On May 24, 1991, 30 years ago, Mario Enzesberger founded Liberty International Tourism Group in Prague, Czech Republic. On this occasion, the CEO looks back on his story in an interview.
Mario Enzesberger, what were you doing on Friday May 24, 1991?
Mario Enzesberger:30 years ago, I was already working in the travel industry in my native Austria and, with the opening of the borders for the countries in Central Europe, it became necessary to provide quality services to Austrian and international travelers wishing to discover Prague and its surrounding areas. So, this Friday May 24, 1991, I established my first incoming agency in Prague, to welcome our first travelers coming from Austria and Germany, then very soon, from the whole world.
What were the working conditions of an incoming agency at the time?
Enzesberger:Prague was already a well-known destination for its architectural beauty and history, but incoming facilities were still very limited. The Intercontinental was the only international hotel chain present in Prague at that time, but services in transportation and food & beverage were barely suitable to international tourists. It took a lot to explain, train and supervise the services we offered, which at the time justified opening my first local Liberty agency.
How did Liberty develop then?
Enzesberger:During the first decade, the Liberty group started by opening offices mainly in Central Europe: Prague, Budapest, Vienna, Warsaw, and Dortmund (later moved to Berlin). The local teams from these first Liberty offices built the group's reputation there as the incoming experts in Central Europe, which reputation is still strong to this day. We then broadened the skills of our incoming teams by adding MICE experts dedicated to corporate meetings and events by the mid-90s.
During the second decade, from 2001 onwards, the Liberty group experienced global expansion, based on strategic partnerships where the Liberty group partnered as majority shareholder with local incoming experts in their destinations to create a local Liberty entity. We thus went from 8 countries with Liberty offices in 2000 to 30 in 2010, establishing a global footprint in Europe, the Americas, Asia and Africa.
Finally, during the third decade, we became the first worldwide DMC group to achieve a presence of Liberty in 50 countries and expanded our presence all the way to Oceania.
With so many destinations, how do you keep in touch with your international customers?
Enzesberger:Liberty has established over the years an integrated network of Liberty Sales Representatives, dedicated to our clients in about 25 key source markets. But our global reach does not stop there, as we have enjoyed fruitful relationships with international clients from over 100 countries. To reach that number, many offices have project managers with multilanguage skills.
With this spectacular growth, how did you manage to retain your local expertise?
Enzesberger:The motto of the Liberty group is: “Personal Touch Worldwide”. The Liberty group has always relied on experts already established in their destination - local operational teams, privileged supplier relations, flexibility and creativity reinforced by specialists in each sector (Mice, tailor-made trips, sporting events, outdoor teambuilding etc.) - while taking advantage of the exceptional synergies of a group of this size - purchasing power, global partnerships, financial stability, renegotiated global insurance coverage, etc.
What can we expect from the Liberty group in this new decade, marked by the Covid-19 crisis which has terribly affected our industry?
Enzesberger:The Liberty group was able to adapt very quickly to this unexpected and exceptional crisis, using our experiences of previous crisis, after September 11, 2001 or the financial crisis of 2008. This was also made possible through Liberty own financial resources, supporting the group, without relying on external financial support. Today, we are coming out stronger, with our offices in 50 countries covering DMC operations in more than 90 countries worldwide. We have also been able to take advantage of this downtime to reinforce our local processes on health & safety as well as risk management, to strengthen our local and international partnerships with key suppliers, to create new original “travel 2.0” programs to prepare the restart, to continue diversifying our offer through the launch of a dedicated virtual and hybrid tailor-made solutions (Liberty Virtual) and original solutions for MICE programs by train or cruises privatization. Finally, Corporate Social Responsibility has become particularly important for the Liberty Group, with numerous initiatives: our office in Slovenia was certified Green Globe label and is now Travelife certified; we run a conservation in Kenya; and our offices offer sustainable programs upon request all over the world.
30 years after the creation of the Liberty group, do you have a new personal challenge?
Enzesberger:The Liberty group will continue to grow. We have already opened new offices in 4 Nordic countries in 2021 and will continue to offer new destinations and new services according to the interests and needs of our clients. Personally, I also took advantage of the travel bans in 2020 to spend the year in Kenya with my wife and my son, a country that I had discovered and fell in love with in the 90s. After opening a DMC office in Nairobi in the early 90s, with the Corcoran family, we created Secluded Africa with Safari lodges in total immersion in the wild nature together with a Conservation to contribute to the protection of wildlife, to strengthen our positive impact in this region. And last month, together with my longtime friend Andreas Henckell, also partner in the Liberty Group, we just opened a new Swahili-inspired lodge Cardamon House, on the Indian Ocean in Vipingo. North of Mombasa that already welcomed its first visitors. The coming decade is a huge challenge for rebuilding our travel industry and the Liberty Group, with its thirty years of experience, is ready to welcome its customers back to our current and future Liberty destinations.