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Once again, TravelAge West honors the top travel agents in the West with Trendsetter Awards. While every agent is unique in how they excel, they all display an innovative, entrepreneurial spirit that enables them to adapt to new business landscapes — an essential skill in the ever-changing travel industry.
Industry ActivistSponsor: Gogo Vacations
Jason ColemanJason Coleman Inc.In addition to owning his own successful Los Angeles-based travel agency, Jason Coleman is the president of the Southern California chapter of ASTA. Despite a long and prestigious history, this chapter faced difficult times — membership waned and leadership was in question. Coleman stepped in and reversed this trend. His goal was to create a local resource for travel agents to learn from each other and to promote the role of travel agents to the broader public.
Coleman instituted a wide range of programs, including California Legislative Day, a full-day event where agents traveled to Sacramento to meet with elected representatives to discuss topics that are important to the travel agent industry.
“The theme I selected for SoCalASTA in 2011 is ‘SoCalASTA Revolution,’ a renaissance of the prestige and leadership that has become synonymous with the largest and most accomplished chapter of the American Society of Travel Agents,” said Coleman. “Our goal is to lead the way, try new things and venture into areas ahead of the pack — all the while being a chapter that others can model themselves after.”
SoCalASTA’s Consumer Awareness Project is a perfect example of this willingness to lead. When ASTA’s national office said it didn’t have the resources to devote to a national consumer campaign, Coleman convinced SoCalASTA that, rather than stand idly by, the chapter should start its own consumer-awareness campaign in members’ local communities.
“SoCalASTA must take the leadership role we’ve been known for in the past and set an example that others can follow,” Coleman explained. “That’s what I’m most proud of — leading an organization that’s so willing to be a trailblazer.”
Award sponsor, Gogo Vacations, appreciates Coleman’s initiative as well.
“Gogo Vacations is very committed to the travel agent, and we were excited to sponsor a Trendsetter Award that was aligned with our commitment,” said Michele Kish, president of Gogo. “One of the most important things we can do as an industry is to continue to promote the relevance of the travel agent and the value the travel agent brings to the customer’s vacation.”
Paula Mitchell ManningCall Lynn 2 Travel (Runner Up)As the OSSN Los Angeles Chapter Director, Paula Mitchell Manning has developed many opportunities to benefit agents. On her own, Manning created the annual OSSN [email protected] Hands-On/Online Training Day Event and Trade Show, held at Morongo Casino Resort and Spa, in Cabazon, Calif. This event is designed to help agents get the training they need.
“A lot of credit has to go to the event host property. Morongo worked with me and truly nurtured me,” Manning said.
Manning has also created educational seminars that have included everything from “How to Work with the Media” to “Designing Your Own Theme Travel.”
Manning said she has taken on this work as a volunteer because she believes that all agents, especially home-based agents, need the support of others in the industry in order to grow their businesses.
Best Group Booking Sales EffortSponsor: Travel Impressions
Patricia YarbroughBlue World TravelTwenty years ago, Blue World Travel, in San Francisco, created a cruise program called Festival at Sea. It began with 250 clients. Today, that program boo ks full-ship charters of more than 3,000 people each year, and it has even spawned a second smaller program called “Friends of Festival at Sea.” Since its inception, more than 50,000 people have taken a Festival at Sea sailing through Blue World.
When the 2011 Festival at Sea sold out the entire 3,000-passenger vessel in less than three weeks, the agency created a second sailing on Royal Caribbean’s Allure of the Seas. Using social media and home-made video, the agency sold out its 500 passengers on the second sailing in less than eight weeks.
The two sailings combined for more than half a million dollars in sales in a matter of months, yet Yarbrough said she’s just as proud of her agency’s charitable work, including a recent donation to the L’ Ecole Nouvelle Royal Caribbean School in Labadee, Haiti. Through the collective efforts of Festival at Sea passengers, Yarbrough’s agency was able to provide the school with vital supplies and cash donations, while supporting the advancement of literacy through the donation of more than 100 children’s books.
“To be a Trendsetter means to be a leader, to take charge and be innovative,” said Yarbrough. “I believe that our Friends of Festival at Sea Allure group has indeed been extremely innovative.”John Hanratty, chief marketing officer for Travel Impressions, the sponsor for this award, said innovation was key in recognizing Yarbrough.
“I liked Blue World’s idea in particular because of its innovation and creativity,” said Hanratty. “The agency began with a concept and they have built and enhanced it annually. They are still growing their reach through the utilization of social media outlets.”
Sharon Kay HowellTravel Masters (Runner Up)Howell’s sales effort involved creating a group traveling to Israel through a large mega-church with the pastor of the church as a host. Howell’s Tyler, Texas-based Travel Masters agency handled every detail of the group booking — from creating and printing its own tour brochure to using its own tour operator based in Jerusalem. The agency also provided a biblical study guide for participants to read in advance of the trip.These groups are now a yearly occurrence, and each one sells out.
“Day to day, we make decisions and plan programs here in East Texas not thinking that those efforts might result in national recognition, so it’s quite humbling to be chosen as a Trendsetter,” Howell said. “Groups have been an instrumental part of our business success — especially during the downturn in the economy. Successful groups also provide fabulous word-of-mouth advertising for you that you can’t buy.”
Best Use of Social MediaSponsor: AMResorts
David Goodman, Eric Maryanov and David Van NessAll-TravelThe social media efforts at Los Angeles-based All-Travel are tailored to create a community where vacation ideas, travel tips and special offers converge.
All-Travel’s strategy is to emphasize its consultative nature and build enthusiasm for travel overall. The company does this by encouraging participants to communicate directly with All-Travel staff through social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Hootsuite, Tweet Deck, ShortSwitch and Wibiya, as well as via the agency’s own blogs and forums.
In addition to improving brand awareness and increasing customer loyalty, All-Travel reported a revenue increase of more than $20,000 in just a few months as a result of its social media efforts. Erik Maryanov, owner and president of All-Travel, said that the single best result of its social media strategy was that the agency increased its fan base.
“A large amount of fans interact with our postings and give us feedback, which is very important and great to see,” he said. “We set out not just to put out our offers and specials, but rather to serve as an online resource for those looking to travel. Yes, we want to sell them travel, but we knew that was the wrong direction in the social media world. In this case, we want to be an inspiring friend, not a storefront. We want to introduce new destinations and travel tips and inspire people that traveling is one of the most rewarding experiences in life. And when they’re ready to purchase it, we want them to think of us immediately.”
The award sponsor especially appreciated All-Travel’s understanding of the media.
“AMResorts is pleased to sponsor this award because we recognize the increasing importance of social media in shaping consumers’ travel purchase decisions,” said Jan LaPointe, senior director of marketing.
“With travelers turning to popular online sites and social media tools as primary sources for information, it’s essential that travel agents continuously enhance their online communication tools to reach out to, and interact with, potential travelers, and the winner of this award certainly seems to be on top of their game.”
Ashley Grush and Steve OrensPlaza Travel (Runner Up)Utilizing a formula that combines news, tips, specials and agent reviews, Plaza Travel, in Encino, Calif., has created a vibrant social media community, mainly through the Plaza Travel and Plaza Travel Gen-X Facebook pages.
Between Facebook, Twitter, Hootsuite and the Plaza Travel blog, the agency is able to keep its name in front of clients on a regular basis. This has led to a significant — and most importantly — organic growth in its community of followers.
“Our single best result from our social media efforts is the response from our vendors,” said Orens. “As our industry moves into the future, I feel that it is very important for our vendors to know that we are here, and that we are dedicated to grow as our industry and the world progress. We are a good investment and a good partner.”
Upward Bound, Rock Star Agent Under 40Sponsor: Globus Family of Brands
Andrew BrowningAdventureSmith ExplorationsPrimarily as a result of his in-depth expertise in small-ship cruising, Andrew Browning of AdventureSmith Explorations in Tahoe City, Calif., has generated more than $1.3 million in new sales.
Browning has taken it upon himself to increase his first-hand knowledge of the cruise industry by inspecting dozens of vessels, from cruise ships to yachts. In addition, he has improved his skills by taking part in a variety of training courses and specialist programs. This mix of first-hand experience and detailed education has helped Browning relate to every generation of traveler, enabling him to grow his client list and connect to travelers of all ages and demographic profiles.
“I like working with clients to find the perfect trip for their dates, activity level and budget,” Browning said. “And I especially like working in the niche market of small-ship cruising because I can be an expert on something that is very special for our clients.”
Browning feels that he’s discovered a winning combination for himself in the travel industry.
“I’m proud that I have been able to continually grow my sales and that I am able to live in an amazing place like Lake Tahoe,” he said. “Working with great clients, vendor partners and coworkers is something that I like very much as well. Working for AdventureSmith has allowed me to travel to the farthest ends of the earth as a profession, and that is also a dream come true.”
Browning’s enthusiasm bodes well for his future in the industry.
“We have been sponsoring the Trendsetter Awards since their inception because we feel that agents deserve the recognition far more than the suppliers,” said Jennifer Halboth of Globus. “And we were particularly interested in this year’s Rock Star Agent Under 40 because it is these up-and-coming agents that are shaping the travel distribution landscape, and Globus wants to be there to support them every step of the way.”
Marc KassoufPride Travel (Runner Up)In addition to owning and operating Pride Travel, in Long Beach, Calif., Marc Kassouf is shaping the next generation of agents through his work with travel industry groups and associations. He works extensively on executive committees for both ASTA and the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association, with a particular focus on education, consumer awareness and diversity.
In addition, Pride Travel is lending a hand to the next generation as a longtime supporter of the Center Long Beach, a nonprofit organization for at-risk youth in California.
Despite his many endeavors, Kassouf still manages to maintain his excitement over working in the travel industry.
“For me, travel is not just a business — it’s a passion,” he said. “Every day, I wake up and want to learn more ... I look at travel as the universal glue that binds all people. When we travel, we explore our world through not just our eyes, but through those who walked before us, and walk beside us today. It’s this perspective and philosophy that drives me to share my expertise and knowledge to plan memorable experiences for our clients.”
Industry ActivistSponsor: Gogo VacationsFirst Place Prize: The winner received a six-day, five-night Gourmet Inclusive stay for two at any El Dorado Spa & Resort. Runner-Up Prize: The runner-up received a six-day, five-night Gourmet Inclusive stay for two at any Azul Hotels, by Karisma.
Best Group Booking Sales EffortSponsor: Travel ImpressionsFirst Place Prize: The winner received a five-night stay at La Samanna, a five-star property on St. Martin. Runner-Up Prize: The runner-up received a five-night stay at the four-star Reef Resort on Grand Cayman.
Best Use of Social MediaSponsor: AMResortsFirst Place Prize: The winner received a seven-night Unlimited Luxury stay at his choice of a NOW Resort & Spa property, including NOW Jade Riviera Cancun, NOW Sapphire Riviera Cancun or the NOW Larimar Punta Cana. Runner-Up Prize: The runner-up received a four-night stay at one of these NOW Resorts.
Upward Bound, Rock Star Agent Under 40Sponsor: Globus Family of BrandsFirst Place Prize: The winner received a Monograms’ Week in London six-night vacation for two, with upgraded hotel accommodations. Runner-Up Prize: The runner-up received a Monograms’ New England Escape six-night driving vacation for two, including a car rental, hotel accommodations and more.
Jason ColemanPaula Mitchell Manning
Patricia YarbroughSharon Kay Howell
David Goodman, Eric Maryanov and David Van NessAshley Grush and Steve Orens
Andrew BrowningMarc Kassouf