Vacation.com Conference Just Keeps Getting Bigger & Better
By Jennifer Prendergast
Travel agents, suppliers and industry professions from across North America flocked to Las Vegas’ Cesar’s Palace last week for Vacation.com’s prestigious 16th Annual Conference & Trade Show.
The conference marked a record-breaking attendance for Vacation.com, with more than 1,500 registrants from Canada and the USA hitting the town for the five-day event.
“The number of Vacation.com members continues to increase, so it’s no surprise that we see the momentum build,” explained Vacation.com vice president Canada, Christine James. “The fact that over 1,500 are in attendance at this year’s conference is outstanding. As we continue to see vast changes throughout the travel industry, especially on the technology front, a larger cross-section of our Vacation.com members understand that by attending this annual conference, they have countless opportunities to become better acquainted with the new technology, programs and tools that we make available to them.”
A Big Hit With Canadians
The conference boasted the highest Canadian attendance of both travel agents and suppliers in its history, with over 220 delegates. Canada also had a higher percentage of its Vacation.com members in attendance, when compared to the US.
With the ever-changing landscapes of technology, social media and marketing, agents are “more engaged and wanting to learn than ever,” according to the company’s president, John Lovell.
“Each year, the amount of education that agents consume is increasing. Vegas has lots of diversions but agents are here learning and participating in the program.”
Lovell also announced that Vacation.com has increased its total number of members to 5,300 – making it the largest travel agency consortium in North America.
“We’ve had exceptional recruitment over the years, and some of the largest agencies across North America are proud to call Vacation.com their preferred travel services marketing organization. Many other consortiums strive to emulate us, but Vacation.com remains the unequivocal industry leader.”
Membership includes the popular consumer Engagement program, the commissionable CruisePRO and AirPRO online booking tools, top-notch customer service and a plethora of training opportunities such as on-demand webinars, virtual classes and in-person events. Members also receive access to the Distinctive Voyages-hosted concierge cruise program, the Stream pre-paid hotel program and the Worldwide Hotel program.
Lovell also announced the launch “Agent Snapshot”, a new initiative designed to realize Vacation.com’s potential for connecting member agents directly with consumers.
With 90 per cent of all travel beginning online, Agent Snapshot will enable agents to introduce themselves and their travel expertise to consumers on www.vacation.com.
“After 16 years, we’re going to finally leverage our greatest organizational asset,” said Lovell. “It’s not the website - it’s our members. It’s not the agency-owner and it’s not the agency name - it’s the individual sellers of travel. They’re ultimately the ones that make the difference to this organization and to any supplier.”
With Agent Snapshot, which is accessed through Agent Universe, members are able to convey much more than just their agency’s general specialties and destination expertise. It provides them with a unique opportunity to personally and electronically introduce themselves, their travel experience and their skills to clients. The more differentiation in the agent’s snapshot, the more intelligent a consumer match will be.
As more and more travellers turn to the web to research their complex vacation plans, they will organically discover and recognize the value of Vacation.com members, thanks to Agent Snapshot.
Throughout the conference, Vacation.com representatives were on hand to provide snapshot tips, best practices and workshops. A photo area was also set up so that agents could have a professional head shot taken to use in their profiles. Agents were actively encouraged to start creating their snapshot so that it’s ready for when the consumer website is launched later this year.
“If even a fraction of our tens of thousands of Vacation.com travel agents create and publish their Agent Snapshot for our consumer site, we’ll have enormous fire power in realizing the initial vision for www.vacation.com,” added Lovell. “More importantly, Agent Snapshot will ensure that consumers can find the optimal Vacation.com member travel agent who meets their specific needs.”
At a special seminar for Canadian travel agents only, the new Canadian Anti-Spam Legislation (CASL) was discussed at length.
“Vacation.com has taken the bull by the horns in pro-actively getting members ready to deal with the legislation,” explained Canadian VP Christine James. “We have conducted live webinars and have recorded webinars aimed at trying to make it as painless as possible for our members to submit their lists within compliance.”
With tightening rules for sending marketing communications to the consumer on the horizon, Vacation.com has created an email that has been sent on behalf of their members that asks consumers to give express consent to continue to receive email communications from their travel agent. Vacation.com will continue to work within the rules of CASL to help their members navigate this new legislation once it comes in to effect on July 1.
Automated Shore Excursion Bookings
James also gave Canadian members an update on the CruisePRO booking tool. Prior to enhancements, agents would book a cruise through CruisePRO and then communicate the shore excursion details via phone or email with the suppliers. Now the process is automated and the client’s itinerary is sent directly to the shore excursion providers who then communicate directly with the client on behalf of the agent.
“They do all of the work, and the agents get the commission,” commented James. “It’s such a time-saver for our agents - and think of the extra money they can make just by sending an email once the booking has been done.”
Dates For Your Diary
At the farewell reception, Vacation.com once again raised the bar even higher by announcing that next year’s conference will take place on Royal Caribbean’s new Quantum of the Seas from April 24 to May 2, 2015. Put the dates in your diary now.