Allstar Travel Group still on the way up despite travel industry struggles during COVID-19
When it comes to solving problems, Allstar Travel Group founder and CEO Tammy Krings is known for having a few tricks up her sleeve. So as the travel industry continues to face highs and lows, her ambition remains sky high.
ATG, founded in 1995, is a global travel management and consultant company that serves over 140 countries and has nearly 8,000 employees around the world. Businesses can consolidate their global travel, keep a detailed tab of where their employees are, see data on spending and more, all through one place. Its U.S. headquarters are in New Albany.
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Founding ATG was a big leap for Krings, who started her career as an engineer with a focus on aeronautics and rocket sciences. Her first job out of college was with North American Rockwell while it was based in Columbus, where she worked on the B-1 bomber and space shuttle projects. Eventually, Rockwell ended its local operations and Krings was laid off after declining an offer to relocate.
Her next move was to Bradford Travel agency as an account manager where she stayed through its merger with Carlson Wagonlit Travel. She remembers going through a series of interviews with Bradford, where she then proposed they let her do a “trial run” of the job for a few months before bringing her on permanently—she was there for six years. Later, she was recruited to Thomas Cook Travel where she managed its acquisition to American Express, but she knew she wanted more.
A year later, she took the bonus she made from American Express and used it as seed money to launch her business, then known as Troilo & Associates. Her motivation came from noticing a gap in the market. At the time, airlines had announced they were reducing commissions, which hurt the value of travel agents and meant clients would now have to pay for a portion of once-free services.
So, instead of founding an agency, Krings hoped to fulfill a need by becoming a travel consultant—the difference being that her revenue would come only from clients, not from partnerships with other service providers.
“When the airlines reduced their commissions, it was a pretty severe shock to the industry. So as a consultant that drove a lot of business our way,” Krings says. “We were working predominantly with corporations on transitioning into a pay for services environment … that was a very compelling reason for people to want to hire us.”
She also adopted a business model where corporations could insource some of their travel functions to her company and outsource some to an agency, but travel agencies weren’t supporting her on the idea. So, instead of looking further, Krings founded Travel Solutions, her own agency that acted as an incubator for her business model and a research center for new ways of managing travel.
By 1998, the business was booming, Krings says, and as the years passed things were on the way up.
Then, 9/11 would forever change the way Americans traveled, and the way Krings did business. And while 9/11 was a shock to the entire nation, Krings had a disaster relief plan in place for moments of desperation.
She launched the plan in May 2001, with the help of a former official of the National Transportation Safety Board. At the time, she remembers it being viewed as overdramatic, but because of her thoroughness, she and her team knew where each of their clients were within minutes of the twin towers being struck and immediately started a recovery process.
“We really did design and develop what later became known in our industry as duty of care management,” Krings says. “We still call it crisis management. We use the term Guardian Services, because it’s not just about reacting to the event, but it’s also about preparing people before they go.”
As the travel industry faced a rapid decline, Krings knew that her consulting business, Troilo & Associates, wouldn’t be able to bounce back in the time it would take for people to trust travel again. In January of 2002 she decided the company would be acquired by her agency, Travel Solutions.
Years passed and Krings made more changes to her business. In 2002, she began consulting with Fortune 500 companies globally, and she looked for consortiums to work with that would help consolidate global travel but couldn’t find a partner she liked. So, in her typical fashion, she decided to take it on herself. Travel Solutions changed its name to Allstar Travel Group, and since its founding, it's been an independently owned company.
Now Krings has offices spread throughout the world, with her U.S., Germany, Netherlands and France offices being her largest. The Netherlands office, opened in 2005, also handles ATG’s franchise organization—most notably, China’s Ctrip International, one of the largest travel service providers in the world, Krings says, belongs to ATG’s franchise organization.
One of the biggest years of success was in 2019. The company had $7.2 billion in global net sales, opened its France office and grew from 100 global franchises to over 140. But as COVID-19 struck, Krings had to look back to her disaster relief plan once again, since enhanced, to get people safely back on planes.
The questions about travel were no longer about when, where and why—it was now about how. Would the guidelines change? What would the incubation period be? Do travelers need proof of vaccination?
Krings knew that while many travel companies were accepting the downtime in travel for what it was, she could pivot her company into a COVID asset and a product powerhouse. To make it possible, she brought on Darrin Deck, vice president of technology and innovation.
Deck started with ATG in May 2020. Originally, he came in as a contractor for a five-day job, but in that same time frame, the director of IT and manager of data services also stepped down, he says. He admired the way Krings did business, so he offered to stay on the team.
“My impression in the past,” he says, “is that [ATG] really brought a high level of consulting to their engagements, their customers, they were very focused on duty of care, that’s a priority for them and was before anybody else was talking about that sort of thing.”
With Deck, ATG added “stay safe” resources, most notably its COVID hotline, a one-on-one consultation for clients to help prep them on the requirements for the area they are traveling to and update them on current conditions. They will also monitor the itineraries of clients before and during travel for changes.
Online, clients can also access a COVID-19 screening tool and a tracker to see the latest COVID status for different areas on an interactive map.
For Christoph Carnier, president of the German Business Travel Association and director of travel, fleet and events at Merck KGaA in Darmstadt, Germany, ATG’s consistent communication in a time of need has been the company’s stand-out quality.
“We found that decision-making was extremely quick, short hierarchies, flat hierarchies,” Carnier says. “We also felt that our needs as a customer were really solved quickly and that they listened to us to really do something—we were not number 364 on a customer list.”
Merck KGaA, a science and tech company, has been with ATG for seven years and had an initial consultation to help with travel to the Middle East. Eventually, ATG was used to consolidate all the company’s travel. When the pandemic hit, their spend data decreased around 70 percent, Carnier says, but ATG’s COVID resources have been crucial to gaining comfort in travel once again.
“Those who travel feel much more comfortable knowing that there is someone working in the background checking [COVID-19 regulations],” Carnier says.
Krings also saw an opportunity to provide PPE in attempt to encourage safe travel and, after researching companies that she believed in, has partnered with Copperline to offer a face mask that’s exclusive to ATG—the washable, reusable, six-layer mask is made with 22 percent pure, copper thread and is supposedly more likely to kill the COVID-19 virus on contact.
“Initially we were thinking, ‘OK, we’ve got to figure out how to get our travelers back on a plane, because they were still operating, maybe not as much, but they were still operating.’” Krings says. “That initially was the driver. But then when we started doing the math, we realized, OK, this could help buoy us up a bit, and it did.”
And while COVID-19 was a major source of change for ATG, Krings also had some ideas on the backburner that had a chance to come to fruition with the help of Deck and Howie Honeycutt, the vice president of operations and shared services, who was also brought on in 2020.
“Seeing [Krings’] vision, the fact that a lot of companies would just say, ‘Okay, we’re shutting down, we’re not doing anything,’” Honeycutt says, “She had to obviously downsize where she had to. But she really started changing the focus and putting it toward getting ready for a new vision.”
One of the biggest projects includes launching a suite of projects designed for HR professionals. ATG Candidate allows recruiters to request travel bookings for candidates while tracking cost, and recruits can book their own travel through ATG’s digital platform. Also in the suite is ATG Relocation and ATG Professionals, which can be used for employees moving locations or contracted employees who travel.
Other product launches include ATG Insights, which provides critical data on spending, budgeting and forecasting on an interactive dashboard, TravelSPACE, which allows clients to plan their trip based on preferred suppliers, and multiple products designed to make collecting, editing and reviewing materials easier.
And the return to travel may be sooner than we think. While travel spending totaled $679 billion in 2020, a 42 percent decline from the money spent in 2019, according to an analysis by Tourism Economics, Honeycutt, who has over 25 years of travel experience, says that he’s seeing a steady increase in travel despite the rise of the delta variant.
“What I’m seeing is a lot of our larger companies, especially international travel, are not really there. But in the U.S., domestic travel is still there,” Honeycutt says. “People are still going even with the delta variant. They’re still traveling and most of the companies that I’ve talked with, they said at this point they’re watching it very closely, but they’re not changing their overall travel policy.”
Still, Krings and her team feel optimistic about the future of travel with the technology they’ve tacked and the new products yet to come, which she hopes will continue to give travelers the confidence they need to take flight.
“Don’t be afraid to travel,” Krings says. “It’s a new world. And we certainly must pay attention to that, but it shouldn’t prevent us from doing the things that we love to do. And if travel is one of those things, they shouldn’t be afraid to do that.”
Allstar Travel Group (ATG)
Business: Independently owned travel management and consultant company with 140+ global offices.
Founder and CEO: Tammy Krings
Employees: 7,800 globally
Revenue: $7.2 billion global net sales in 2019