I’ve just attended three fabulous industry events in a row: Signature Travel Network Sales Meeting and Luxury Travel Expo, both held in Las Vegas, and the Classic Vacations Travel Marketing Partners event in Honolulu. All three confabs gave me the opportunity to meet with many of the top agents and suppliers in the industry, which is always a true pleasure.
Luxury Travel Expo—which, as always, was filled with networking and learning opportunities—had an extremely high level of energy about it throughout. I was fortunate enough to assist in handing out the Leaders in Luxury Awards, which are presented to those individuals who have exemplified superior leadership in four categories: Hotel, Cruise, Tour and Travel Professional. Our editorial board here at the Questex Travel Group (which includes Travel Agent, Luxury Travel Advisor and Premier Hotels & Resorts) selects the winners, and this year’s selection was a true who’s who. This year’s honoree in the Tour category is Rohan Vos, founder, owner and president of Rovos Rail; the Travel Professional honoree was Sybil Wild of Sybil Wild, Inc.; Ian Schrager of Ian Schrager, Inc. was chosen in the Hotel category, and Deborah Natansohn, the former president of Seabourn Cruise Line, who passed away last year, was honored in the Cruise category. Doug Siegel, vice president of sales for Seabourn, accepted the award on Natansohn’s behalf, and I can assure you there wasn’t a dry eye in the house as Siegel recalled Natansohn’s strong work ethic, her sense of humor and her love for her family.
I also moderated a panel that included Robert Romano of Fugazi Travel, Barbara Gallay of Linden Travel and Mary Jean Tully of The Cruise Professionals, each of whom shared their tales of success with attendees. On the tradeshow floor, suppliers and agents shared quality conversations and the show never suffered a quiet moment—especially on the last day, as many agents in the Signature Travel Network began arriving for their annual conference, which began the next day.
At Signature’s event, Michelle Morgan, president, told her membership that in 2008, the consortia will focus on helping agencies to retain their clientele. “Research shows that on average, retailers retain only 30 percent of their client base year over year,” said Morgan. “Seventy percent of your customers do business elsewhere. Clients shop other agencies and online. Your clients are also on supplier mailing lists. What you do to tie your good customers to you will be key in 2008.”
Meanwhile, Classic Vacations said at its event that it is putting an added emphasis “ultra-high-end villas, private homes, chartered yachts and private jets.” Greg Bernd, vice president of sales for the luxury wholesaler, said that Classic has expanded into offering personal, private tours and excursions to its clients. Examples of such offerings include river barging in France, hot-air balloon rides over Tuscany and private shopping excursions in Florence. Luxembourg has also been added to Classic’s Europe offerings, as have private tours in Croatia and castle tours of Ireland. New transportation offerings include the Orient Express train and island transfers in Greece. Classic’s research shows that the luxury segment is growing by two to three times over other segments in the industry.
The Classic Vacations Weekend also gave agents the chance to bid adieu to Classic’s long-time leader, Ron Letterman, who is retiring and to welcome Tim MacDonald, who was named CEO in April. MacDonald, who has strong experience in branding and in travel, told agents in attendance that Classic in 2008 will raise the level of service offered by Classic’s reservations staff to an even higher level in 2008. The company is also investing in a new technology platform that will be rolled out by the end of the year, he said.