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“This year’s ExecConnect was even better than last year’s.”
This was a sentiment the TravelAge West staff heard often as the four-day event, held May 17-20 at the Melia Cabo Real in Los Cabos, Mexico, came to a close.
ExecConnect Elite Agent Symposium — which first launched in May 2011 onboard Holland America Line’s Zuiderdam — was designed to bring top travel agents and suppliers together in a face-to-face environment for education, business development and networking.
This year’s rave reviews from travel agents proved that the event, which intentionally keeps attendee numbers small in order to provide plenty of one-on-one time between agents and suppliers, fills a much-needed gap for both parties.
Managing Customer DataThe theme for this year’s symposium was “Driving Sales through Technology,” and the first general session focused on managing customer data.
A welcome from TravelAge West’s Publisher Jack Grant and Editor-in-Chief Kenneth Shapiro set the tone for the days to follow. Conrad Bergwerf, the general manager of the Melia Cabo Real, also greeted agents, and Vic Kerckhoff of United Airlines briefed the audience on post-merger United Airlines before the event segued into its educational component.
The session encouraged travel professionals to move away from old-school methods of data management such as rolodexes and paper file keeping and invest in a digital customer relationship management tool.
Agents received tips on building a database to suit their needs and participated in brainstorming sessions about building a better database that can help extend their marketing efforts. Attendees were also given a few tips on how to maximize the use of Microsoft Outlook.
Following the presentation portion of the session, four seasoned travel agents — Eric Maryanov of All-Travel, Scott Koepf of Avoya Travel, Robin Yap of Northridge Travel and Nathan DePetris of Pride Travel — took the stage to discuss the customer management systems that their agencies use, while taking questions from the audience.
DePetris, whose agency uses Business Contact Manager, a tool for Microsoft Outlook, said that he likes how it integrates all of his needs in one place.
“I can read an email from a client and, then, turn it into a task and set a date for follow up,” he said.
Koepf of Avoya Travel agreed that agents should be managing their data in some form of automated tool. Avoya Travel finds client data so valuable that it has built its own proprietary tool.
“Although we use a database that was built specifically for us, there are plenty of great tools, including ClientBase Plus that are available to agents,” said Koepf.
Later, Scott Ahlsmith of 23 TouchPoints, the organization charged with managing the technology for Virtuoso, also emphasized the importance of keeping clean data. Ahlsmith, who is the brainchild behind Virtuoso’s Composer tool, which provides Virtuoso agencies and suppliers with business intelligence, said that data can help agents automate their tasks, which will ultimately save them time.
“What’s great about data is that numbers don’t lie,” said Ahlsmith. “By using the intelligence we gather, we can debunk certain myths.”
Ahlsmith then cited a study that contradicts an intuitive assumption: Most cruise passengers are ready to book another cruise immediately after returning from a cruise, so agents should make a point to follow up with clients as soon as they return.
Efficient E-MarketingDespite an early start on day two, agents came prepared — pens in hand — for the second general session on efficient e-marketing.
The session kicked off with presentations by the Mexico Tourism Board’s Gerardo Llanes, who serves as the executive director of marketing, and Alfonso Sumano, regional director for the Americas. After learning about the tourism board’s new marketing campaign, Derek Lloyd, business development director of Norwegian Cruise Line presented on the cruise line’s Partners First campaign.
Next, agents were introduced to several easy-to-use, affordable tools that they could utilize to drive their marketing efforts. For agents interested in blogging, free tools offered by Blogger.com or WordPress.com were recommended. Agents were also encouraged to use some form of email tool to help automate their client communications. In particular, MailChimp.com offers a variety of free tools and resources that can help travel agents transition to a professional email system.
Following the general session, travel agent Eric Maryanov and Norwegian’s Derek Lloyd returned to the stage to help give agents some real world tips.
Maryanov said that he sends out communications several times per week, sometimes daily, to his database — but never to the same people.
“We match our communications to make sure that people only get the emails they are interested in,” said Maryanov, “and we make sure that they only get one email, or maybe two in special circumstances, per week.”
Lloyd agreed that constant, consistent messaging is important.
After the second session, agents attended a variety of breakout sessions with topics such as “Hawaii for Every Interest,” “Selling International Travel,” “Trends in All-Inclusives” and “Cash in on Vegas.” Following lunch, agents headed to an information-intensive marketplace session during which they participated in 20 face-to-face, seven-minute sessions with suppliers.
Stop Wasting Time and Money on Social MediaAnother early start on day three didn’t dampen the spirits of attendees, who began the morning with presentations from the Los Cabos Convention & Visitors Bureau regarding its new marketing campaign and Hugh Goodwin of the Posadas Group/Fiesta Americana Hotels, who indicated that, despite travelers’ perceptions of Mexico, the country increased tourism to 22.7 million visitors last year.
The third general session featured renowned speaker Matt Bailey, the president of SiteLogic, a company that helps global corporations such as Google, Procter & Gamble and Johnson & Johnson build online engagement.
Bailey’s advice to agents, which was met with a standing ovation, was to develop an authentic narrative, know which medium works for them, use the correct tools to interact with their audience and develop a timely, relevant content schedule.
Agents were most relieved to hear Bailey say that they shouldn’t feel guilty if they don’t like using Twitter.
“If it doesn’t work, don’t use it,” Bailey said.
When it came to recommendations on what does work, Bailey said, “I hate it when experts always say ‘you should do something.’ It’s you — do whatever you feel works for you.”
However, he did encourage agents to consider the value of YouTube as a search medium.
“It is easier for me to get a YouTube video in top search results these days, than it is a website,” said Bailey.
Furthermore, Bailey called blogs the “Swiss Army Knife” of social media, and said that he requires all of his staff members to keep a blog.
However, Bailey reminded the audience that email remains the preferred way in which people like to receive their marketing messages.
A new addition to this year’s program was a Bootleg Social Media session. Although the voluntary session carved away from participant’s free time, nearly 25 agents met with Travel-Age West editors Janeen Christoff, Skye Mayring and Mindy Poder to ask questions about extending their agency’s social media reach.
Viva Las VegasAfter another full day, suppliers and agents were ready to let down their hair. The Las Vegas Convention & Visitors Authority (LVCVA) in partnership with Tropicana Las Vegas, MGM Resorts International and Caesar’s Entertainment provided a welcome evening of laughs. The final dinner featured Las Vegas-themed music and a brief presentation by Art Jimenez, senior director of leisure sales for the LVCVA, who reminded attendees that 13 percent of all Vegas bookings come from travel professionals.
The evening capped off with a live performance by an Elvis impersonator who sang many of the King’s hit tunes. Furthermore, the giveaway of some 20 plus travel prizes kept agents in a jovial mood throughout the night.
The evening closed with heartfelt thanks from TravelAge West Publisher Jack Grant and Associate Publisher Bruce Shulman, as well as a promise to reveal the location of the next ExecConnect within the coming weeks.
At ExecConnect, travel agents learned how to better utilize the features of Microsoft Outlook.
Notes:Keep notes about all your conversations with clients in the Notes Field in Outlook’s contacts section. Notes are fully searchable so, at a later time, you can locate client conversations on a particular subject.
Categories:Use Outlook Categories to classify your contacts and your incoming email messages so that you can do a quick search for information sorted by a particular subject, such as hotels, airlines, preferred suppliers top clients and more.
Rules:Set rules for your emails so that designated emails can perform automatic tasks. For example, all emails from suppliers can be automatically delivered into pre-designated folders.
Signatures:Be sure that all emails delivered from you include your signature, which should display at least your name, title, phone number and email. Different types of emails, such as new emails, forwarded emails and replies can have different signature files attached.
@CanadaCruiser: Great Hawaii discussion panel hosted by @JoanJetsetter ... selling the dream! #Exec2012
@sahlsmith: #exec2012 @sitelogic says social media success requires planning-use key words people use to search, know when people search for terms
@joanjetsetter: KeywordDiscovery.com is a free SEO tool that can tell us about the way people search for info #Exec2012 #socialmedia
@mindypeanuts: Anything you build in YouTube will rank well (@google owns it). Push/ build yr message! @23TouchPoints #socialmedia #Exec2012
@23TouchPoints: #exec2012 Good blogging practice for travel professionals — share destination food and dining customs with your readers
@tcinto: #exec2012 Matt Bailey, author of “Internet Marketing: An Hour a Day” - SM doesn’t work unless the narrative is authentic and consistent
@MonicaPoling: 22.7 million reasons to visit Mexico. Visitation last year was up by 700,000 visitors. @GrupoPosadas, @MexicoTourismBd #Exec2012
@scandiatravels: At cabo having fun #exec2012
@WatsonStudiosFL: Talking social media @TravelAgeWest #exec2012
@LATravelMom: Pinterest will help you extend your reach and define your brand. #Exec2012