On Site: Top Suppliers Discuss Importance of Travel Agents

LAS VEGAS--Vacation.com's 13th International Conference and Trade Show is in full swing this week, welcoming more than 1,300 industry professionals from around the country. This makes 2011's conference at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino the second largest show to date.

Today's breakfast general session included a Chairman's Panel that included Vicki Freed of Royal Caribbean International, Mark Conroy of Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Scott Nisbet of Globus Family of Brands, Michelle Kish of GOGO Worldwide Vacations and Andy Stuart of Norwegian Cruise Line.

These top suppliers sat down to discuss the relevancy of the travel agent in today's market. Unsurprisingly, the unanimous feeling was a vote of confidence for travel agents and that they have never been more necessary than today.

"The travel agent is absolutely critical for our business," said Nisbet. "Ninety percent of our business comes from travel agents. We have 60 sales people in North America helping our agent partners. We are investing in this line more than ever."

Michelle Kish of GOGO, a company that deals exclusively with travel agents said, "We believe in the value of travel agents and our goal is to keep them relevant in the minds of the consumers."

This refreshing news can't be said enough in a time where the internet seems to have taken over every channel of our lives and the community becomes increasingly more tech savvy. Interestingly enough, Mark Conroy attributes the increase in the the awareness of the necessity of travel agents to the recent natural disasters that have impacted travel, such as the ash cloud and the Japan earthquake. "It's like Mark Twain said, 'The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated,'" he said. "When flights get canceled, you cannot call the internet."

The suppliers were asked whether or not paying commission to agents was considered an expense and overwhelmingly the answer was no. "We have never viewed commission as an expense," said Vicki Freed. "We will continue to pay our agents more. It is a value addition to us. Agents earn every penny of their commission and it is our pleasure to pay it."

When asked what was the one 'bad habit' that agents could correct, Freed answered, "Stop selling suppliers that don't support you in a big way. We put all of our eggs in your basket. We support you."