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When you bring 76 really successful travel agents together for a conference, it better be worthwhile. That was the challenge for the inaugural Global Travel Marketplace West (GTM West), a West Coast spin-off of last year’s elite-agent event, GTM.
“This is one of the best conferences I’ve ever been to,” said Connie Risse, owner of Ships and Trips Travel in Sacramento, Calif. “I love the caliber of the travel agents here and I’ve seen the best presentations ever by suppliers — even better than ones suppliers give when they come to our agency.”
To attend the fully-hosted event, West Coast travel agents had to complete a rigorous application process that included a long-form interview, supplier referrals and proof of selling at least $800,000 in travel. The elite agents who attended the May 2-4 event at the Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa in Tucson, Ariz., represented more than $160 million in travel sales.
Expert planning and production by the GTM staff, in addition to great on-property meals and dinner parties — including an opening celebration at the Pima Air & Space Museum that involved skydivers — meant that the event ran very smoothly. As a result, agents were able to focus on business, which was the goal according to Alicia Evanko-Lewis, vice president of events, The Travel Group, Northstar Travel Media.
The event was also a great reminder that even successful agents can extend their supplier network. During the course of the event, 77 global suppliers met with travel agents in small-group boardroom sessions and one-on-one, seven-minute meetings.
Skydivers at Tucson, Arizona’s Pima Air & Space Museum welcome attendees of GTM West, the inaugural event by TravelAge West and Travel Weekly. // © 2014 Eugene Ko
L to R: Beth Levich, Cruise Holidays of Portland; Douglas Grau, Royal Caribbean; and David Schoenberg, Windstar Cruises // © 2014 Eugene Ko
Kenneth Shapiro, TravelAge West’s Editor in Chief (left), chats with Glenn Sampert, general manager of GTM West location, Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa. // © 2014 Eugene Ko
L to R: Tracee Adams and Linda Sherron, Gogo Vacations; Ken Shapiro, TravelAge West; Daniela Harrison, Avenues of the World Travel; Manikkarasa Punithakumar, Adore Travel; Mindy Poder and Diane Merlino, TravelAge West; Craig Satterfield, Surecruise.com and Moriah Turnbull, Moriah’s Travel Service // © 2014 Eugene Ko
L to R: Naomi Reed and Kathleen Coyne of Canyon Ranch complete a one-on-one meeting with Carol Newbill of Accent Travel. // © 2014 Eugene Ko
During scheduled one-on-one appointments, global suppliers and travel agents were able to discuss potential business opportunities. // © 2014 Eugene Ko
L to R: Jim Marini of Amtrak Vacations/Yankee Holidays at an appointment with Susan Cauthen of Susan Cauthen Travel LLC // © 2014 Eugene Ko
Each agent was guaranteed up to 50 supplier meetings. // © 2014 Eugene Ko
L to R: Travel agents Gina Young, Avoya Travel/ American Express; Craig Hsu, Travel Design USA Inc.; Katelyn O’Shaughnessy, TravelStore; and Mimi Cassidy, Moraga Travel // © 2014 Eugene Ko
The outdoor Saturday evening reception featured live music, dancing, an open bar and a feast of international cuisines. // © 2014 Eugene Ko
During an outdoor break, Natasha Phillips of Capital Business Travel Ltd. poses with a sign telling the story of her $45,000 booking. // © 2014 Eugene Ko
Protravel International’s Sue Reddish makes her own eclair during a break hosted by Le Meridien. // © 2014 Eugene Ko
L to R: Travel agents Cynthia Raiter, Danielle Rockett and Cheryl Jones at a small group boardroom session // © 2014 Eugene Ko
Dedra Shahan, president of Cowboy Way Travel, participates during an interactive lunch discussion about communicating the value of travel agents to consumers. // © 2014 Eugene Ko
“It’s really good learning about some vendors who weren’t on my radar,” said Carolyne Brandon, an independent contractor with Altour/American Express based in Cupertino, Calif. “Being able to talk to them during one-on-one sessions is so nice versus a tradeshow where there is always someone right in the vendor’s face talking and talking so you can’t even get your question in.”
Brandon added that in addition to discovering new vendors, it is important for agents to remain up-to-date on the products they already sell.
Learning wasn’t all that happened though — some agents even set up business with vendors following their small-group boardroom presentations and one-on-one meetings.
“I’ve not been very happy with my air consolidator and I heard Hariworld’s presentation during the appointments,” said Donna Alkarmi, owner of Lone Star Travel in McKinney, Texas. “I liked what they had to say and I set up an account with them. These are the kind of connections I need.”
Throughout the event, travel agents had plenty of opportunities to network and learn from one another, as well.
“Connecting with the new vendors was great and the other part of it is the agent connections,” said Scott Caddow, owner of Legendary World in Tucson, Ariz. “I have a network of agents and vendors I talk to now, but this broadens that resource base.”
This year’s GTM will take place from July 9-11 and next year’s GTM West will take place from May 1-3, 2015.