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Ensemble forum: tech expert answers ultimate agent question

April 5, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email

One of Australia’s foremost commentators and experts on technology, a man who speaks on 50 radio stations across Australia each week and is resident tech expert on Channel 9’s Today Show, was asked point-blank in Sydney yesterday: “How long will it be before an artificial intelligence algorithm is smart enough to organise a complicated travel itinerary and replace a human being?”

The question came at the Ensemble Travel Group’s first member forum, held at Sydney’s Hyatt Regency.

Tech guru Trevor Long, who runs the blog and appears regularly on A Current Affair, had just played the audience an astonishing demo of Google Duplex, in which a robot phones a restaurant and makes a booking, very convincingly.

So what about a travel itinerary?

“I think that’s a long way off,” Long said.

“A restaurant booking, it’s a number of seats, a date, a place and a time. That’s four variables, pretty extreme, but [in a travel itinerary] there’s too many variables. So I’m saying 10 years. Ten years at least.”

Long had a lot of useful tech tips for agents, some of which we will run next week.

Ensemble’s first member forum went very well, everyone agreed. One new attendee, Forth & Wonder director Steve Crisp, said he liked Ensemble’s focus on luxury and the manageable size of the gathering. Some 70 people took part in the morning and another 45 suppliers in the afternoon.

Ensemble’s New York-based co-president, Libbie Rice, told members that insights gained from marketing research and development in the US would be of great benefit in Australia. Ensemble would continue to support Australia with relevant products and programs.

Technology guru Trevor Long says it will be many years before a computer can organise a complicated travel itinerary

Rice briefed Ensemble members, as did Ensemble’s Sydney-based senior vice president and executive general manager, Trish Shepherd.

Ensemble celebrated its 50th anniversary last year and members learned yesterday that Australia is very much a focus for the group, an eclectic mix of about 850 independent agencies with diverse business models, including large and small, leisure and corporate, full-service and cruise-only, office-based, home-based and web-based.


At the Ensemble Travel Group’s first member forum, held yesterday at Sydney’s Hyatt Regency. From left: Ensemble’s Sydney-based senior vice president and executive general manager, Trish Shepherd; New York-based co-president, Libbie Rice; director of sales and supplier relations, Katy Muyt.


Key objectives for 2019 span the fields of core platform, training, marketing, data insights and product.

On the accommodation side, Ensemble is focusing this year on ‘boutique’ style properties with groups such as Small Luxury Hotels, where 30 new hotels were added.

Ensemble has added 119 new properties across the globe and five new hotels in Australia and New Zealand:

  • Anchorage Port Stephens, NSW lower North Coast
  • Halcyon House, Cabarita Beach NSW far North Coast
  • Hotel St Moritz, Queenstown NZ
  • Sofitel Wellington, NZ
  • Huka Lodge, Taupo NZ

Steve Crisp, director of Forth & Wonder, which recently joined Ensemble

A new partner is Villas of Distinction, a ‘high touch’ full-service premier luxury villa provider with a portfolio of privately-owned villas in more than 50 destinations.

New destinations include:

  • Indonesia / Bali – 12 Villas
  • Sri Lanka – 2 Villas
  • Thailand – increased from 4 to 13 in three locations

Globally, Ensemble has a number of new preferred partners:

  • Amtrak & Railbookers
  • American Queen Steamboat Company
  • Carey International
  • Vitesse
  • Reykjavik Excursions (On Location)
  • Beyond Time Square (On Location)
  • Shore Excursions (now available in Australia)
  • Bedsonline now being released in Australia
  • Tahiti Nui Travel
  • Pure Black (NZ)
  • Pure Germany
  • Le Boat


  • Cuba Experts (On Location Partner)
  • Freedom Road Destinations China (On Location Partner)
  • On The Go Tours (Tour Wholesaler)
  • Forth & Wonder (Specialty Niche) Luxury African Safari & Travel Specialist
  • Lea Seguier Luxury Hotel & Resorts

Ensemble will this year provide its members with exclusive social media content that can be shared directly to social media from the Ensemble member portal, along with an “Initiative tool that is aimed to support you with current content ensuring ‘YOUR’ brand is top of mind with your clients”.

Suppliers show after main presentation

Speakers and panellists at the members’ forum included Ensemble’s director of sales and supplier relations, Katy Muyt; Gillian Seller of Accor; Tony Archbold of Holland America Line/Seabourn; Michael Gazal of TravelManagers; Phil Hoffmann of Phil Hoffmann Travel; and Naomi Menon from AFTA .

A trade show after the presentations included the following partners: Accor Hotel Group Global Sales, Accor Hotels, American Queen Steamboat Company, Amtrak/Railbookers, APT, Aussietravelcover, Avis Budget Group, Backroads Touring, Bedsonline, Beyond Travel, Collette, Crystal Cruises, Cuba Experts, DriveAway, Edwardian Hotel, Egypt & Beyond, Excite Holidays, Forth & Wonder, Freedom Road Destinations, InterContinental Global Luxury & Lifestyle, InterContinental Hayman Island Resort, Huka Lodge, Linkdtourism, Lea Seguier Luxury Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International, On the Go Tours, One&Only, Outrigger Hotels, Park Hyatt Melbourne, Qantas Holidays, Rosewood Hotel Group, Scenic, SeaDream Yacht Club, Seabourn/HAL, Shangri-La Group of Hotels (Global), Sno’n’Ski Holidays, Tauck (TTW), The Anchorage Port Stephens, The Hotel Connection, Trails of Indochina, Travel the World and Trump Waikiki.

Written by Peter Needham

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