On Location: One on One with AmEx's Ellen Bettridge

As part of our ongoing coverage of the American Express (AmEx) Travel U.S. Representative Network Conference, Travel Agent sat down with Ellen Bettridge, vice president of the American Express U.S. Retail Travel Network, and learned what the company did to make this year's conference such a success as well what AmEx is doing to keep members satisfied in the coming year.

"I ran into one of our members and he was telling me that the last time he came to this conference was 10 years ago and that he really didn't get much out it, but he said he was completely blown away by this year's event," Bettridge says, noting that the conference's agent training sessions have been hailed as one of the most impressive parts of the conference.

Roughly 500 agents were put through intense 30-minute training sessions in which they learned how to better sell the suppliers who are AmEx preferred partners.

The attendance this year has also been substantially higher than last year's event. Last year, the conference drew 52 percent of the company's network while this year's event drew a whopping 92 percent.

"To be honest, this was mainly do to our new Scorecard system," Bettridge says about the new scorecard system, which was first introduced last year and basically serves as a list of goals that AmEx members are required to meet annually. One of those goals was attending this year's event.

"We basically stressed to them how important it is to have a strong presence here, to keep up with all the new programs and initiatives and they really listened," she says.

As far as partnerships go, Bettridge says perhaps the biggest one announced at the show was AmEx's furthering relationship with Orbitz. With this new collaboration, Orbitz's extensive hotel program, which represents 85,000 hotel properties across the globe will be made available to the American Express Retail Travel Network. This will allow network members to take part in price-match guarantees as well as give them access to low rates. This is a multi-year agreement and guarantees agents a 12-percent commission.

As for older partnerships, she says the collaborative agreement made with ALTOUR back in April of 2009 continues to be a rousing success.

"They are incredibly engaged partners and we have really been able to leverage each other's services," she says. "Mainly, access to the ALTOUR Hotel Collection has really been a major benefit to our members."

And as far as competing with other successful entities, Bettridge says the specifically focused agent programs, such as AmEx's agent-specific portal, AgentPort, as well as incentives like the company's Pay with Points program, has kept the network in the forefront.

"If we keep looking at these very agent specific programs, we will continue to drive new members and continue to drive new customers," she says.

As far as next year's conference goes, the show will most likely be hosted around the same, mid-October, but a host hotel has yet to be announced yet. The 2011 American Express Travel U.S. Representative Network Conference concludes tomorrow.

For more update from the conference, keep visiting www.travelagentcentral.com.