Agents & suppliers build relationships at TTAND's 2017 conference

04-28-2017 10:29 am

“Nothing can really succeed in life without a vision,” sports administrator John Furlong said yesterday (April 27) in the Norwegian Escape’s theatre, addressing travel agents and suppliers attending the Travel Agent Next Door’s (TTAND) third annual conference, currently taking place in the Caribbean.

As the conference’s keynote speaker, Furlong, who notably led the team that bid for, organized and staged the Vancouver 2010 Olympics, shared his story of how he pulled off such a feat, sharing passionate words of advice for conference attendees, the majority of whom run their own travel business:

“Try to live your life as if the full story of that life is going to be read out at your funeral,” Furlong told the engaged crowd. “As if someone is going to stand there and describe you in detail, all the things you have done, said, and have been part of your whole life. Live it that way.”

JOHN.jpgJohn Furlong and his team staged the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. Furlong was TTAND's 2017 keynote speaker.

Understanding the weight of trust, teamwork, sustainability and excellence are also qualities one must work on to be successful, Furlong said, as well as “having something to say that matters.”

It was an inspiring and rousing finish to Day Six of TTAND’s well-attended conference at sea, aptly titled 'Watering Relationships.'

The travel symposium, taking place from April 22-29, welcomed more than 100 agents and two dozen suppliers from across Canada on board the Norwegian Escape for a week of workshops, presentations, guest speakers, training seminars and margarita-laden cocktail parties.

The itinerary has also included stops at three of the Norwegian Escape’s ports-of-call in the Caribbean – St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands last Tuesday (April 25); Tortola, British Virgin Islands last Wednesday (April 26); and Nassau, Bahamas, today.

NORWEGIAN ESCAPE.jpgThe Norwegian Escape, docked in Tortola, British Virgin Islands, last Wednesday (April 26).

According to Flemming Friisdahl, TTAND’s founder, the conference is ultimately about building a “camaraderie” between travel agents and their suppliers, as well as agents and fellow agents.

Nurturing those relationships will “make the travel agent successful and help them grow their business,” Friisdahl told PAX, which is currently on location in the Caribbean, covering the seven-day event.

All week long, travel agents attending the conference have been watering those relationships, so to speak, taking advantage of a wide range of one-on-one meetings, Q&A sessions and networking dinners that were meticulously organized by Friisdahl and his team.

“Anyone who works in this industry knows that you need that support from the supplier,” Friisdahl told PAX. “Those suppliers talk to different travel agents across Canada. When you sit and talk with them, they inadvertently pull all that knowledge into the conversation. It makes you a better agent and stronger person at what you do, especially when selling.”

MATT.jpgFrom left: Flemming Friisdahl, founder, TTAND; Matt Djorsev, agency sales representative for WestJet & WestJet Vacations; Penny Martin, vp, travel agent experience, TTAND

The conference has doubled in size, both in agenda and attendance, compared to TTAND’s successful 20/20 Vision conference last year in Varadero, Cuba,

“I’ve been in the industry for 20-some years and this conference is one of the best I’ve attended,” attendee Paula Stewart of Stewart Travel Group told PAX yesterday during a break between seminars. “The Travel Agent Next Door comes with the best staff available in this industry.”

Stewart, a former store-front agent who is now home-based, runs her agency in Prince Edward Island with her husband, Travis, who also praised this year’s conference, calling the interaction he’s had with suppliers “awesome.”

“You can’t get much better than being on a cruise ship for seven days with our suppliers and being able to get a hold of them,” Mr. Stewart told PAX.

For Cindy Almond of Ottawa-based Romance and Foodie Travel, the sessions at the conference have given her access to “a lot of information about suppliers that I may have otherwise thought weren’t a good a fit for what I do,” Almond told PAX.

That, in addition to “learning about ways that I can partner with people on products I wasn’t aware of,” she said.

The week has also included lively panel discussions, covering topics such as high-end customers and consumer events to inexpensive marketing tactics and strategies for booking groups.

Yesterday, at a panel entitled “Marketing on Shoestring Budget,” panelist and travel agent Coreen Doucett revealed that one of her marketing strategies involves buying inexpensive postcards from cruise lines and mailing them to potential clients.

“A postcard with a vacation aspect on it will make someone look at it because we all dream. And that works,” Doucett told conference attendees.

COREEN AND MARY.jpgTravel agent Coreen Doucett (left) meets with Mary Ogaki, national accounts manager at Royal Caribbean International

Doucett said a little creativity can go a long way in promoting one’s travel brand, pointing to the time when one of her associates stapled her business card and a Canadian Disney promo to the loot bags she was handing out to children at Halloween and, in turn, got a booking.

“It’s a lot of work, but that’s why it’s called marketing on a shoestring,” Doucett said, urging agents to also wrap their car with promo materials not just because it’s free, but also, more importantly, “because you get bookings from it.”

“It’s the little things that count,” she said.

Stay tuned as PAX brings you more coverage from TTAND’s conference on the Norwegian Escape this week. You can also follow us on Twitter (@pax_news), Facebook and Instagram (paxnews) for on location updates.