ORLANDO, Florida -- Travel industry A-listers flocked to the Disney Coronado Springs Resort Tuesday for the first day of the inaugural Travel Industry Exchange.
And so far it appears as though Questex Media Group's decision to rebrand the former Luxury Travel Exchange has proved to be a wise one.
"For years, we've been telling you that luxury is the future," says John McMahon, executive vice president of Questex Media Group, during the General Session. "And now we talk about specialization as a further extension of the future."
The session kicked off with a panel hosted by Ruthanne Terrero, vice president of content and editorial director of Questex Travel Group, titled, "Raise the Bar Now: Step Up Your Business for the Next Wave of Travelers."
The panelists were Joshua Bush, CEO of Avenue Two Travel; Cindy D'Aoust, acting CEO for Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA); and Zane Kerby, president of American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA).
"We are all experiencing a robust economy, phones are ringing off the hook, people are traveling," says Bush.
Bush says there is this amazing wave of Baby Boomers who are all in the midst of retiring from their jobs, but there is an even bigger wave right behind that one. It's the Millennial generation, which he says "will be bigger than any other generation before. They do not have any preconceived notions when it comes to a travel agent and they are all using us."
In fact, according to a presentation Travel Agent sat in on earlier this year on an interesting study by Peter Yesawich, vice chairman of MMGY Global, the use of a traditional travel agent has been increasing over the last four years, and the driving force behind that increase is Millennial travelers. Some may be surprised by this, since the Millennial generation is often considered the all-digital, all-online generation.
But according to Yesawich, Millennials are confident in an agent's planning abilities. They also value their time so much that they would rather delegate the research and booking stages of a vacation to a travel expert.
"We try to put (Millennials) in a box, but there is no box to put them in," says D'Aoust. "They want a personalized trip. You need to understand who your customer is regardless of age. They will come back to you because they are loyalists."
D'Aoust did warn advisors that Millennials will expect you to know all of the "digital tools" out there. For example, she argues that you can "lose a sale in a second" if you don't have a fresh website, etc.
"You need to ask yourself, 'is everything I'm putting forward, from business cards to my website, does it look like something contemporary,'" says Bush.
But Kerby argues that a solid presentation is just the beginning of winning over the client.
"You need more than just pretty pictures," says Kerby, "because the Internet can serve up what you're selling in a second. They need someone they can trust. It needs to be more than that because they can get that anywhere. Why you?"
"At the end of the day, people crave the human touch," added Terrero. "Sometimes people just want to be listened to."
The panel was followed by the keynote speech by Meredith Hill, president and founder of the Global Institute For Travel Entrepreneurs (GIFTE). Hill told the audience about the importance of specialization, pointing out that while she was an agent in 2006, she saw her sales quadruple when she decided to specialize. She also shared some valuable trends that should make today's travel professional optimistic about the future.
Some key factors that will help drive business for all agents, Hill says, are the fact that Baby Boomers are mostly entering retirement; that Millennial travelers are rising; that technology has made it possible to work and market from anywhere; and, most importantly, that people are looking for someone to filter the overwhelming information now available online.
"People crave wisdom, people crave an opinion, people crave a filter," she says. "They want someone to sort out all of this information overload."