GIFTE Workshop Gives Travel Agents More Than Skills

by Richard D’Ambrosio


The trend of travel agents striking out on their own has accelerated dramatically in the past 10 years, leading to a rise in agents working from home, or with a partner or two. But the pressure of being a solo entrepreneur is hard to overcome sometimes.

That’s why The Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs (GIFTE) is seen by many in the travel industry as something apart when it comes to supporting the growing cohort of home-based agents.

Travel Market Report spoke with participants at GIFTE’s 2017 Book More Travel Workshop (Feb. 9-10) to try to understand what it is that makes their business model and workshop so unique, and crucial to staying motivated to succeed.

Attending a Book More workshop is “transformational,” said Irwin Shires, owner of Eagle-I Tours and Travel, Medina, OH. “The second day is all about mindset, and how you approach your business.” Shires noted how participants don’t just share best practices to better run their agencies. They also talk about their hopes and dreams.

“I kind of dragged myself to the workshop,” said Elisa Taylor, World Less Traveled, Auburn, CA. “But at the end of day one, I was ready to totally rebrand my business. I spent a bit of time internalizing everything, realizing how much this workshop opened my eyes to the possibilities in my personal life as well as my business life.”

In recognition of GIFTE’s efforts, CEO and founder Meredith Hill was presented the American Society of Travel Agents’ 2016 Entrepreneur of the Year Award, for her commitment to helping agents succeed.

Hill and Vanessa McGovern, EVP of business development and partnerships, incorporate music, dancing, and dialogue about personal and professional stories during the workshop, so that participants can examine not just their business, but any self-limiting beliefs that hold them back, Shires said.

Positive energy permeates the conference
“The minute Vanessa opened the conference, you could feel the positive energy building within the room,” said Gary Murphy, vice president of sales, AmaWaterways. “These agents were looking to take their travel expertise to a higher level. Meredith and Vanessa have a wonderful stage presence, and I’m looking forward to next year’s conference.”

This year’s agenda included sessions like “Build and Live Your Brand,” “The Emotional Fitness Plan,” and “Think Like an Entrepreneur.” GIFTE workshops also ask for participants to participate in something called the “Hot Seat,” where an agent is on stage discussing obstacles and issues and working with GIFTE leadership and other participants, to build paths to success.

“You can have the greatest marketing and business strategies in the world.  You can be the perfect student implementing everything you learn in terms of client attraction, and still have a big, expensive hobby instead of a thriving business,” said Hill.

“Why? It has everything to do with your mindset.  I like to call it Emotional Fitness.  When I took control of my emotional fitness, every single part of my life thrived, including my business.”

Trafalgar president Paul Wiseman said he was most impressed “with the passion, enthusiasm and engagement” of the GIFTE presenters and participants. “It was very powerful to listen to the stories of the participants and for them to have a format/platform through which to share those stories. Most conferences are very one way, this one was most definitely two way,” he said.

“A lot of thought was put into the steps required to become more successful,” Wiseman at Trafalgar said. “It was very interactive, with real live stories the participants could relate to, rather than theoretical presentations – and a nice balance of fun, even a little dancing to lighten things up.”

“The agents there were very engaged, open to working together in a very robust way. People were there to learn and build their business, versus a heavy focus on training for skills,” said Norwegian Cruise Line’s Clark Reber, director, Independent Travel Professional channel.

“My take away is that the people successful in the home-based channel have to work their tail off. They wear so many hats, they’re marketing constantly, building relationships, and workshops like GIFTE give them the passion to focus, and that they have support.”

GIFTE workshop attendees celebrate on stage.

Sharing the personal, and the professional
Tracy Drechsler, owner of Your Dream Travel Concierge in Oakdale, NY, spoke about how she grew up in a home with a “scarcity mindset” and struggled financially early on. “GIFTE has given me a place to feel ‘home,’ to dream, to find my passions and believe anything is possible.  And TESA gives me the support to let myself feel vulnerable and find ME again,” Drechsler said.

Sharon Refuge, travel designer, Memorable Travel, Grand Prairie, TX, is another example of what many agents experience. “When I signed up for the workshop I was super excited about the possibility of learning how to push my business to the next level. I did not know what to expect but I knew that I needed something and someone to help me move forward.”

“Two days before the event I was in a car accident. I had been second-guessing my decision to go this year, just as I did last year. But I felt in my gut that a blessing was awaiting me and that the accident was just another way to keep me from attending. I was very stiff and could not look to my left side so I sat on the far left so that I could look to the right only. I also sat on the end so that I could get up often and not disturb the rest of the attendees."

“During the VIP lunch I stood up and told my story of procrastination and I was almost bought to tears when another attendee approached me later that afternoon to tell me that I was the reason she joined TESA [GIFTE’s group coaching program]."

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