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The lights go dim, the travel advisors in the conference hall grab their yellow glow sticks and hold them up high, and the music from a softly played violin begins to sweep over the room. Tears are shed, people embrace and tissues are shared as names are projected onto the screens facing the audience. Those names belong to audience members’ friends and families who have been touched by cancer.

This isn’t the more traditional way for a travel advisor conference to kick-off, but it’s one for the memory books and for those in attendance, Delta Vacations University 2022 is certainly one industry event that won’t easily be forgotten. Not only because of the very moving aforementioned luminaria ceremony that took place during the breakfast session on kick-off day—proceeds raised during the conference will be donated to Delta Vacations’ Give Back partner, the American Cancer Society (total raised was $64,575)—but also because it’s been three years since the conference has been held in person.

“We sold out so quickly, in 2.5 weeks,” said Kristen Molloy, v.p. of sales for Delta Vacations during the conference’s media briefing. “Our travel advisor partners were so excited to come back. They are from all across the country. I won’t say every state but pretty darn close to every state, and these are all our Diamond accounts, so these are accounts that have had to sell a certain amount of Delta Vacations just to get invited.”

During the Europe Off the Beaten Path session.

Spanning two days over this past weekend, Delta Vacations University brought 1,000 travel advisor partners to Atlanta to attend an array of in-depth sessions and workshops as well as a very lively and jam-packed trade show that showcased some 200 suppliers and offered travel advisors the opportunity to try out the Delta One suite—the highest seat category on board Delta’s aircraft. There was also opportunity for some fun downtime with the evening event taking place at the city’s impressive Egyptian Ballroom at the Fox Theater, one of the country’s aptly named “movie palaces.”

Gaining Expertise at Delta Vacations University

“We’ve got some really great new classes that we’ve added this year,” added Molloy. “We’ve got some that are just for owners and managers that we think are really neat—teaching emotional intelligence and how to manage by strengths. We’ve got some new destination partners, of course—we always do that based on where the demand is. We’re also really excited to have Corey Perlman back; he’s been with us for several years and he always gets wonderful feedback from his social media panel. He’s doing a 3-part social media workshop where everyone who attends ends up with a finished reel they can post to their social media, so very hands on and very cool.”

The sessions and workshops Recommend had the opportunity to pop into were heavily attended, quite engaging and offered in-depth intel on the topic at hand—offering the 4-1-1 on everything from how to sell romance to destination-focused sessions such as Israel. In the Romance session, for example, the presenter even offered a slide with about 20 questions that advisors can ask of their clients so they can “create those lasting memories,” as she told the audience. And the Israel session was conducted by the Israel Ministry of Tourism’s tourism consul for Southern USA—in other words, those in attendance heard from an expert who hails from and lives in Israel.

Conference Objectives

Kama Winters, Delta Vacations’ president, told the media in attendance that the conference’s focus is on three key areas: experience; connections; and go beyond.

“We talk a lot about experience,” she said, “but for us experience is everything from new destinations that we are starting to announce—we are excited to expand our portfolio of Greek Islands—to a more curated portfolio of high-quality properties; we also have new activities coming on board. We are really thinking about how this experience aligns to the high quality of the Delta standard.”

In terms of “connections,” Winters pointed to the conference itself: “It’s the first time in three years that we’re bringing all of our travel advisor partners back together. In addition, it’s that concept of how we connect with our customers—whether that’s through technology or new ways to serve. It’s about it being easy to do business with us—that’s really at the heart of creating those connections and it extends to the customers. Connection is at the heart of what customers are seeking—connect with family and friends or connecting with a destination. Connection is at the heart of how we execute what we do.”

When it comes to the “go beyond” pillar, Winters mentioned that “the last year has been about rebuilding.” She noted that the company has hired about 300 people over the course of the past year, “so about 50 percent of our staff. It’s pretty incredible to think about having such a new workforce to complement the depth of experience we have with our existing team. But that’s been so exciting to be able to bring in so many new faces and voices.” So, in terms of go beyond, “we think of ‘what’s next.’”

Speaking of what’s next for Delta Vacations University—next year’s conference will take place in Minneapolis Sept. 29-30.

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And look out for our October issue, where we’ll be taking a deep dive into all the new goings-on at Delta Vacations.