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This year marks TravelAge West’s 10th annual WAVE Awards, and travel agents in the West have once again shown their passion for the brands they do business with by voting for their favorite travel suppliers. This year, more than 6,000 votes were cast for 176 companies in 68 categories.
Our WAVE coverage begins with the Trendsetter Awards, given to agents who have shown exceptional success in four categories.
We also acknowledge the achievements of the 2015 Excellence in Leadership Award recipient, Jack Richards of Pleasant Holidays, as well as the four sales representatives who were picked through agents’ write-in votes.
Be sure to check out photo highlights from our WAVE Awards black-tie gala, held at The Ritz-Carlton, Marina del Rey, in Marina del Rey, Calif.
Best Group Booking Sales Effort: Debra Kerper, independent franchise owner for Cruise PlannersDebra Kerper’s latest efforts to organize group cruises for disabled clients include helping form Accessible Seas 2015, which booked 85 passengers on Royal Caribbean International’s Oasis of the Seas for a sailing to the Western Caribbean. Kerper made sure to accommodate each guest’s disability throughout the trip — this included providing accessible shore excursions such as swimming with dolphins and exploring Mayan ruins, finding accessible hotels and working with the ship’s dining coordinator to ensure guests had easy access to their tables.
“It makes me very proud and pleased to be able to call attention to the needs of disabled people who want to travel just like everyone else,” said Kerper, an independent franchise owner for Cruise Planners, an American Express Travel Representative. “I believe that what I do is unique — putting together fairly large groups of travelers with mobility limitations and showing them how to enjoy the world a little differently.”
Kerper continually strives to make new and exciting destinations available to her clients with disabilities.
“Our efforts have enabled disabled people from around the country to travel to places they never thought possible,” she said. “We have given them the tools and the confidence they need to continue to travel.”
Runner-Up: Lauren Liebert, director of sales and industry relations for Ticket to TravelLauren Liebert organized a destination wedding in Venice, Italy, for 25 guests. Planning the four-day weekend extravaganza for her longtime clients was a yearlong process that included securing a pirate ship — complete with smoking cannons and a Johnny Depp/Captain Sparrow look-alike.
Sponsored by Royal Caribbean InternationalThe winner in this category received a six- to eight-night Caribbean cruise for two in an oceanview stateroom from Royal Caribbean. The runner-up won a four- to five-night Caribbean cruise for two in an oceanview stateroom.
Best Use of Social Media: Andres Zuleta, founder of Boutique JapanAndres Zuleta utilizes a multifaceted social media strategy for his company, Boutique Japan, publishing blog content and promoting it through various social media channels. This content marketing has allowed him to reach clients worldwide without paying for advertising. Boutique Japan’s website, which averages 10,000 to 15,000 unique monthly visitors, reaches clients organically by publishing and promoting strategically chosen articles pertaining to travel in Japan. Over the past year, the company has booked trips to Japan for clients from all over the globe, including the U.S., Canada, the U.K., Australia, Singapore, Hong Kong and United Arab Emirates.
“What we have accomplished is within the reach of any travel company or agent,” Zuleta said. “We started with nothing but a plan — no investors, no clients and, in all honesty, no marketing experience. And with just a blog, we were able to take our tiny company from zero to having wonderful clients all over the world — all within less than a year of launching.”
He hopes Boutique Japan can serve as an example for small travel companies and agents who want to share their expertise with prospective clients without spending a fortune on advertising.
“It’s amazing what small companies and individuals can do just by consistently putting out good content,” Zuleta said.
Runner-Up: April Schmitt, CEO and travel expert for Divine Destination WeddingsThrough Divine Destination Weddings, April Schmitt engages with clients using all aspects of social media, and she has been successful at attracting the elusive DIY millennial. Her agency was a winner of the 2015 WeddingWire Couples’ Choice Awards and recognized as a top vendor in The Knot’s 2015 Best of Weddings.
Sponsored by Globus Family of BrandsThe winner in this category received a six-night Vienna and Prague vacation for two from Monograms. The runner-up won a five-night vacation for two in Panama.
Best Group Booking Sales Effort Winner, Debra Kerper, independent franchise owner for Cruise Planners // © 2015 Volker Corell
Best Use of Social Media Winner, Andres Zuleta, founder of Boutique Japan // © 2015 Volker Corell
Industry Activist, Notable Achievements in Support of Travel Agents Winner, Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel // © 2015 Volker Corell
Upward Bound, Rock Star Agent Under 40 Winner, Sarah Nelson Wandrey, vice president of Arizona operations for A World of Travel // © 2015 Volker Corell
Best Group Booking Sales Effort Runner-Up, Lauren Liebert, director of sales and industry relations for Ticket to Travel // © 2015 Volker Corell
Best Use of Social Media Runner-Up, April Schmitt, CEO and travel expert for Divine Destination Weddings // © 2015 Volker Corell
Industry Activist, Notable Achievements in Support of Travel Agents Runner-Up, Camille Hoheb, founder of Wellness Tourism Worldwide // © 2015 Volker Corell
Upward Bound, Rock Star Agent Under 40 Runner-Up, Gabriella Price, executive coordinator for Plaza Travel // © 2015 Volker Corell
Industry Activist, Notable Achievements in Support of Travel Agents: Scott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Avoya TravelScott Koepf, senior vice president of sales for Avoya Travel, has dedicated more than 30 years to the travel industry. His many accomplishments include creating the award-winning Avoya Mastermind and Avoya Academy programs, partnering with cruise lines to deliver training to travel agents and writing articles for various travel publications.
Koepf first got the travel bug after taking a three-month leave of absence from work to backpack through Europe — a leave that lasted three years. In 1985, he and his wife started one of the first cruise-only agencies, and three decades later, Koepf is still crazy about the travel industry and advocating for agents however he can, whether through the creation of sales and marketing programs, the redesign of membership plans or participating in educational seminars as a motivational speaker.
“I love helping travel agents and co-workers maximize their impact and grow,” he said. “I am also blessed to be with Avoya Travel, considered one of the most innovative companies in travel. They let me try my harebrained ideas.”
Koepf counts himself lucky to hear from hundreds of agents who have had great success based on ideas and concepts he provided or shared.
“If even one travel agent implements one idea or is motivated to make one positive change in their career, then I am thrilled,” he said.
Runner-Up: Camille Hoheb, founder of Wellness Tourism WorldwideCamille Hoheb is author of the award-winning The Guide to Selling Wellness Travel, which is sold in more than 21 countries. She has presented free educational sessions on wellness travel to agents at various travel events, and she promotes the niche category through the Wellness Travel Journal website and consumer newsletter. This year she is launching new initiatives, including a wellness travel professional training program and a networking/membership platform.
Sponsored by DisneyThe winner in this category received a four-night vacation for two at Aulani, A Disney Resort and Spa, on the island of Oahu. The runner up won a three-day Disneyland Resort vacation for two.
Upward Bound, Rock Star Agent Under 40: Sarah Nelson Wandrey, vice president of Arizona operations for A World of TravelDespite being a millennial, Sarah Nelson Wandrey is practically an industry veteran. The vice president of Arizona operations for A World of Travel, a Travel Leaders agency, Wandrey is also the youngest person to be elected to the Travel Leaders Franchise Advisory Board, and she’s the national manager of finance for Millennials in Travel.
Because the travel industry is always changing, Wandrey tries to stay on top of emerging developments and trends by staying involved in many different aspects of the industry.
“If I am going to be part of something, I believe it’s important to be active and help the overall industry grow, because that will benefit me, our agencies and ultimately our clients in the future,” she said.
Travel is a family business for Wandrey. Her grandparents started the agency in 1978; later, her father joined the company, and she followed suit in 2007.
“When I thought about it, I realized that I didn’t want to do anything else — that my family got it right back in the ’70s,” she said. “I’ve fallen in love with helping clients learn about a new destination and sending them on the trip of a lifetime.”
Runner-Up: Gabriella Price, executive coordinator for Plaza TravelGabriella Price worked with SoCal ASTA to start a new group, Millennials & Mentors, to bring together new and seasoned agents. She’s a member on the first board of directors for Signature Travel Network’s Young Advisors Community, a member of the global board of directors for Young Travel Professionals and a strong advocate for millennials.
Sponsored by AMResortsThe winner in this category received a five-night stay at Dreams Las Mareas in Costa Rica. The runner-up won a five-night stay for two at Breathless Punta Cana Resort & Spa.