Expos Are an Enormous Success

LAS VEGAS—As dual entities, the eighth annual Luxury Travel Expo (LTE) and the inaugural Home-Based Travel Expo & Conference (HBTAE), held December 5–7, drew a combined 6,000 agents and 700 suppliers to the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. They are two separate events with distinct audiences, impressive exhibit halls and comprehensive conference programs. More than 3,400 agents and 525 exhibiting companies attended LTE, proving the show is only getting better with age. And 2,250 home-based agents and 200 exhibiting companies demonstrated the strength of the home-based market for this first-time affair.

And the momentum for both shows is only getting stronger, as John McMahon, group publisher of Luxury Travel Advisor, announced on stage at the LTE that The Travel Institute will hold its annual conference next year in conjunction with LTE and the Home-Based Travel Expo & Conference in Las Vegas. The move means that travel agents attending next year's Luxury and Home-Based shows will have a multitude of educational opportunities. Mark Your Calendars

"It was exciting to announce this to more than 6,000 agents and educate them about the benefits of The Travel Institute and what the CTC distinction can bring to them professionally," says McMahon, who is the show director and also heads up the annual confab, the signature event for the luxury travel industry. "After the announcement, The Travel Institute's booth was swamped with new potential members because of the news, which insures our commitment to helping The Travel Institute grow its membership in synergy with the largest gathering of travel agents in the world."

The shows are produced by Questex Media Group, which publishes Travel Agent, Luxury Travel Advisor and Home-Based Travel Agent magazines.

Luxury Travel Expo

McMahon officially kicked off LTE in the first general session by commending agents for keeping the luxury travel business alive and well and then introduced Nancy Murphy, vice president of sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority. LVCVA's Ed Fioravante with Alicia Evanko and John McMahon

Murphy says the industry has grown, and more importantly, has changed, now offering more opportunities to a broader demographic and larger base of clientele. "Keep it going," she says, "and keep changing." Speaking next, Terry L. Dale, president and CEO of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), compared the evolution of the luxury cruise business to that of James Bond, in that, although the cruise industry has been around for a long time, it continues to evolve and grow in popularity. Dale says 77 percent of luxury cruise travelers book through agents. In the third address at the opening session, Lynne Biggar, senior vice president for American Express Consumer Travel Network, stressed the importance of knowing, experiencing and loving a destination before pitching it to clients.

In a sit-down interview with Travel Agent following the session, Biggar says that piece of advice is the best way to combat the Internet.

"We all know that clients can go online and find out about a destination," she told the magazine, "but only through an agent can they get that on-the-ground perspective, the small, personal details of a place that makes it worth visiting."

The most popular speaker, apparent by the standing ovation she received following her speech, was Dr. Lalia Rach, associate dean, New YorkUniversity, TischCenter for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, who used pop culture references as well as a dose of funny one-liners to demonstrate the changing, social nature of a client.

McMahon says it was the first time in LTE's nearly decade-long history that any speaker received a standing ovation and a curtain call. Rach pleaded for agents to follow their clients' changing behavior in the travel world, not to have preconceived notions of clients based on their age but rather to focus on the behavior patterns of a particular generation.

Discovery Cove's Todd Angus welcomes Luxury Travel Expo attendees

"Nothing you sell or how you sell should be determined by age," she says. Her advice was instead to follow trends such as the increasing number of women who spend money or the upswing of older, affluent travelers.

Kristi Jones, president of Virtuoso, reminded agents that women shouldn't be left out of the loop when it comes to targeting ideal clients for luxury travel, stating that women "dominate luxury spending." Jones also discussed the importance of one-on-one relationships with clients as well as advertising the importance of a travel agent. "Not enough people know that professional travel consultants exist," Jones says.

Priscilla Alexander, president and founder of Protravel International, Inc., who McMahon introduced as the "agent's agent," clarified the definition of luxury. Although most luxury clients fall under either the affluent or super affluent categories, there are still a good number of travelers who enjoy luxury destinations without spending a ton of money. "Luxury is not simply determined by a price tag, but by style as well," Alexander says.

Following the speakers of the second session, McMahon and Kerry Cannon, Jr., group publisher of Questex Media Group's Travel Agent Media Portfolio, presented the annual Leaders in Luxury Awards. News From the LTE Show Floor

Michelle Morgan, Signature Travel Network's president, took the honor for Travel Professional of the Year. Lee Robinson, vice president of field sales for the Cunard Line, was this year's Cruise Winner. John Ueberroth, chairman and CEO of Preferred Hotel Group, took the Hotel Winner award and Mark Campbell, president of TCS Expeditions, was the Tour Winner (see the Dec. 4 issue of Travel Agent for complete profiles of all four winners).

The LTE was also home to various panel discussions and seminars geared at teaching agents tips of the trade or reminding them of available tools.

Some of the more than 25 sessions included "Risk Management for Travel Agency Owners and Managers," in which Rose A. Haché, attorney at law, told agents to never assume their clients know everything.

She cited a case in which a client didn't know that her two-year-old daughter needed a passport and then tried suing her agent for not informing her.

Leaders in Luxury winners Lee Robinson, Michelle Morgan, John Ueberroth and Mark Campbell flanked by Kerry Cannon (left) and John McMahon (right)

"Specialize and Prosper: Finding Your Profitable Niche" was moderated by Pauletta Kaufman, regional director of Travel Industry Sales for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company. The gist of the lesson was this: if you don't like the niche you are selling, if you don't enjoy the niche you are selling, don't sell it because chances are you won't be able to.

Home-Based Travel Agent Expo & Conference

The largest, most significant gathering of home-based travel agents ever assembled networked with suppliers on the trade show floor and filled the 21 educational and conference sessions, many to capacity. Agents gathered information on products and services to increase sales and efficiency and better serve their customers. Sales Director Jennifer Fernandez inaugurates the Home-Based Travel Expo

The HBTAE opened with a rousing address from Kerry J. Cannon, Jr., who said that Travel Week Las Vegas attendees were part of the "largest gathering of travel agents in North America in a long time," predicting that the show would be "a home run" for everyone attending.

The opening session's first keynote speaker, John Severini, president of Trafalgar Tours, discussed ways to attract new customers and trends in the business. Severini gave an example of an agent who approached 12 teachers in her community who lead classes such as yoga and ballroom dancing. The agent proposed that if the teachers could get a group of at least 15 people together for a trip booked through her that the teacher could go on the trip for free. Ten of the 12 teachers turned down the proposal and of the other two, one got a group of 25 and the other a group of 15—the students got a great trip, the teacher got a free trip, and the agent got 18 percent commission and 40 new clients. Severini said this was an example of an agent working in her community to expand her client base. An irony is that there was a travel agent in one of those community classes—an agent who lost out on the business because she didn't make the proposition herself.

Debbie Maier, vice president, MailPound, gave the second keynote presentation, "Seven Secrets to Success!" "Success" was used as an acronym for: Seek out suppliers; Utilize your resources; Create a personal connection with your clients; Control your costs; Elevate your enthusiasm; Specialize your talents; and Service sells. She said that the three most powerful tools agent have are "time, talent and technology," so they should make sure every day to organize their time, use their talents and interests to create enthusiasm for selling, and ensure that they have the fastest Internet connection and best technology available so they have a jump on the competition and can get information "better and faster than their clients." She asked the audience how they get brochures to clients. Keep them piled around the house? Pose as a customer and get a brochure from a retail agency? Order from the company and wait for delivery and then resend to their customer? She asked how many knew that they could go online, get a digital brochure, customize it with a call to action and e-mail it to clients? Judging from the response, not many were taking advantage of this service that could save them time and money. Nominate a Client for a Free Trip

The third keynote presentation was from Bryan Dockett, director, travel agency sales, for Disney. Referencing Disney's Year of a Million Dreams promotion, he said, "It's up to you to be a dream merchant. Isn't that why you got into this business in the first place, to make dreams come true?" He reported that Disney awarded 150,000 dreams—ranging from a family who had the Magic Kingdom to themselves to a visitor being a grand marshal of a parade—since the promotion began in October. Regarding how important travel agents are to Disney, "We spend lots of money on advertising and marketing, but do you know what really drives our business? Word of mouth." He said that over the next year Disney will be rolling out "more and more dedicated programs" for their travel agent partners and he asked agents to remember to visit www.disneytravelagents.com for information; to sign up for d-mail (e-mails with special Disney deals); and Disney e-brochures, which can be customized with a call to action.

The opening day's 12 packed-to-capacity afternoon sessions covered everything from marketing strategies to sales tips to in-depth looks at destinations. One of the most lively was the standing-room-only "The Secret to Doubling Your Home-Based Income in `07," presented by Shelton Hill, sales and business development coach for America's Vacation Center. "If you truly want to grow your business you must first grow yourself," Hill said, referring to both an agent's self-esteem and continued education. He chided agents who didn't have business plans, saying, "You must think like a business owner...If you don't know where you want to go, how are you supposed to get there?"

In other sessions, representatives from small cruise lines educated agents about their products; a panel of southern Africa experts talked about the seven countries and myriad products for clients and educational and sales tools for agents; agents learned about what Kerry Cannon, Jr., called the "alphabet soup of acronyms"; and those attending the panel on choosing a host agency heard straight from the sources about their plans and support systems. Kim Sherrett, director of agent relations, Travel Planners International, told the audience that her company pays commissions on the 15th of each month and is going to pay twice a month in `07. Jeffrey Anderson, vice president of marketing for America's VacationCenter, then told the group that AVC now pays by direct deposit. "We've got some quality competition up here trying to outdo each other—it's like 'Name That Tune' up here," said Bill Alverson, president and CEO of Joystar, who jokingly added that Joystar would pay daily next year (and then another panelist chimed in, "We'll be paying hourly!").

Left to right: Graeme Clarke, Linda M. Tatten and Rhonda Ellis of Travel Counsellors; Questex Media's Kerry Cannon

Agents heard from panelists with specialization success stories and got the latest info on Las Vegas and its surrounding area attractions. The most interactive of the third round of concurrent sessions was one on airline consolidators. Judging from the many questions from the audience, this was a much-appreciated forum to learn how to work with airline consolidators on both FIT and group travel. "Our motto is, 'Allow us to put money in your pockets,'" said Akshay Shah, vice president of marketing, Sky Bird Tours & Travel, who got a resounding response of, "OK!" from the audience. He explained that air consolidators have contracts for negotiated rates with airlines and that agents who buy through consolidators are able to mark up tickets and still save money for their clients.

Joanie Ogg, president of NACTA and TravelSellers, gave agents great tips on marketing themselves; the audience got insight from suppliers such as cruise lines and tour companies; and agents learned about Jamaica's latest developments.

On the final day, agents learned about booking group travel, uncovering hidden commissions and got insiders' tips on running a successful home-based business.