Trendsetters 2008

Once again, TravelAge West salutes top agents in the West with our annual Trendsetters Awards

By: By Kenneth Shapiro

What They Won

Best Agency Web Site 
This award is sponsored by Sandals Resorts. The winner received a seven-day, six-night all-inclusive stay for two at a Sandals resort in Jamaica, Antigua, St. Lucia or the Bahamas. The runner-up received a four-day, three-night stay.

Best Travel Agent Cheerleader
The sponsor for this award is the Globus Family of Brands. The winner received a six-night Introduction to Ireland tour, and the runner-up received a five-night Canyon Escape vacation that included visits to Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon.

Best Single Sales Promotion Effort 
The sponsor for this category is Brendan Worldwide Vacations. The winner received an eight-day Costa Rica: Volcano and Beach trip, while the runner-up received a six-day Irish Jaunt.

2009 Trendsetters

Submit your nominations now for the 2009 Trendsetter awards.

Plenty of books are written attempting to unlock the secrets of success. Which personality types are most successful? Is there a certain routine to the way top business people approach their workday? Is it their upbringing? Maybe the secret is in their DNA.

Our 2008 Trendsetter Award winners (left to right): David Van Ness and Eric Maryanov,; Paula Mitchell Manning, Call Lynn 2 Travel; and Steve Orens, Plaza Travel
Our 2008 Trendsetter Award winners (left to right): David Van Ness and Eric Maryanov,; Paula Mitchell Manning, Call Lynn 2 Travel;
and Steve Orens, Plaza Travel

As we once again acknowledge top agents in the West in three award categories, it’s clear that one trait each of the Trendsetters share is an enthusiasm for their job. They are knowledgeable, they have a passion for doing things to the best of their ability and they live and breathe travel. In short, they love what they do.

This is not a group that will pass the buck and make excuses, to be sure. With so much concern about the economic conditions ahead, these Trendsetters should provide the rest of us with shining examples of the kind of attitude and commitment it will take to succeed in the months ahead. If you can do that, then who knows, maybe it will be you we salute on these pages next year.

Paula Mitchell Manning, Winner, Best Travel Agent
Call Lynn 2 Travel, Los Angeles

We all know the travel industry can be competitive. After all, with so many independent-minded entrepreneurs vying for consumer interest, there’s bound to be a few toes stepped on. But in recognizing the Best Travel Agent Cheerleader with a Trendsetter Award, we hope to bring attention to those agents that act selflessly to share information and opportunities with fellow agents, while promoting the travel agency profession as a whole to consumers and the mainstream media.

In this way, our 2008 Trendsetter Award winner in this category fits the bill to a tee. Paula Mitchell Manning, co-owner of Call Lynn 2 Travel, in Los Angeles, lives her life by a code she gleaned from her parents as a child growing up in Harlem, New York.

"The single best result of winning the Trendsetter Award," she said, "is it has allowed me to fulfill and honor my parent’s unspoken motto: To help yourself, you must also help others."

As director of the Los Angeles chapter of the Outside Sales Support Network (OSSN), Manning has found many ways to help others. In particular, she has called on her experience as an actress in the theater to revitalize her local group of fellow agents.

Upon learning that OSSN did not have a chapter in Los Angeles, Manning accepted the challenge of starting one. She began by taking a long, hard look at some of the difficulties of energizing a chapter in an area as large as Los Angeles (the chapter spans from Long Beach to the San Fernando Valley). And one thing Manning knew is that her meetings needed to be more like an event, so, pairing her love for nonprofits and the arts with travel, Manning decided to begin holding meetings at arts venues and tourist attractions throughout the city.

Meeting venues included the Cicada Club, one of the oldest clubs in Los Angeles; The Autry National Center; The Improv in Hollywood; the Magic Castle in the Hollywood Hills; and the Long Beach Aquarium. Manning also hosts some events on Saturday afternoons at venues that are family friendly in order to allow members to "take care of their family while taking care of their business."

Manning also has speakers at each meeting who offer agents business-building workshops. And she matches several non-competing vendors to hold mini trade shows at the events.

Meanwhile, in her own business, Manning’s latest accomplishment is the creation of a separate division of her agency called Hope Floats Travel, which specializes in fundraising travel trips.

Naturally, Manning puts her Trendsetter Award in the context of the potential it has for helping other agents.

"I was shocked and honored to be nominated for the Trendsetters Awards," Manning said. "The nomination has helped bring attention to what we are doing at the L.A. chapter and I’m hoping that home-based agents all over learn the advantages of working as a collective whole to garnish support from travel vendors. I also saw this as a way for others to see how they too could help nonprofit arts and performing arts organizations by hosting events or meetings at these venues."

Chris Russo, Runner-Up,Best Travel Agent
Travel Partners, Denver

In 2002, Chris Russo, of Travel Partners in Denver, met the American Society of Travel Agents (ASTA) chapter president of the Rocky Mountain Region and, according to Russo, he "did the normal complaining about ASTA."

After politely hearing him out, the president finally said to Russo, "You can keep complaining about it or you can do something about it."

From that moment on, Russo embraced the challenge, deciding it was time to be more involved in the industry he loves. He became chapter vice president, chapter president and, most recently, was elected to the Board of Directors of National ASTA.

But it’s Russo’s work with the next generation of agents that makes him worthy of his Trendsetter nomination for Best Travel Agent Cheerleader.

It’s widely noted that fewer young people choose a career in the travel business these days. As chairman of ASTA’s Young Professionals Society (YPS), Russo helped develop the next generation of agents, and he says it is still his passion today. Russo continually supports programs to get youth involved in the industry and often volunteers to speak at schools and serve on the boards of trade and technical schools.


Jimmy Murphy (seated left), of Brendan Worldwide Vacations, hosted a table at the WAVE Awards Gala dinner that included several of this year’s Trendsetters.
Jimmy Murphy (seated left), of Brendan Worldwide Vacations, hosted a table at the WAVE Awards Gala dinner that included several of this year’s Trendsetters.

"For many years, the travel industry was its own worst enemy by criticizing itself all the time," he said. "I remember hearing agents say to people ‘You wouldn’t want to do this, the pay isn’t great, blah, blah, blah,’ which just puts a negative image on the
industry. Now, we’re paying the price for that attitude."

Russo is proud of the fact that many more young professionals are now in leadership positions in the industry as a result of his work with the YPS program.

"I believe I really have the greatest job in the world, and I live by the motto ‘If you love what you do, you will never work a day in your life,’" he said. "It is an honor to be acknowledged with the Trendsetter Award. I believe it’s my passion for the industry that has allowed me to be chosen.", Winner, Best Agency Web Site
Eric Maryanov and David Van Ness
Los Angeles

Eric Maryanov, of Los Angeles-based, is no stranger to the travel industry — and no stranger to the Trendsetters Awards. Last year, won a Trendsetter Award for Best Online Marketing Strategy. This year, they took home the prestigious title of Best Agency Web Site.

Maryanov was born in New York and relocated to California as a young child. He grew up surrounded by the travel industry in Palm Springs, Calif., and in 1984, Maryanov opened his own agency with one part-time employee. Today, employs more than 40 people, with offices in West Los Angeles and Torrance, Calif., and has a major national and international Internet presence.

"I love the industry because no two days are the same," he said. "It is constantly evolving and growing."

Maryanov never loses sight of’s role.

"We have become ‘travel marketers’ for our preferred vendors. We are not trying to be all things to all people. We have identified what we want to sell and have gone out to find those people that want that product," he said.

The formula is clearly working. Utilizing the agency’s 10 Web sites, All-Travel has risen to become one of the premier agencies in the West. In 2007, the site alone generated 400,000 site visitors and 1.3 million page views. More than 90 percent of all new business is delivered via one of the agency’s Web sites, not bad for a site updated in-house by a staff of four. In fact, the agency’s Wedding/Honeymoon Registry page features photos from the All-Travel staff and customers.

In 2007, All-Travel started a travel blog and launched specific pages with destination, city-specific and activity information.

Despite his electronic success, Maryanov insists the key to growing his business is relationships and surrounding yourself with the right people.

"It is a tremendous honor to be acknowledged with this award," Maryanov said. "I think a key to our success is the stability of our management team. David Van Ness, vice president of marketing, and I have been together for 18 years and work seamlessly together. We have a shorthand language between us. In addition, the stability of our frontline agents and our very low turnover is crucial. They are our lifeblood. We are always asking ourselves if we have the ‘right people on the bus.’ It is a team effort."

America’s Vacation Center, Runner-Up, Best Agency Web Site
David Anderson
San Diego and Miami

America’s Vacation Center (AVC) uses its Web site for two primary goals: to provide a high level of customer service for its customers and to generate more sales leads for its agents. Its site, which is updated and monitored 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, generates nearly 80 percent of the company’s new business revenue. Using cutting-edge, fully integrated, customized technology, AVC seamlessly integrates the consumer’s online experience while providing its Independent Affiliate agents with information they can use to turn viewers into bookers.

In 1999, David Anderson, CIO of AVC, began working as a frontline travel professional in his family’s brick-and-mortar agency in San Diego. It wasn’t long, however, before he realized there was a need to make things more streamlined.

"I remember … thinking to myself that there had to be a way that we could be more efficient as travel agents," Anderson said. "And that night, I went home and started working on developing code that eventually became the first version of Agent Power, our patent-pending, industry-leading technology."

In just a few years, Agent Power has revolutionized AVC, making it one of the fastest-growing agencies in North America and beyond. Today, Agent Power serves as an Agency Operating System and integrates everything including access to AVC Live Leads inventory, Customer Relationship Management and dozens of other features, enabling AVC Independent Affiliates to assist more travelers and provide exceptional customer service.

"The best result we’ve seen from our efforts is the productivity and efficiency of our network of Independent Affiliates," Anderson said. "Hearing that our Independent Affiliates can now pay for their kids’ college
education, buy their dream house and succeed as an independent business owner — those are the reasons that I do what I do and why I’m proud to be a part of this company."

A world traveler and student pilot, Anderson loves being a part of the travel industry, but best of all, he said, is working with his father, sister, uncle and cousins every day in the family-owned business.


Runners-up (left to right): David Anderson, America’s Vacation Center; Chris Russo, Travel Partners; and Jason Coleman, Bon Tour Travel/Jason Coleman, Inc.
Runners-up (left to right): David Anderson, America’s Vacation Center; Chris Russo, Travel Partners; and Jason Coleman, Bon Tour Travel/Jason Coleman, Inc.

"My father, Van, is truly my mentor, both professionally and personally," he said. "It is a pleasure to work by his side and learn from his expertise everyday and I hope that the next generation of Andersons, including myself, will continue to create programs and strategies to catapult America’s Vacation Center to the forefront of the travel industry. We are already working toward building the next generation of our consumer-facing Web site and I am excited about the new enhancements and features we have planned for the next stage in our online business."

Steve Orens, Winner, Best Single Sales Promotion
Plaza Travel, Encino, Calif.

Like several of our Trendsetters, Steve Orens, vice president of Plaza Travel in Encino, Calif., started in the travel business at an early age. He began 25 years ago as a college student, working a couple days a week, when his family bought Plaza Travel.

"At that time, we had one location in Encino with 15 agents," Orens said. "Today we have more than 100 agents in two physical locations, in addition to corporate on-site locations and home-based travel consultants."

Orens credits his parents with instilling his business approach.

"I learned so much from my father, Nobby Orens, about how to run a business, develop relationships with vendors and agents and manage an office," he said. "What I’ve learned from my mother, Carol Orens, is how to listen and care for each and every person I can every day."

Nobby and Carol would probably be quite pleased with Orens’ award-winning sales promotion.

Last December, deciding that too few people in his office complex knew the agency was there, Orens created a "Holiday Lobby Travel Show." His agency partnered with four cruise lines, two tour operators, a car rental company and a travel insurance company and held a travel show during lunch hours, serving a different food item at each booth. In just two hours, the agency saw more than 200 people, and total sales from the event were close to $100,000 within the first week alone. And, of course, Plaza Travel has increased its exposure for future bookings as well.

"Our clients and the tenants in our building are now very familiar with us, our service and our office," Orens said. "We moved to this location two years ago, and the new office space and atmosphere revitalized everyone’s spirit and passion for the travel industry. Everyone is so happy and energetic in the new office, and it’s a pleasure to share this enthusiasm with our fellow tenants.

"I am most proud of the fact that the feedback received from all the participating sales representatives was so positive and complementary," he said. "They were all very impressed with our staff, our clients and the number of people that attended our lunchtime event."

Jason Coleman, Runner-Up, Best Single Sales Promotion
Bon Tour Travel/Jason Coleman, Inc., Los Angeles

Jason Coleman, president and COO of Bon Tour Travel/Jason Coleman, Inc. in Los Angeles, has more diplomas, certifications, degrees and specialist designations than we have room to list here. But the reason Coleman was picked as one of this year’s Trendsetters is actually quite simple.

"One of the things I hear often from conference presenters is that so many people attend trade-show events and go home only to do the same thing over and over again. I’m no different from anyone else. I hear the great ideas and go home with good intentions, but then get caught up in the day-to-day operations and forget to try something new," Coleman said. "So when I saw the opportunity that NCL was giving me by bringing a ship to Los Angeles for a one-night cruise, I decided right then that I had to do something."

Coleman’s sales promotion took place last September, when he hosted a Cruise night onboard NCL’s Norwegian Pearl. Coleman arranged for a one-night cruise to nowhere and invited a targeted group of 50 entertainment-industry publicists with the goal of creating "fan" group cruises for their clients. Publicists were met by representatives from cruise lines, including Carnival, Crystal, Cunard, Holland America, NCL and Princess, and events included everything from a red-carpet dinner to a trade show promoting group cruising.

"Sure, we booked some nice groups from the event, and it was great to solidify my relationship with six exclusive cruise lines, but I am so proud of what I accomplished personally," he said.