand Excursions concierge team member who, at no extra cost, will help plan and book their vacation from start to finish.

And Orlando is just the beginning, says Arbanas. “Grand Excursions will ultimately create 50 additional positions as we expand. Our next area to market will most likely be Las Vegas, though we are listening to members as far as destinations they would like. We do envision adding major cities such as New York, Washington, D.C., London, Paris, Rome, etc., over time,” she says.

Meanwhile, Grand Excursions and its sister companies have been focusing on efficiency. This includes streamlining the call center's phone system, looking at internal operational systems and procedures and evaluating technology and software platforms, Arbanas explains.

“Our business goals for 2013 are to continue to expand our growth in emerging international markets,” Arbanas says. Of the Coast to Coast membership, about one-third is international, mostly from Latin America, she explains. “We will also diversify revenue streams by creating and branding affinity relationships within the travel industry and continuing to provide world-class customer service.”


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