Ensemble Travel Group co-presidents Libbie Rice (left) and Lindsay Pearlman at the conference’s Circle of Excellence gala // © 2017 Ensemble Travel Group
Feature image (above): Rice helped introduce the conference’s theme of “Think Big.” // © 2017 Ensemble Travel Group
From Oct. 16-19 in downtown Dallas, some 900 attendees congregated for the 2017 Ensemble Travel Group International Conference. Held at Hyatt Regency Dallas, the Ensemble Travel Group event welcomed members, suppliers, media and other guests for four days of general sessions, meetings, training, trade shows, happy hours, networking opportunities and more.
Following a dance routine by the Kilgore College Rangerettes from East Texas, Ensemble co-presidents Libbie Rice and Lindsay Pearlman kicked off the event with a state-of-the-organization address that introduced the conference’s theme of “Think Big;” took a look at the company’s history as it approaches its 50th anniversary in 2018; and shared news on Ensemble’s success.
“Last year was the best year in our history from a North American profit-sharing perspective,” Pearlman said. “But taking a step back, what’s even more impressive is that we came back from the recession with a vengeance by delivering the strongest seven-year performance in our company’s history.”
Rice and Pearlman also noted that since last year’s conference, 42 members have joined Ensemble’s network in the U.S. and Canada, along with 16 new preferred partners. They also recognized 16 agencies that have been part of Ensemble for more than 40 years, and 18 agencies with 30 years or more of membership.
Some of the conference’s most exciting news came in the form of a new preferred supplier partnership announcement: Carnival Cruise Line has partnered with Ensemble to expand the cruise line’s distribution channel in the U.S. and Canadian agency markets. Rice explained that Carnival’s leadership team, investment in agency technology, sales support, fleet renovation and commitment to the agency community played key roles in formalizing the agreement.
“We’re thrilled to partner with Ensemble as a preferred supplier and look forward to working closely with their highly respected network of travel agents across the U.S. and Canada,” said Adolfo Perez, vice president of sales and trade marketing for Carnival, who was seen around the conference sporting a temporary Ensemble logo tattoo under his (real) “Travel Agents Rock” tattoo. “We know there are so many opportunities to help grow Ensemble’s overall cruise business with Carnival, and we’re excited to collaboratively identify new ways to enhance its already robust cruise sales when we launch our Ensemble Welcome program in November.”
Another highlight of the conference was an announcement made during a special tribute in the opening general session to industry veteran Susan D. Tanzman, who passed away in September after a long battle with cancer . Beginning next year, Ensemble will present the Susan D. Tanzman Inspiration Award annually to an individual who embodies Tanzman’s inspiring nature and dedication to the agency community. The 2018 award recipient will be announced at the American Society of Travel Agents’ (ASTA) annual global convention in Washington, D.C.
Also discussed during the conference were updates to some of Ensemble’s technologies and platforms, including the Ensemble Extranet; Aviate, an airline booking tool and overall air program; and Navigate, an integrated booking platform powered by Revelex. According to Rice, the new Aviate support desk, which was launched Sept. 1, has received positive reviews for its efficiencies. Early analytics show that Ensemble Extranet — launched in August — has been doing quite well, and Ensemble is focused on its continued improvement. When speaking about Navigate, Rice admitted that the platform still needs improvements, but that Ensemble is focused on bridging the gap between vendors and the internal structure and has already seen better results.
Lastly, Ensemble marketing vice president Carl Schmitt, who joined the organization in June, touched on the direction of the organization’s marketing strategy as he takes the helm. He described the current state of the travel industry as being at the “intersection of technology and human connection,” and said that Ensemble wants to capitalize on consumers’ desire for personalized experiences with elevated technology offerings. During a media-only press conference, Schmitt, Rice and Pearlman also discussed how Ensemble will begin tapping into the U.S. culinary travel market with print pieces that can help connect foodie travelers with the right suppliers. The new direction comes after the organization has seen success with a similar marketing strategy in Canada.
Everything’s Bigger in Texas
In addition to general and breakout sessions, event attendees enjoyed a rallying keynote speech from Ryan Estis, a business consultant and speaker recognized as one of “the best keynote speakers ever heard” by Meetings & Conventions magazine. During his discussion of the growing use of agents by millennials, Estis touched on the importance of having a social media presence to increase sales. He closed his session to a standing ovation after asking attendees to stand and pose like a superhero as he played inspirational music to demonstrate how physiology can affect your state of mind.
In the closed-door owner/manager session, Eben Peck, senior vice president of government and public affairs for ASTA, gave an in-depth presentation about the state of global travel from a political, economic and security perspective, as well as detailed the work ASTA has been doing to advocate for travel agents on Capitol Hill.
During the annual Circle of Excellence Gala, held the evening of Oct. 18, Ensemble honored its top-producing members in the U.S. and Canada, along with its top partners. The event also raised money for hurricane relief and for the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Ensemble has announced a rundown of next year’s events, including the 2018 Ensemble Elite celebration, scheduled for June 3-9, 2018, at Club Med Marrakech La Palmeraie in Morocco; the 2018 Ensemble Executive Retreat for U.S. members, to be held April 19-22 at Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa, Calif.; and, of course, next year’s annual conference, scheduled for Oct. 23-27, 2018, at Grand Hyatt Baha Mar in Nassau, the Bahamas. The event, which will celebrate Ensemble’s 50th anniversary, is the organization’s first annual conference to take place outside North America in more than 10 years.
“Work has already begun on the conference program, speaker lineup and some pre- and post-options to make sure our members and partners get the most out of this major milestone in the evolution of Ensemble Travel Group,” Rice said.