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The 2019 Global Travel Marketplace West (GTM West), a boutique-style event for top-producing travel advisors and suppliers looking to grow their book of business, returned to The Westin Lake Las Vegas Resort & Spa May 9-11 in Henderson, Nev. (Note: The event is produced by TravelAge West and sister brand Travel Weekly.)
This year’s crop of 105 fully hosted travel advisors — who were vetted extensively to make sure they met rigorous sales qualifications — included all the usual suspects: the repeat attendees (called “ambassadors”); the franchise owners from mega agencies such as Protravel International and Cruise Planners; and the industry veterans who have logged decades of years in business.
But there was another group of top earners who caught the attention of Jacqueline Hurst, director of trade recruitment and engagement for Travel Weekly events, and Mary Pat Sullivan, president of Sullivan Marketing Advisors, during this year’s advisor application process.
A noticeable number of GTM West attendees are in their “second act,” Sullivan says, after making the switch from an entirely different career — one that was often lucrative in its own right.
There’s Robyn Jacobs, owner of Orca Travel in Dallas, Texas, whose former career as a professional matchmaker resulted in 26 marriages over the span of nine years; and Mark Deffenbaugh, a jeweler who is now an independent contractor for St. Louis-based Travel Haus. Sonya Little, who now operates her own agency, spent 15 years as a criminal justice attorney in Birmingham, Ala.
The list goes on, with Hurst and Sullivan noting that this year’s roster includes former doctors, nurses, teachers and more.
“They’ve taken the skillsets they had in their last industry, and they’ve been able translate them in a new career,” Sullivan said. “They’re not starting from scratch. Rather, they understand the business, and they understand their customers and that relationship.”
“They come into this business because they’re tired of being in the corporate world, and they want to be an entrepreneur,” she said. “Then, they realize they can be incredibly successful — and make a lot of money doing it.”
Former matchmaker Jacobs, who made the switch to selling travel two years ago, was the No. 1 salesperson at dating service It’s Just Lunch. She often jokes that she went from matching partners with each other, to matching clients with their dream vacation, and customers on both sides seek her out for her positive personality and her ability to form deep, long-lasting relationships.
And, like Jacobs, Travel Haus’ Deffenbaugh had no problem translating skills from his former profession; he says moving from selling engagement rings to honeymoons was “a natural added sale.”
“There are many similarities between diamond retail and travel,” Deffenbaugh said. “You look at yourself as a consultant trying to help your clients with what best helps them, and diamonds and travel are two things that most people have a little knowledge of, but not necessarily enough to make a good sound decision without a consultant.”
Little credits the determination and dedication she needed to get through law school to be the foundation for success as an advisor. After leaving a Disney-only travel agency and opening her own agency, she saw her sales triple in the first year.
“I want clients to have the best memories they can, and if I can facilitate that, that’s what I love doing,” she said. “But my favorite part of being an agent is building a relationship with suppliers and other agents who are on my level.”
This opportunity for advisor-to-advisor learning is a shift from the early years of GTM West and its counterpart, GTM Flagship, which have catered well to seasoned sellers who had already been to their fair share of travel events.
But as GTM’s alumni list and referral rate (now at 90%) continue to grow, newer advisors get a seat at the table, too. Specifically, these successful second-act advisors defy a stereotype that has long plagued travel agents in the past — mainly that the profession, while rewarding, isn’t a viable career choice, Sullivan said.
“These agents know they can make money selling travel,” she said. “After all, no criminal defense attorney is going to leave a job to make $20,000 a year.”
However, that’s not to say that these new-to-industry advisors owe all their success to a strong work ethic, sales know-how and raw entrepreneurial spirit.
“The industry that our long-time advisors have built deserves some credit, too,” Sullivan said. “This new group is in no way a detriment to them. They’ve built this industry that other people are now looking at as entrepreneurial, as successful and as desirable to be in.”
GTM Flagship will take place July 26-28 at The Diplomat Beach Resort in Hollywood, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.
Travel advisors are extensively vetted to ensure they meet rigorous sales volume standards before being matched against the more than 100 suppliers in attendance at the event. To be eligible for GTM West, advisors must meet the following criteria:
- Annual individual sales of at least $800,000 OR agency owner of a multimillion-dollar agency- Discretion to work with all suppliers (preferred and non-preferred)- Global book of business or goal to expand current business portfolio- Desire to meet with and discover new suppliers and destinations- Provide three travel industry references
Next year’s event will take place May 2-4, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz.
The DetailsGTM West www.gtmwest.com