Over 400 attendees gathered for the fifth consecutive year in Toronto today for the kickoff of Travel MarketPlace East, the premier professional development conference for Canadian agents co-hosted by Travel Market Report and the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies (ACTA).
Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Cruise Planners and emcee for the event, opened the general session with a call to action for the hundreds of agents in attendance to take their newfound knowledge and put it into practice.
“The education and the knowledge you are going to receive over the next few days are worthless, unless you do something with them,” said Koepf. “The only reason most of you are here is because you want to do something better. You want to be a better travel agent, salesperson, marketer, or whatever it might be. If you’re not quite hitting the goals you want to meet, you are here to take that next step. The only way to do that is to go back and do something different.”
Koepf’s challenge set the tone for an agenda that includes two days’ worth of educational panels and seminars featuring leading industry speakers on topics that include social media, mentoring, working with your business development manager, visual marketing and finding your niche, to name just a few.
The event also includes a trade show with 75 exhibiting companies, according to Anne Marie Moebes, TMR publisher. Moebes took time out during the general session to champion the many travel agents in attendance for their desire to further enhance their professionalism.
“We’re thrilled that so many Canadian travel agents want to continue to learn about their industry and want to sell more and be more profitable.”
ACTA takes the stage
As co-sponsor of Travel MarketPlace East, Association of Canadian Travel Agents president Wendy Paradis reminded attendees of all the ways in which the association is advocating for and promoting travel agents, including lobbying on their behalf to reduce the red tape that can sometimes hinder their business productivity.
Some of the current issues ACTA is tackling for its members include the Ontario Travel Industry Act, air passenger bill of rights and the promotion of healthy competition, tools to help minimize fraud, establishing a seamless process countrywide when it comes to the licensing requirements for selling insurance, and working with travel suppliers on non-commissionable fares and respectful business practices with retailers.
In good news for the industry at large, Paradis was proud to announce that just between the month of December and January, ACTA had over 300 travel agents become certified travel counselors, calling it “quite an amazing feat.”
The role of brand and loyalty
As part of the educational expertise offered at Travel MarketPlace East, Rita Polegri, director of operations and member services at Transat Distribution Canada, addressed attendees on the importance of establishing a brand personality and how loyalty will then follow.
Noting brand icons such as McDonald’s and Disney and the recent diversification of the brand Harley-Davidson to broaden its market appeal, Polegri stressed to agents that “how they portray their brand will make all the difference.”
Telling travel agents to “reassess and readjust,” Polegri challenged travel agents to determine what makes them stand out and let that define them. “You do not merely want to be the best of the best. You want to be considered the only one who does what you do.”
Polegri said loyalty comes from the little things a travel professional can do that makes them memorable, including writing handwritten Christmas cards, sending birthday wishes to a client or remembering to book them in an aisle seat if that is what they prefer.
“It’s not okay to just take the booking. You need to set yourself apart from other travel professionals through your brand and that will bring loyalty. What you do for your clients should stand out and be special and then the referrals will follow. Assert yourself as the travel professional you are.”