AmEx U.S. Representative Network Conference

DENVER–Travel Agent is on the scene for this year's AmEx U.S. Representative Network Conference, being held in Denver, CO. The program was opened by Ellen Bettridge, vice president, U.S. Representative Network, on Sunday, who welcomed eight new additions to the network: Fugazy Travel, The Travel Team, Hewins Travel, Arta Travel, Passageways Travel, PNR Travel and CI Travel. Bettridge went on to highlight some of the key components of American Express travel, including the proliferation of the Mariner Club, which offers special rates on cruises. Further, for 2007, Bettridge stressed the need to keep growing the network with new partners; extending FH&R direct booking capabilities; growing green and gold card programs; and enhancements to American Express Vacations.

Lynne Biggar, senior vice president and general manager, Consumer Travel Network, followed Bettridge on the stage, espousing the mantra: "The Power of Two," that the coupling of AmEx with travel agents within the representative network is the fuel for success. Biggar shared that 2006 earnings had grown 17 percent through the second quarter, bolstered by cruise and tour sales, which rose 7 percent. She followed by addressing the consumer travel network's areas of focus going forward, which included: seeking out new partnerships; driving best in-class experiences; providing premium value; investing in its business' and teams; and continuing to innovate.

Steve Gorga, president of American Express Vacations, then replaced Biggar onstage, and divulged a new partnership with Orient Express. He also noted a new function from AmEx Vacations, which allows travel agents to view agent commissions before completing a booking.

Monday: The morning session was kicked of by a breakfast sponsored by Norwegian Cruise Line. Over breakfast, travel agents were assailed by NCL's new marketing campaign, composed of print collateral and Internet advertisements that sought to convey the cruise line's ethos of Freestyle Cruising, or cruising on your own terms. An example: "Dress Code: Wear Something."

Monday morning's general session was led off by Antonella Pianalto, director, government affairs for American Express, who discussed the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative. She also revealed further information on the Registered Traveler program, which, for a $100 to $125 fee, will allow travelers to bypass normal security lines, therefore expediting wait time, after submitting to a background check by the Department of Homeland Security. A pilot test is currently being carried out at the Orlando International Airport, but Pianalto said new airports would be coming on board, and by the spring, six to 10 airports would be operational.

A word from one of the event's sponsors, Hertz, followed the Washington Update. Hertz highlighted its new Green Collection, a fleet of cars that are fuel efficient with lower emissions. New models include the Ford Fusion, Hyundai Sonata, Buick LaCrosse and Toyota Camry. Hertz also announced to travel agents, 18 percent commissions for those who sell Hertz Europe.

The last portion of the morning's general session was led by Audrey Hendley, vice president, marketing and new business development for American Express. She introduced four new marketing goals the company will look to attain going forward: new product launches; improving existing products; reaching out for new partnerships; and increasing overall efficiency.

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