The recent Travel MarketPlace lived up to its billing as the premier conference for Canada’s travel professionals offering two days of highly-focused education and networking.
The conference agenda dealt with a far-ranging set of subjects from sales and marketing to destination weddings, technology to controversial issues, specialization to social media. In addition, a trade show gave attendees innumerable opportunities to connect with the major suppliers.
More than 400 Canadian travel advisors attended the sold-out conference while more than 70 exhibitors were on hand for the trade show. The conference took place June 16 and 17 at the International Plaza Hotel & Conference Centre in Toronto.
“We doubled the number of attendees in just our second year,” said Anne Marie Moebes, publisher of Travel Market Report, which co-sponsored the conference with the Association of Canadian Travel Agents (ACTA).
“[That’s] A true testament to the fact that we are meeting the learning needs of Canadian travel agents by providing them with education and topics that are relevant and meaningful, enabling them to grow their business,” she added.
‘View from the top’
Among the sessions was a top-level panel called View From the Top during which the discussion touched on a variety of issues.
The core message, however, was clear: Travel agents who serve their clients effectively will end up profitable only if they also make sound business decisions.
Methods for side-stepping the effects of NCFs (non-commissionable fares) were one of the hot topic the experts focused on.
“NCFs are always going to be there, but there are a lot of opportunities to upsell your clients products which have less NCFs,” said Elizabeth Grundon, senior director of TRAVELSAVERS.
“Some suppliers have different percentages of NCFs on different products; it’s about knowing what is, and isn’t, commissionable.”
Other panelists advising zeroing in on suppliers who offer products geared toward allowing agents to generate profit.
“Charge a service fee and sell additional services like insurance, hotel stays and shore excursions,” said Mike Foster, president of Nexion Canada.
Nothing like it
ACTA president and COO David McCaig, said, “I have not seen anything like the Travel MarketPlace conference in a long time.”
“The event was the perfect platform to deliver education and training for travel agents to fine tune, brand and grow their business so that they can add greater value to consumers.”
In conjunction with the conference, agents were able to earn their Certified Travel Counsellor designation. The CTC exam was offered in a fully proctored setting with an introduction by Christine Chilton, ACTA’s director of education.
Other sessions during the conference dealt with sales and marketing intel, specialization, technology, destination weddings and the romance market, HR issues, river cruising, and land programs.
Here are just a few additional highlights:
- Dave Holt, CSP, facilitator and sales performance coach, DWG Performance Inc.: Travel agents need to step it up when it comes to questioning clients. Instead of asking questions that start with what or why, use describe, paint me a picture, or walk me through.
- Steve Gillick, president, Talking Travel: Agents who want to specialize must put 115% into what they do as a specialist. “The idea is to start slow and build up; you want to start up not with every specialty but you want to evaluate yourself and figure out what you do.”
- Richard Vanderlubbe, president, tripcentral.ca: Agents need to open their minds to what the web is, embrace it and make it part of their business. The web is not a channel of distribution; it’s a channel of communication. Agents should view it as a way to interact with their clients rather than a narrow view of it as a booking tool.
- Jennifer Doncsecz, president, VIP Vacations: Agents should ask honeymoon couples about what they envision for their trip. “Weddings people have a budget but when they have a vision and a dream they’re usually willing to spend a little more to make that happen,” she said.
- Sean Russo, Global Purpose Specialist, Sales Manager, G Adventures: “We believe in storytelling; we paint pictures for you to explain the ins and outs of what this itinerary and experience is all about. We don’t sell Italy, we don’t sell Mexico, we sell an experience.” Agents should realize that a wide range of ages opt for G Adventures tours. Russo said he’s been hiking in northern Thailand with 80-year-olds “who blew me out of the water.”
- Michelle Palma, National Accounts Canada, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise: River cruises are a major option for clients who have done big ship cruising and coach tours. “River cruising really does provide a much more intimate environment,” she said. “Your clients have the opportunity to walk on and off the ship freely and that’s a really big selling feature.”
- Nolan Burris, president and Chief Vision-eer. Future Proof Travel Solutions: There’s a huge difference between needing and wanting. “Nobody needs a BMW, nobody needs a diamond ring and nobody really needs a vacation,” said Burris. “They want them.” The lesson for agents: You don’t want to be needed. You want to be wanted.