Six teams of travel agents criss-crossed Las Vegas in a mad dash last month to win the US Airways Vacations 2009 Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt. There was a lot at stake – the grand and only prize was a hefty one - $25,000 in US Airways Vacations travel shared between the team members. Competing agents were chosen on the amount of Las Vegas business they booked with US Airways Vacations.
Pamela Driver, director of sales, Four Queens Hotel & Casino and Jackie Minchuk, national sales manager, US Airways Vacations, at the Four Queens breakfast.
On Monday night, the eve of the scavenger hunt, I had dinner with the members of the Las Vegas Hilton team at the Hilton’s Benihana restaurant and spoke about travel trends with Debbie Schwab, owner of Largo, FL-based Above and Beyond Travel, Inc. “We’re close to Tampa and our business is high-end and seniors – seniors still don’t trust the Internet,” said Schwab. “Also, the trend we’re seeing is cruise clients not choosing balconies and instead choosing cabins, and booking seven day trips over 10 days.”
Two members of the Las vegas Hilton team, Lori Swan, a travel agent with Hermitage, PA-based Plaza Travel and Margaret Dobberstein, director, corporate accounting, US Airways Vacations, ride the scavenger hunt bus.
“Right after Christmas it really took off,” said Lori Swan, a travel agent with Hermitage, PA-based Plaza Travel. “We’re seeing bookings six to nine months out.”
Let The Hunt Begin!
On Tuesday morning, the third annual scavenger hunt began with an orientation breakfast at Four Queens Resort & Casino. “We’ve thrown in a bunch of twists this year – we wanted the scavenger hunt to last longer,” said Jackie Minchuk, National Sales Manager, US Airways Vacations. “Another change from last year is we won’t know the winning team until dinner.”
After breakfast Travel Agent spoke with Chris Ames, director of product sales, US Airways Vacations. “Last minute booking is on fire,” said Ames. “Travelers are either looking for deals or wondering if they can commit to a $5,000 trip in the future. We haven’t seen as many closed out dates for travel as we’ve seen before. We’re booking up to the day before travel.”
Chris Ames, director of product sales, US Airways Vacations, with the box containing the name of the winning team of agents.
This was backed up by Bill Cummings, the manager of Cleveland-based A Time to Travel and a member of the Hilton team. “US Airways Vacations is the best I know as far as last minute bookings," said Cummings.
The teams were composed of four to five agents and named after the hotels hosting them:
Bellagio Las Vegas
Caesars Palace Las Vegas Hotel & Casino
Las Vegas Hilton
Mirage Las Vegas
Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino Las Vegas
There were 10 locations on the scavenger hunt. At 10:30 a.m. all teams were on their individual buses and ready to go. They received their clues simultaneously and the hunt was on.
Here’s an example of one of the clues to give an idea of what the agents were facing:
“If a train was leaving the station nearest the District and it got bogged down in a pond – you would be stuck here. So, keep your boarding pass in hand as you wander through the grapevines to find a menu of delights that will help your team to relax, rejuvenate and refresh. Bring this menu back!”
Answer: Green Valley Ranch and the menu needed was a spa menu.
Even though, as a journalist, I was ineligible for the prize, it was impossible not to get caught up in the team’s enthusiasm as they deciphered clues, figured out the quickest routes and called friends on their cell phones to Google a clue. There was a lot of furious running through hotel lobbies, crowding onto elevators, and hopping on and off our bus. When we finally finished with our last destination – the Las Vegas Hilton, we were whisked away by US Airways Vacations executives so other teams wouldn’t see us.
And The Winner is…
That evening agents and US Airways Vacations executives turned out for the Winner Celebration Dinner at Encore. After a presentation about The Wynn and Encore properties, Ames produced a list and read off the winning team – the Mirage group of agents. There was a lot of elation in the room, as well as a fair share of disappointment. There were vows of, “Wait until next year” and “At least we had fun” but maybe one agent summed it up perfectly: “I’m going to the tables.”
The winning team of travel agents at the US Airways Vacations 2009 Las Vegas Scavenger Hunt 2009 celebrating their win at the Encore.