Get Us in Your Inbox
TravelAge West has honored the top travel agents in the West with its annual 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 ActivistNotable Achievements in Support of Travel AgentsSponsor: Gogo Vacations
Jason ColemanJason Coleman Inc.
In January 2011, a local Southern California talk radio host asked his audience, “Are there still travel agents? Is that still a job?”
This question, heard by Jason Coleman, brought to light something that agents talk about often but rarely do anything about: The need for a consumer awareness initiative to educate the public about the value of travel agents.
As the president of the Southern California chapter of ASTA (SoCalASTA), Coleman took it upon himself to spearhead a new campaign that would be centered around the concept of “101 Reasons to Use a Travel Agent,” and it would use consumer research, online video and guerilla marketing as the basis of its efforts.
In November 2011, Coleman filmed the first 10 videos in the series. Each video features real travel agents who explain a reason for consulting an agent using humor and advice. The call to action directs consumers to a companion website, SoCalTravelAgents.com. This site features a “Find a Travel Agent” directory that allows consumers to search for agents using their zip code.
The next 20 videos will be released this month.
“I enjoy leadership roles and invest everything I have in the positions I’ve been elected to,” said Coleman. “I’m driven to raise the profile of travel agents with consumers so that it benefits my business and I can be successful as an entrepreneur. In the process, my travel agent colleagues benefit as well, and our industry can survive and thrive. In the end, we all benefit.”
Marc KassoufPride Travel (Runner Up)
Marc Kassouf’s efforts are helping shape the future of the travel agent industry. He works extensively with non-profit travel industry groups and associations, such as Tourism Cares, ASTA and the International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association. He chairs committees that execute the work of nonprofits and leads efforts in education, consumer awareness, scholarships, restoration of tourism sites and giving back to the community globally.
Kassouf has received awards for his community service efforts, as well as a Gold Davey Award and a Bronze Telly Award for his production of “Pride Travel’s Amazing Thailand” commercial, which promotes travel to Thailand.
Whether it is for local causes, communities on the other side of the world or his industry and peers, Kassouf said he is driven to give back and improve the world around him.
“With every effort, every donation, every contribution of time, money or resources, I try to improve our industry’s community,” he said. “And that carries its own rewards.”\
Best Group Booking Sales EffortSponsor: Globus Family of Brands
Debra KerperEasy Access Travel
Some of the bookings that travel agents take on are more meaningful than others. Debra Kerper took on such a project when she was asked to arrange the first cruise for the Amputee Coalition of America onboard Royal Caribbean’s Liberty of the Seas this December.
The purpose of this cruise is to bring people with amputations together. To date, she has booked 70 cabins, including all 32 wheelchair-accessible staterooms on the ship. The group has people signed up from most U.S. states, Canada and England and is made up of all ages — including a 6-year-old double amputee, senior citizens, teenagers, married couples, wounded military, two young men who both lost three limbs in accidents and many others.
The majority of sign-ups are first-time cruisers who have been encouraged by experienced cruisers to join the group. Kerper is building excitement for the cruise by having the amputees get to know each other through a dedicated Facebook page.
Throughout her career, Kerper has worked with special needs clients using a mix of traditional and digital sales outreach. She is a member of NACTA and the Society for Accessible Travel and Hospitality (SATH), and takes an online and social media approach through her website, newsletter, blogs, Facebook page, Twitter account and chat groups.
“During the 20 years that I have been a travel agent, I have been willing to share my expertise in the field of special needs travel with my colleagues,” said Kerper. “This is the most caring and supportive group of people who I have ever had the pleasure of working with.”
Maureen DinnocenzoAbove & Beyond Travel (Runner Up)
What started out as a simple family cruise booking for Maureen Dinnocenzo ended up to be a group of 300 passengers on the Carnival Paradise. It grew to include three family reunions, several church groups and friends-of-friends who wanted to get away.
“Basically, I did an email blast to my clients, posted flyers in my town at the post office and grocery store and let local clubs such as the Lions, Moose and Chamber of Commerce know about the cruise,” said Dinnocenzo. “The next thing I knew, the phone was ringing off the hook.”
Proving that a travel agent often wears many hats, Dinnocenzo actually had to get involved in an emergency response when one passenger on the cruise had to be airlifted back to Los Angeles due to internal bleeding.
“I stayed with her until she was safely on the helicopter,” said Dinnocenzo, “and I kept in contact with her family throughout and after the ordeal.”
Upward Bound, Rock Star Agent Under 40Sponsor: AMResorts
Ryan McGredy Moraga Travel
Although only in his fifth year in the industry, Ryan McGredy continues to make his mark. He was named ASTA’s Young Professional of the Year for 2011 and is currently vice president of ASTA’s Young Professionals’ Society (YPS) and the Northern California Chapter of ASTA. McGredy also serves on the marketing committee for Ensemble Travel Group and The Travel Agent Advisory Board for Cox and Kings.
Through his efforts with the YPS, McGredy hopes to increase the visibility of a career as a travel professional to young people, as well as help agency groups and consortia better learn how to reach the next generation of consumer.
In his own agency, McGredy has implemented a strategy to return an agency that has been around since 1972 from the brink of closure to profitability and growth. In addition, McGredy has a second company, Media Net Link, where he helps other travel professionals use email marketing to stay connected to customers in order to increase retention.
Colleagues described McGredy as selfless with his time and passionate about the industry in general. In fact, when it comes to the work he does for the future of the industry, McGredy is able to see the big picture.
“In order for me to continue to be successful in this industry, it has to exist 10 years from now,” he said.
Daniela HarrisonAvenues of the World Travel (Runner Up)
Daniela Harrison said that attending the Young Leader and Luxury Conference opened her eyes to a new world of travel. She now works with nonprofit organizations to plan fundraising trips, in association with AmaWaterways, Sandals and other vendors.
Using her background in marketing, Harrison also restructured her agency’s social media strategy. She also uses traditional advertising and delivers her agency’s travel magazine to doctors’ offices, spas, beauty salons and elsewhere throughout her town. Her energy has helped earn her numerous industry accolades despite only being an agent for two years.
“I have a passion for travel and not only do my clients value that but so do my co-workers and my bosses,” Harrison said. “Being a travel consultant lets me interact with people and allows me to assist them in creating their dream vacations. The satisfaction of my clients thanking me for the best trip of their lives is enormous and makes me incredibly proud.”
Industry ActivistSponsor: Gogo Vacations
The winner of this award received a five-day, four-night stay for two at Villa Premiere Hotel & Spa, Puerto Vallarta.
The runner-up was rewarded with a five-day, four-night all-inclusive stay for two at the Barcelo Puerto Vallarta Hotel.
The winner received a Globus Week in Dublin & London tour for two, which includes a Local Guide.
The runner-up received a Canyon Escape vacation for two where they will explore the incredible national parks of the Southwest on this seven-day package.
The winner received a seven-night stay at a Zoetry, Secrets, Dreams, Now or Sunscape resort.
The runner-up received a five-night stay at a Zoetry, Secrets, Dreams, Now or Sunscape resort.
Jason ColemanMark Kassouf
Debra KerperMaureen Dinnocenzo
Ryan McGredyDaniela Harrison