LTE and HBTAE Recap

It's not often you get to see 6,000 travel agents in one place, but that's exactly what happened last week when the Luxury Travel Expo and Home-Based Travel Expo were held under one roof at the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. Luxury Travel Expo has long been the signature event for the luxury travel industry, and this year, our company, Questex Media, also launched a show for the home-based travel agent community.

What amazed me about this vast group of agents the most? The vast majority seemed to have arrived with a game plan designed to help them get the most out of the tradeshows, seminars and networking opportunities. All of the learning sessions were filled to the brim with agents who avidly took notes, asked questions and mingled with their colleagues afterwards to share ideas. On both of the show floors, traffic never slowed and suppliers and agents enjoyed quality conversations. In fact, the only possible downside—if you can call it that—was that some agents I saw in the lobby areas were positively exhausted by all of the opportunities presented to them!

I've said it before, and it's true: There is a thirst for education in the travel agency community, which seems to be raising the bar on the level of professionalism it offers to its clients year after year.

Agents and suppliers meet and greet each other on the tradeshow floor of Luxury Travel Expo at Mandalay Bay

There were raves for Lynne Biggar's presentation at the Luxury Travel Expo opening session. Biggar, who is the senior vice president of the American Express Consumer Travel Network, told the audience that today's customers desire experience, have a thirst for knowledge and understand the importance of value. As a result, agents must have destination experience and the ability to anticipate their clients' needs. "It's about hearing that smile in your voice and the confidence in your tone" when you speak to them, she said.

How do you garner loyalty from consumers in an environment where there are so many options for purchasing travel? Biggar said that agents can gain advocacy by delivering on the basics. "Be your own number-one fan, prepare your employees to be an advocate for you and be sure to treat your advocates like a treasure," she said.

Terry Dale, president and CEO of CLIA, meanwhile, said that his association is launching a Luxury Cruise Specialist program in January, which wasn't surprising, since he noted that luxury cruisers use travel agents for 95 percent of all bookings. Now that's loyalty! Of course, we all know that there is so much more potential to make money from luxury cruising, since CLIA's data shows that only 17 percent of the U.S. population has cruised. That leaves 83 percent of the rest of the country that you can tap into! Many of you may be able to "ride the wave," so to speak, since Gen Xers are showing a strong desire to cruise; in fact, 68 percent of those polled said that they intend to take this type of vacation. That's even higher than our very active Baby Boomer generation, 65 percent of whom said that they want to take a cruise.

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What looks hot for next year? Dale said CLIA's research indicates that the Greek Isles, the Italian coastal resorts and the Southern Caribbean look to be the most in-demand cruise destinations, so be sure to start checking out which luxury lines are serving those ports.

So that's my snapshot from Las Vegas last week. There was much more, and be sure to watch future issues for more news and photos from these illustrious events. And, if you missed out on some of the exclusive announcements from suppliers that we provided in our special Las Vegas Week daily newsletters, you can always visit our newly designed www.travelagentcentral.com web site. Just click on the News from Travel Week icon on the left of the page to catch anything you may have missed.

Ruthanne Terrero, CTC EDITORIAL DIRECTOR rterrero@questex.com