Bill La Macchia, Jr., chief engagement officer for The Mark Travel Corporation, took the stage at summit’s opening general session. // © 2017 The Mark Travel Corporation
Feature image (above): Agent “think talks” made their debut at this year’s summit and explored a variety of topics, such as group engagement. // © 2017 The Mark Travel Corporation
The Mark Travel Corporation (TMTC) was gearing up to host its fourth-annual TMTC Summit at Palace Resorts’ The Grand at Moon Palace in Cancun in late October when the U.S. State Department issued travel warnings for popular Mexican destinations including Cancun, the Riviera Maya and Los Cabos.
Both Mexico and the Caribbean — the latter of which suffered major destruction by hurricanes Irma and Maria in September — are important markets for TMTC, which is the parent company of Blue Sky Tours, Funjet Vacations, Southwest Vacations and United Vacations.
But while noting that the past year has provided several challenges for the industry, the operator never wavered on its plans to host the annual conference in Cancun for the fourth consecutive year.
In fact, in a show of international partnership, Bill La Macchia, Jr., chief engagement officer for the company, flew down to Cancun a month prior to speak with Carlos Manuel Joaquin Gonzalez, governor of the Mexican State of Quintana Roo. He then invited the state’s minister of tourism, Licenciada Marisol Vanegas Perez, and Alfonso Sumano, international offices director for the Mexico Tourism Board, to give the summit’s opening speeches to approximately 650 travel advisors (350 of whom were first-time attendees).
This willingness to “get your hands dirty” is a core value of the company and a testament to its deep-rooted family values of parent company La Macchia Enterprises (La Macchia Jr.’s father, Bill La Macchia, Sr., started the FIT operator in 1974).
“The Mexico advisories and the hurricanes that hit this year made for a few really tough months for everybody in this industry, and I saw our family atmosphere play out in our organization,” said Jacki Marks, executive vice president for TMTC, during a general session panel of TMTC employees. “There was an absolute genuine care to make sure that we did right by the customer; that we did right by the travel agents; and that we did right by each other.”
TMTC’s “family values” and the importance of building long-lasting, sustainable relationships with both advisors and supplier partners was deeply rooted in the fabric of this year’s summit. One general session panel, for example, brought together four local hoteliers — from Palace Resorts, Lomas Travel, Velas Resorts and Grupo Posadas — who all operate successful, homegrown businesses in Mexico.
Three days of advisor workshops provided agents with the latest on the company’s four brands as well as important tools for professional development and building their businesses. Stand-out workshops this year included “How to Be Successful Without Ever Meeting Your Customer,” “Using Storytelling to Build Your Brand and Drive Sales” and — new this year — advisor “think tanks” where attendees provided honest feedback to executives on TMTC tools and services.
Valeria Collier Vick, a travel advisor from Houston, returned to the summit this year after a one-year hiatus. Although she sees the value of supplier- and destination-focused agent conferences, she appreciates that the summit sets itself apart by helping her “figure out how she works instinctively.”
“I liked this year even more than the first two years I came because the workshops have been focused on helping me understand myself and on how I can build an organization if I want to,” she said.
Marks echoes her sentiment.
“The summit is not about pushing product or saying why we are a better company than someone else,” she said. “This is about making attendees better businesspeople and better in their overall well-being. Because, if we do that, and they can go back home rejuvenated, inspired and ready to cultivate new business, then, by nature, we’re going to benefit from that.”