Takeaways from TRAVELMARKET 2014

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During American Marketing Group’s TRAVELMARKET 2014, which took place last month in Florida, we came away with a few takeaways that we tweeted during the conference (@Recommendmag), but wanted to share with you here as well. Here are some “crib notes,” so to speak, that might help your bottom line.

One of the takeaways that struck us the most was that, according to Bob Becker, Norwegian Cruise Line’s v.p. of consumer research and a speaker at TRAVELMARKET 2014, 48 percent of salespeople never follow up; only 2 percent of sales are made on the first call; and 90 percent of sales are made after the fourth contact. Message to you: Don’t let the first call discourage you, because, as Becker points out, the Internet gives guests what they want, you [travel agents] give guests what they need. The Internet does not give travelers the best choice, you do.

During the A VIEW from the TOP Leadership panel, with panelists Dondra Ritzenthaler, senior v.p. of sales for Celebrity Cruises; Scott Nisbet, president and CEO, Globus family of brands; Marg Mulholland, former president of GOGO Vacations; and Milton Hugh, senior v.p. of sales, Viking Cruises, a few important points came to the forefront:

• When asked to name two or three programs that support the agency community, Ritzenthaler said, “amazing ships for you to sell; promotions that make your phone ring; and incentives for travel agents to keep us top of mind.” Hugh added, “River cruises offer an all-inclusive experience with really great product; exceptional quality; and [Viking] has great training programs, and in fact, we just launched a travel agent training program.”

• In terms of what consumers want, Nisbet said that travelers are concerned with the logistics, and escorted tours take the hassle out of planning. For one, “there’s no waiting in lines.” When it comes to the average age of people coming into the escorted tour market, it’s 49, added Nisbet. According to Mulholland, “the consumer wants to feel special. People want to travel with a purpose—a cooking lesson, a surfing lesson—they want to be involved. There needs to be something that is driving them there. There needs to be a reason for them to be there.”

• An interesting discussion came up when the panelists were asked to imagine themselves opening up a travel agency tomorrow and to point out things that they would do to attract that consumer. Ritzenthaler mentioned that she would have “personal relationships with each and every one of my customers. I would fight each and every day to fight against selling the cheapest way. I want to sell them something they will remember forever.” Mulholland added that “you have to market to a niche, rather than trying to be everything for everyone.”

• Regarding up-and-coming and hot destinations, Mulholland said, “Vietnam is up 60 percent,” while Ritzenthaler mentioned that for large ship cruising, “Europe is really hot right now, especially the British Isles.” Hugh noted that for river cruising, France is the hottest river cruise destination, and Nisbet also mentioned Europe, noting multi-European destinations.

• Of course, you can’t have a legitimate panel discussion of the industry today without talking about social media, which Hugh said is of utmost importance, because “even if you don’t know specifically that social media is getting you that booking, you need to be on it. Before we send a press release out, we post it on Facebook and Twitter.” Nisbet made a good point when he noted that “we are shifting more resources to social media because it creates a relationship.”

The main takeaway from TRAVELMARKET 2014 was that it’s important to specialize and we’ve got the full rundown on that in our previous story, To Specialize is to Succeed.

And in case you weren’t up to date on all things American Marketing Group, there are a few developments you should definitely be aware of:

cruiseexpress, the cruise booking engine for TRAVELSAVERS and NEST members, has enhanced its website. The site features an interactive training tutorial, training schedule with quick registration links and a listing of VIP Program sales and exclusive offers. The relaunched site also provides information on the PLUS program, a program-within-a-program that allows travel professionals to earn additional commission, and the B2C program, which allows agents to add the cruiseexpress search engine to an existing website so clients can search and book cruises around the clock.

• American Marketing Group is aligning more closely with ASTA and ACTA to promote the travel agent profession. The key word is “renewed,” said Anne Marie Moebes, executive v.p., Well-Being Travel and Acclaim Meetings, because “we did break away a few years ago because we felt that the association was getting into commercialization and therefore competing more or less with the consortias. We think it’s time to renew our membership woith ASTA and we encourage our agents to become members. ACTA, meanwhile, has a great executive team, and we want to let the industry know that we are behind both associations in a very strong way. We need a strong aggregated agency community and the only ones that can help that are the associations because that’s what their goals are.”

• TRAVELSAVERS has just grown its suite of fully translated marketing materials to better meet the needs of its Quebec-based membership. It has rolled out French versions of its direct mail program, which includes multi-branded lifestyle mailers and individual supplier pieces. To complement this, a French version of Travel Club, TRAVELSAVERS’ loyalty program, was released and internally, a French agent extranet was unveiled.

For more information on TRAVELSAVERS, visit travelsavers.com. For more information on NEST, visit jointhenest.com.