Experts Discuss Specialization at Rebranded Travel Industry Exchange

The innovative event hosted 50-plus sessions.
The innovative event hosted 50-plus sessions.

The decision of Questex Travel Group to rebrand the former Luxury Travel Exchange proved to be a wise one as travel industry A-listers flocked to Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort on September 15 for the first day of the inaugural Travel Industry Exchange (TIX).

“For years, we’ve been telling you that luxury is the future,” said John McMahon, executive vice president of Questex Travel Group, during the general session. “And now we talk about specialization as a further extension of the future.” Specialization is “the next great wave of opportunity” for travel professionals, based on the company’s research and consumer trends and feedback.

Underscoring the value to travel professionals of becoming more niche focused, the innovative event’s 50-plus sessions focused on revenue-generating niche segments, including certification programs in luxury, cruise and romance travel, as well as concentrated educational programming in technology, trends, destinations, and Millennial and LGBT travel.

TIX also offered eight hours of one-to-one meetings.
TIX also offered eight hours of one-to-one meetings.

Here are some of the highlights from TIX, which will be covered in greater depth in an upcoming issue of Travel Agent magazine.

Ruthanne Terrero, Travel Agent’s vice president of content and editorial director, moderated the panel, Raise the Bar Now: Step Up Your Business for the Next Wave of Travelers, which included Zane Kerby, ASTA president and CEO; Cindy D’Aoust, CLIA’s acting CEO; and Joshua Bush, CEO, Avenue Two Travel.

D’Aoust warned advisors that Millennials will expect you to know all of the “digital tools” out there. For example, she argued, you can “lose a sale in a second” if you don’t have a fresh website, etc. In that same vein, Bush said, “You need to ask yourself: ‘Everything I’m putting forward, from business cards to my website...does it look like something contemporary’?”

“You need more than just pretty pictures,” said Kerby, “because the Internet can serve up what you’re selling in a second. They need someone they can trust.”

“At the end of the day, people crave the human touch,” added Terrero. “Sometimes people just want to be listened to.”

Meredith Hill, travel industry trailblazer and founder and chief executive officer of Global Institute for Travel Entrepreneurs (GIFTE), delivered the event’s keynote address, “The Path to Limitless Opportunities Begins with Specialization.” Some key factors that will help drive business for all agents, Hill said, 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, people are looking for someone to filter the overwhelming information now available online.

A well-attended discussion on LGBT travel trends was moderated by LoAnn Halden, communications director for the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, who noted that the LGBT market is estimated to be worth approximately $200 billion a year. On the panel were Jim McMichael, diversity and cultural manager, Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority; Tom Alderink, Belmond’s first director of LGBT sales; and Vicky Garcia, COO, Cruise Planners.

Alderink said Peru is really hot right now for the LGBT market, while Mexico is also becoming a huge LGBT weddings and honeymoons destination.

McMichael said Millennial LGBT clients don’t necessary have to vacation in spots entirely occupied by gay and lesbian clients. This generation feels comfortable going anywhere, he said. Garcia says that same blending of gay and straight clients can be found on cruises today, as opposed to years ago when an LGBT client had to go on an all-gay cruise.

“Not every LGBT client wants that,” says Garcia. “Just like people wouldn’t want to travel on an all-white [or] all-Hispanic cruise.”

Regarding the transgender market, McMichael said, “Ever heard of Caitlyn Jenner? The ‘T’ in the LGBT community is something you are going to see growing really fast now that they have a leader.”

Next year’s Travel Industry Exchange will take place in San Diego, December 13-15.