Journeys Connect: Success is Based on Relationship | Travel Research Online

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Journeys Connect: Success is Based on Relationship

For Marc Kavanagh, the founder of Journeys Connect, success in the travel industry is all about relationship.

“That’s how we built this business,” he told me earlier this week. “That’s the cornerstone. It’s built on relationships based on trust, and on making sure we deliver with integrity and trust. It’s different with B2B. The goal is long-term relationships.”

The 34-year veteran of the travel industry learned his trade through stints with a veritable hall of fame of travel providers in the Ireland travel industry. His career history includes years spent working for Ryanair, Brendan Vacations, Celtic Tours and Sceptre Tours, before founding Journeys Connect.

Kavanagh founded Journeys Connect in 2013 after building a group travel business called GCS Groups under DH Enterprise, the parent company of Sceptre Tours and operator of the Aer Lingus Vacation Store. Journeys Connect is all about custom group travel, creating itineraries and packages to order for groups as small as six or as large as thousands.

When Kavanagh started Journeys Connect in 2013, he saw the company as one of the only operators that specialized entirely on custom groups, working exclusively through travel advisors. Since then, the trend toward small-group, custom-designed, immersive tours, has intensified.

Placing Trust in Relationships

Marc Kavanagh, Journeys Connect

Kavanagh’s career reaches back to the 1980s, a span of time during which the retail travel segment has been on a tumultuous journey. It was in the mid 1990s that airlines began to cut travel agents out of the loop and go directly to their customers. By the late ‘90s the airlines had pretty much completed their disintermediation, and the notion arose in the popular media that the profession of travel agent was obsolete. If consumers could deal directly with airlines via easy-to-use websites, these social commentators said, who needed a travel agent?

Well, it turned out, through one crisis after another, that in actuality travel agents were extremely important to travelers as well as to airlines and other suppliers. Travel advisors are an essential piece of the global travel system, the tier that directly services the travelers themselves. These days, the notion that travel advisors are obsolete is itself obsolete. Travel agents are riding high again in the popular discourse.

Ask anyone who ever booked a flight or hotel room directly, or through one of the mega online travel retailers, and then experienced a problem with a hurricane or terrorist attack or any of thousands of other possible problems that disrupt travel plans. Anyone who knows what it’s like to be hung out to dry while trying to travel during a crisis has learned the lesson. When things go wrong (how could anything go wrong?) it can be life-saving to have a real person at hand, a specialist who cares about you and knows the ins and outs of the travel industry up to the minute. That’s what puts the “agent” in “travel agent.” When you run into trouble while traveling out in the world, you need someone to act as your agent.

That’s what travel advisors do, my favorite secret agents. That’s why they exist. It is literally a case of: “If travel advisors didn’t exist, they would have to be invented.” And that’s how they come to be. They self-invent in response to a hearty demand. People need to travel and these days, more than ever, they need very competent assistance to do it safely and make the best use of their time and money.

Kavanagh had it right from the beginning. Throughout all the ups and downs of the evolution of the retail travel community, he never wavered from his belief in the traditional retail distribution system.

The industry has changed vastly since the 1990s, but what has not changed is the need for professional guidance and service when you set out on a journey. Traveling the world has gotten more perilous, not less, and reliable, current information about the relevant details of the world of travel is more important than ever.

Riding the Wild Bull of the Recovery

Kavanagh’s bet has paid off. Now as the effects of COVID on travel recede, Journeys Connect’s business has recovered to pre-pandemic levels. Those relationships really come through in a pinch.

“We started operating again in late August 2021,” he said. “Between late August and mid-November last year, we operated a lot of the business that had been unable to travel during the pandemic. But, from June and July of last year, we were seeing an uptick in the number of requests we were seeing for new business to travel this year. We’re in full swing now and the volume of requests is on a par, if not above, pre-pandemic levels.

The pandemic has not left the stage and still has the capacity to throw a wrench in any travel plans, but with the distribution of vaccines COVID is no longer an assassin on the loose. The fear of travel is dropping away and, as it does, a volcanic force of demand is being released.

After years of COVID, war, shootings and innumerable other threats to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, Kavanagh finds that people seem less fazed than ever by the dangers they may encounter in the world.

“It’s been a crazy time,” he said, “but as we come out of it, it seems that people have been in lockdown for so long they are just saying, ‘Enough already, let’s go.’

“There is very little resistance, very little pushback based on what’s going on in the economy, or what is possibly coming down the pike, or the war in Ukraine, or anything. People just want to go.”

New Destinations

A native of Ireland, Kavanagh started his career in Ireland tourism. Over the years, he expanded his skills and practices into a range of other destinations during his time at Celtic Tours, which expanded into Celtic Tours World Vacations, and his time with Sceptre Tours.

Journeys Connect started with Europe as its base but, during the lockdown, Kavanagh used the downtime to explore opportunities in new destinations for the company. The company plans to launch programs for South America, Southern Africa, and Japan in early 2023. The destinations are already in a soft-launch mode with postings of suggested itineraries appearances on the company’s website.

Journeys Connect has been building its destination management infrastructures in South America, Southern Africa, and Japan on the same principle upon which Kavanagh has always built business—by building relationships.

“We took our time selecting our DMC partners to make sure they are a good fit,” he said. “It’s the same mission: making sure we deliver with integrity on products and services.”

The world we return to as the pandemic rolls back is not the same as the one we left before COVID, and the travel industry reflects those changes. The market that Journeys Connect is returning to has evolved.

The pandemic seems to have accelerated the trend toward preference for smaller groups and more immersive experiences. Journeys Connect is also seeing greatly reduced booking windows, from what was eight to twelve months between booking and departure before the pandemic, to three or four months now.

These trends underly Kavanagh’s reason for waiting to launch the new destinations until 2023. If demand outstrips the capacity to fulfill the requests, it could lead to mishaps and get the new product off to a bad start. This could be a violation of the company’s cardinal rule: to build relationships by delivering with integrity and trust.


David Cogswell is a freelance writer working remotely, from wherever he is at the moment. Born at the dead center of the United States during the last century, he has been incessantly moving and exploring for decades. His articles have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, Fortune, Fox News, Luxury Travel magazine, Travel Weekly, Travel Market Report, Travel Agent Magazine, TravelPulse.com, Quirkycruise.com, and other publications. He is the author of four books and a contributor to several others. He was last seen somewhere in the Northeast U.S.

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