TravelAge West 2009 Trendsetters Awards

TravelAge West salutes the best travel agents in the West By: Kenneth Shapiro

Best of the Best

Best Community Service Effort

Denise Emory
Marc Kassouf

Best Employee Recruitment/Education Program

Paula Mitchell Manning
Dianne Tuttle

Best Group Booking Sales Effort

Jason Coleman
Sharon Kay Howell

Best One-Time Sales Event

Michael Ginsburg
Roberta Christman

Best Agency Advertising Campaign

All-Travel
InSight Cruises 


Past Winners

View the winners of the TravelAge West 2008 Trendsetters Awards

What They Won

Best Community Service Effort
Sponsor: Celebrity and Azamara Cruises

Prize: The winner received a seven-night Mediterranean cruise and the runner-up received a seven-night Alaska cruise

According to Celebrity Cruises and Azamara Cruises, sponsoring the community service Trendsetter category in particular was a no-brainer.

“Celebrity and Azamara cruises chose to sponsor this particular Trendsetter Award due to its congruency with our company’s own community relations and charitable and philanthropic efforts,” said Scott Clifton, director of sales, West, for Celebrity and Azamara. “Overall, at Royal Caribbean, we’ve always believed that being a good business starts with being a good neighbor.”

The cruise lines are involved with a slew of nonprofit programs and partners, including the Children’s Tumor Foundation, Pan American Development Foundation, Make-A-Wish Foundation and United Way. The company’s efforts are primarily focused on three areas: children and families, educational programming and marine conservation.

“Our hope is that by recognizing Denise Emory for the significant community involvement efforts she has made,” said Clifton, “we will inspire other agencies to make a difference with similar efforts in their own communities.”

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Best Employee Recruitment/Education Program
Sponsor: Brendan Worldwide Vacations

Prize: The winner received a 10-day escorted vacation to Spain and the runner-up received a six-day escorted vacation to Ireland

According to Gary Murphy, president of Brendan Worldwide Vacations, his company chose to sponsor this award because it’s crucial within the industry to recognize success even in these challenging times.

“When faced with tough times, it’s important for agents to hear good news about success and recognition,” he said. “These individuals are exceptional, and it’s important for Brendan and our agent partners to recognize their positive impact within the industry.”

Brendan supports agents with a number of new initiatives. The ePartner program is a joint cooperative communication system that allows agents to build customer loyalty by using a timely and personalized Web-based communication platform. Brendan also has a new Web-based FIT Booking Engine called iNavigate (www.ibookbrendan.com) that provides live inventory and pricing, 24/7 access, customization of the vacation with the traveler and online payment processing. Finally, the company also has its own Webinar training series geared toward educating agency partners on the tour operator’s offerings.

“The most important part of our job is to bring the clients home happy. With Brendan, 98 percent of people provide very positive feedback, and 96 percent will recommend traveling with Brendan to a friend,” said Murphy. “By bringing the clients back happy, repeat business brings additional income to our sales and agency partners.”

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Best Group Booking Sales Effort
Sponsor: Globus Family of Brands
Prize: the winner received A Week in Paris for Two and the runner-up received a four-night London Getaway for Two from Monograms

As a Trendsetter winner, Coleman won a week for two in Paris courtesy of award sponsor, the Globus Family of Brands.

“Agents take time out of their busy days to vote for and recognize suppliers through a wide array of industry awards programs,” said Paula Hayes, vice president of sales for Globus. “It felt only right that the Globus Family of Brands would jump at an opportunity to repay the favor and recognize some of our best agents.”

Hayes hopes acknowledging these top Trendsetters will inspire other agents as well.

“Especially as we continue to navigate these challenging times, hearing stories of what a fellow agent has done to actually create a new opportunity encourages other agents to find new sales avenues for themselves,” she said.

With four brands covering 70-plus countries and more than 400 vacations, Globus certainly is a major resource for agents. From traditional escorted tours to independent travel to a growing river cruise brand, the Globus Family of Brands offers agents options for almost any client.

“Everything we do, by design, has to help the agent, or what is the point?” said Hayes. “They are in essence our frontline sales force, so to that end every sales tool, every online training course and every piece of content we develop for one of our brand sites, ultimately is a tool for an agent to sell us in a better way.”

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Best One-Time Sales Event
Sponsor: Azamara Cruises, Celebrity Cruises and Royal Caribbean International
Prize: The winner and runner-up received a seven-night Mexican Riviera cruise onboard Mariner of the Seas departing from Los Angeles

Royal Caribbean International — along with Azamara and Celebrity cruises — is known within the cruise industry for its innovation, so it was only natural that they would be a Trendsetter Awards sponsor.

“We appreciate agents who consistently reinvent the business, think outside the box and develop new ways to promote, market and sell cruise vacations,” said Vicki Freed, senior vice president of sales and trade support and services, for Royal Caribbean. “These fearless Trendsetters inspire others to better their business practices, benefiting the industry as a whole. We are proud to sponsor this award because we feel originality is key to victory.”

Freed was especially excited to hand out the award because of her local roots.

“As a California gal, I especially enjoyed the time I had with these Trendsetters. I have been in the industry for 30 years and worked directly with many of them. It was really great to see so many familiar faces again and not only congratulate them on this recognition, but catch up with them on a personal level,” she said. “Nothing feels better than to celebrate success along with people you know and care for.”

Royal Caribbean has demonstrated its support for agents through a number of initiatives, including commission and co-op programs such as ASAP; through Webinar training sessions such as Groups 101 and Building A Top-Notch Marketing Plan; and with online tools such as eQuote, the Cruisewriter brochure-builder and other free tools available at CruisingPower.com.

“Our product is an experience, not a commodity,” said Freed. “We rely on agents to sell our product and consumers need agents to walk them through the choices available to them. Our product is an easy sell to a large number of target travelers. And with fresh, innovative products like Oasis of the Seas joining our fleet, we help agents drive new booking opportunities, generate buzz and build excitement about the future of cruising.”

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Best Agency Advertising Campaign
Sponsor: Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino
Prize: The winner and runner-up received a four-night stay at Planet Hollywood in a Panorama suite, including breakfast and show tickets.

As the largest Starwood property, Planet Hollywood Resort & Casino in Las Vegas certainly understands the importance of travel agents.

“We thought being a sponsor was a great way to support and inspire the travel professional community and reward them for their accomplishments,” said Donna Marcou, vice president of leisure sales for Planet Hollywood.

The property has participated in numerous agent initiatives since its opening, including hosting a Travel Agent University program; offering travel professional rates and show offers; participating in travel promotions; supporting agent partners at trade shows; hosting fam trips; and working with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority.

“Planet Hollywood is located in the center of the Strip,” said Marcou. “It has fabulous amenities and an enthusiastic staff that continues to wow guests. With all of the fun packed into one upscale resort, it gives the travel professional a lot to offer clients with a one-stop-shop approach. We like to make it easy for our travel professional friends to sell Las Vegas and Planet Hollywood.” 

Best Community Service Effort

It’s often said that one of the best parts about being a travel agent is the impact you have on people’s lives through the memories they make on vacation. Well, this year’s Trendsetter winner for Best Community Service Effort has made an even more meaningful impact on people’s lives.

Denise Emory
Cruise & Tour Escapes

In 2006, Denise Emory, owner of Cruise and Tour Escapes, in Westminster, Colo., was shocked when her daughter’s boyfriend, 16-year-old Daniel Lunger, died of Sudden Cardiac Arrest at his school. Despite the fact that an estimated 8,000-10,000 young people die from Sudden Cardiac Arrest in the U.S. each year, there is no federal law requiring schools to have Automatic External Defibrillators (AED) available on site. So Emory founded the Daniel J. Lunger Memorial Fund, with the goal of purchasing AEDs and donating them to schools.
“So many of these deaths are preventable when CPR is begun immediately, and an AED is used to shock a heart back into its normal rhythm,” said Emory. “We owe it to our children to pass legislation that requires these lifesaving devices in all of our schools.”

On April 7, 2008, Emory saw the results of her action when an AED that was donated to Lunger’s own high school helped save the life of a classmate. The AED restarted Lindsay Hayden’s heart and, a few weeks later, Hayden graduated with her class.

“I am blessed to work in an industry where I’m able to make a difference in the lives of my clients every day, knowing my contributions help to make their vacation dreams a reality,” Emory said. “I realize that my award is quite different than the other Trendsetter awards. While the other awards acknowledge exemplary work in the travel industry, my award recognizes how we, as travel agents, should give back to the communities that support us. For me, there is no greater honor.”


Marc Kassouf
Pride Travel (Runner Up)

For the past five years, Kassouf has supported the Center Long Beach, a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the local needs of the community, specifically the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered community. Pride Travel has raised in excess of $100,000 in donations, which go toward programs such as counseling, healthcare and elder care assistance. Pride Travel has auctioned out prepaid vacation accommodations, donated money and assisted in other fundraisers and events for the nonprofit.


Best Employee Recruitment/Education Program

Paula Mitchell Manning
Call Lynn 2 Travel

You don’t have to know Paula Mitchell Manning for long to know that she is a people person. Last year’s Trendsetter winner for Best Travel Agent Cheerleader, Manning, co-owner of Call Lynn 2 Travel in Los Angeles, can brighten up any room and clearly has a knack for creating face-to-face events.
As director of the Los Angeles and Orange County chapters of the Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN), Manning created the fist OSSN @ Morongo Hands-On/On-Line Training Day, an event that featured a mini trade show, a luncheon, online training and a post-event bowling mixer. Sponsoring vendors included Carnival Cruise Line, Happy Vacations, Andiamo and Windstar Cruises, as well as host Morongo Casino Resort and Spa.

“We truly worked hard to help agents expand their knowledge and become familiar with our vendors’ Web sites and marketing tools,” Manning said. “Thanks to our post-event networking and bowling, our attendees had an opportunity to have face time with our sponsors. The great thing about this event was the atmosphere of sharing. Our seasoned pros helped our newbies by sharing information, and our newbies brought new and innovative ideas to help our seasoned pros upgrade their skills. It was the most amazing event I’d ever helped host.”

The event was such a success that it has expanded this year to include a CLIA-accredited workshop featuring industry educator Dr. Marc Mancini, product training and a trade show with Amawaterways, Azamara/Celebrity Cruises, Crystal Cruises, Globus Family of Brands, Royal Caribbean International and Sandals.

“We still have room for four more vendors,” said Manning. “If you’re a vendor wishing to participate in our online training day, just pick up the phone and give me a call.”


Dianne Tuttle
Academy Cruises & Tours and Academy Travel School (Runner Up)

Tuttle’s travel school, a project 20 years in the making, recently went national. Utilizing the Apollo/Galileo GDS system, she teaches fresh faces how to become professional travel agents with a 10-week, interactive online class. Throughout the course, Tuttle is live on a conference call with several students simultaneously as they watch her on-screen and ask questions. She offers the graduates a job as an independent contractor working for her in outside sales, no matter where they live, and she also provides free training classes to graduates.


Best Group Booking Sales Effort

Jason Coleman
Jason Coleman Inc.
It’s no surprise that Jason Coleman, this year’s Trendsetter winner for Best Group Booking Sales Effort, chose cruising as the basis for his group events. A love of cruising is what inspired him to get into travel in the first place.

“I started in the travel industry as a meeting planner for an educational association but, after my first cruise in 2001, I fell in love with everything cruise-related and realized that I would be much happier planning travel for people who were excited about their vacations,” Coleman said.

Among his many certifications, Coleman is one of only a handful of Cruise Line Industry Association’s Elite Cruise Counselor Scholars and is also a Luxury Cruise Specialist. He is also vice president of the Southern California chapter of the American Society of Travel Agents.

Coleman’s business, Jason Coleman Inc., is located in West Los Angeles.

Coleman’s group-booking efforts were both fan cruises on the Carnival Elation. One event was called the First Officially Licensed Betty Boop Fan Cruise, and it drew fans of the classic comic strip. The other event was a fan cruise based on the soap opera “Passions.” The events ranged from 55 to 80 clients. Coleman did not simply book these groups, however. To promote the cruises, he implemented a grassroots marketing campaign by creating individual Web sites and social-networking profiles on sites such as Facebook and MySpace, and customized them with pictures, logos and cruise information.

Despite the success of these cruises, Coleman won’t be satisfied resting on his laurels.

“Don’t be afraid to take the next step,” Coleman offered. “One of my sales reps told me a quote from Bob Dickinson that I have written at the top of my computer monitor: ‘The only failure is in not trying.’”


Sharon Kay Howell
Travel Masters (Runner Up)
Howell and her team organized nearly every detail of a group trip for 424 members of a Tyler, Texas-based church choir and orchestra — the largest domestic group her agency handled in 25 years — so that they could perform at Lincoln Center. From organizing air reservations with multiple departure schedules and overseeing the shipping of the orchestra’s instruments in advance to scoring “Mary Poppins” theater tickets for the entire group, it was no easy task. To complicate matters further, the airline canceled two flights on which the group had bookings. But Howell scrambled to get all passengers accommodated. The group and the church’s minister couldn’t thank her enough for making the trip memorable and hassle-free.


Best One-Time Sales Event

Michael Ginsburg
Michael's Travel Centre, Inc.
In the category of Best One-Time Sales Event, Michael Ginsburg, of Michael’s Travel Centre, Inc., in Agoura Hills, Calif., has created an event that has grown to become a true community highlight.

For 17 years, Ginsburg’s agency has held a travel show on the Sunday between the NFL Playoffs and the Super Bowl, called the Super Bowl of Travel. At this year’s event, more than 40 of the agency’s preferred suppliers — along with nearly 3,000 consumers — filled the Grand Ballroom at the Hyatt Westlake Village. The agency advertised the event in local newspapers and sent invitations to everyone in its database. Every family in attendance got a coupon for future travel credits, good for one year, and all new attendees were added into the agency’s database.

“Receiving the Trendsetter Award with my family and friends present was a moment I will never forget,” said Ginsburg. “I believe I was chosen because all of the suppliers who have attended the travel show for the past 17 years have said it is the best, and it brings in business throughout the year.”

Michael’s Travel Centre is a true family business, as two of Ginsburg’s children, Lee and Caren, work with him at the agency.

“I love the travel business regardless of all of the trials and tribulations we have had lately,” said Ginsburg. “We must think positively and not get caught up in all of the negativity. I love helping clients with their dreams.”

Roberta Christman
AAA Northern California, Nevada and Utah (Runner Up)
Christman and her team orchestrated the AAA Virtual Travelshow — featuring the unveiling of Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas — which targeted potential cruisers within AAA’s regional footprint. The virtual trade show provided Webinars, live chats with Royal Caribbean executives and virtual trade show booths. It also reached a global audience of 17,000 registered attendees. In addition to sales from seasoned cruisers, the agency successfully attracted a large amount of first-time cruisers and first-time cruisers with the Royal Caribbean brand. 


Best Agency Advertising Campaign

All-Travel
When it comes to technology, you can always count on Los Angeles-based All-Travel to think outside the box. In the category of Best Agency Advertising Campaign, All-Travel, led by owner and CEO Eric Maryanov and vice president of marketing David Van Ness, saw an opportunity to accelerate the agency’s growth through contextual banner advertisements on nearly 2,000 unique Web sites that are deemed Google Content Partners. All-Travel developed campaigns with unique banners and landing pages to target the blogs, forums and social-networking sites that attract key audiences. As a result, in December 2008, the agency realized a 54 percent increase in call volume.

“It was a tremendous honor to be acknowledged with this award,” said Maryanov. “The primary focus for us as an agency is our Internet presence — our sales and growth are driven by our online presence. We are constantly examining and refining our marketing strategies to adapt to the ever-changing e-marketing environment.”

Maryanov said he thinks of his company as “travel marketers” for its preferred vendors.

“We are not trying to be all things to all people,” he said. “We have identified what we want to sell and have gone out to find those people that want that product. In the end, we will always sell what is in the best interest of the client.”

Maryanov credited the agency’s success to the stability of its management team (he and Van Ness have worked together for 19 years); the stability of its frontline agents, including many agents that have been with the company for 10 to 15 years; and All-Travel’s relationship with its preferred suppliers and consortia, Signature Travel Network.

“It is important to develop strong relationships. It is in the best interest for our clients,” he said. “It is a team effort.”


Neil Bauman
InSight Cruises
Bauman came up with the idea for a multimedia Web page to promote InSight Cruises’ April 2010 group tour to the Galapagos Islands. Among other features, the site includes streaming video; PDFs of the full deck plan; and a detailed map. Notably, the company has developed a proprietary process for developing marketing content based on the demographic and psychological profiles of the forecasted traveler types for a particular trip. The Galapagos ad campaign employed elements of this process.

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