An Interview with Keith St. Clair, Chairman of the Advisory Board for ForumTel
ForumTel provides a unique commissionable cell phone service to international travelers through travel agents. Keith St. Clair first entered the travel industry in 1984 when he joined Sol Holidays in the United Kingdom as the company’s chairman and managing director. He later founded TraveLeaders, a major travel agency in Miami, Fla. Mr. St. Clair joined Forum Telecommunications (ForumTel) in 2010 as the chairman of the advisory board. He is also an inductee into the World Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame and the 2004 winner of the Florida Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
TRO: Given your background, what inspired you to join the team at ForumTel?
KSC: I think the simple answer to why I became involved with ForumTel is the power of the product. It is not just a phone; it is a communication and security tool and revenue stream for travel agents at a time of diminishing margins and commissions. I guess it struck me as a product that-had any one approached me with it whilst I was a travel agent or tour operator- I would have found it totally compelling.
TRO: As you know, relationships with travel agents are incredibly important for distributors of any travel-related products. How do you foster those relationships?
KSC: We market completely through travel distribution companies such as travel agents and tour operators because we know that these knowledgeable individuals are the best at offering our services.
Our product is not only a communication tool for the consumer, but also between the travel agent and the consumer. For example we offer to load the speed dial for the customer with important phone numbers. For example, we are launching with Virgin Tours this week, so we can set the speed dial to connect with an agent at Virgin Tours, emergency medical facilities, concierges at the travel destination, etc. We allow two free SMS messages per day for travel agents to have the opportunity to send a mass message to all of their clients in a particular location alerting them to an emergency or an upcoming event. For high volume agencies, the phones may be branded with the company’s logo; when the phone is powered on, it will display the logo of the company and a message from the company.
Travel agents also make commission on all minutes used by their customers. The commission levels vary based on volume and thresholds, but there is a minimum of 10% commission on minute used. Agents and operators may also allow customers to keep the ForumTel phone for a small fee. We then pay a 25% commission on any phones sold to clients.
If you put all of those things together, the travel agent who found the customer can keep the customer so the service becomes an annuity the agent. That is what we wanted.
TRO: We know ForumTel specializes in cellular services for international travelers. But during a time when cell phones are so prevalent, what makes your company different from customers’ existing carriers?
KSC: What we do is provide tour operators and travel agents a free phone for their clients with a pre-loaded SIM that allows them to use the phone almost anywhere in the world for $.49 per minute. Users are not charged for anything until they have used the minutes, so that’s why I say it is “post-paid”. I do not like the idea of charging a client for a service before they have used it. We also offer half-price communication for individuals on the same account that are traveling together.
A good example of the benefit of the service is when I was at the World Travel Market in November. I brought my personal cell phone for data and my ForumTel phone for voice. I had the best international plan available through my carrier and it would have cost me $1.49 per minute to call the United States. I used 1,090 minutes that week so I saved $1,090. Travelers have enough to worry about when visiting foreign countries, this helps relieve a little of that stress.
TRO: How can travel agents become involved in marketing your products and services?
KSC: We’ve partnered with TRO. Agents and operators can register here, and then we will contact them one-on-one to begin the process of marketing our product. If any agents have real-time booking systems, we will synchronize our system with theirs and we can ship everything directly to the clients to make it as easy on the agents as possible.
TRO: Do you offer training and/or informational programs for travel agents who wish to offer Forum Telecom products?
KSC: We have a webinar service and one-on-one training, as well as a customer service center that will train them and sample packages of the product so they can familiarize themselves with what they are offering. Anything the travel agent needs we will provide.
Travel agents who would like to learn more about ForumTel can visit http://www1.forumtel.com/. To register with ForumTel to earn commissions on cell phones and cellular usage by clients, visit this page .