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Aqua-blue seas and palm trees swaying in the tropical breeze greeted some 375 delegates who rendezvoused at Secrets Cap Cana Resort & Spa in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic, for Travel Impressions’ 22nd-annual Best of the Best conference and awards gala, held Nov. 16-19.
The extended weekend event featured insightful presentations; business-enhancing educational and networking opportunities; recreational activities including golf and volleyball tournaments; and an outreach program to a local school. Travel agent attendees were updated on new Travel Impressions (TI) programs such as Flex Groups, a small FIT groups program; recent product expansion and diversification; agent benefit enhancements; and other changes that have been implemented since Scott Wiseman took the reigns of TI as president in 2016. This included the expansion of TI’s revenue management team to ensure competitive pricing and amenities for agents.
One of the new programs unveiled at the conference was the upcoming Connoisseur Collection by luxury resort operator Karisma Hotels & Resorts.
“It’s the creme de la creme of Gourmet Inclusive, and it should be at the top of your list of recommendations for any high-end, luxury clientele,” Wiseman said. “Only the most sumptuous room categories across all the Karisma brands are included in it, and service at this already exceptional brand gets even better.”
At one of the two formal sessions at the resort’s conference center, Wiseman discussed the success of the LoyalTI First agent rewards incentive and the marketing and educational programs designed to help agents sell more efficiently, including Monthly Makeovers and the #OnLocaTIon and #WeekendLearning social media initiatives.
Wiseman told the assembled agents that Travel Impressions’ #WeekendLearning series is one of the most revealing training tools they put in an agent’s arsenal.
“For every weekend over the course of a month, we let one focus takeover our entire weekend feed, walking you through the most obscure little-known facts and details of our featured partner,” he said. “#OnLocaTIon, on the other hand, is more of a behind-the-scenes, influencer-style social media takeover.”
The brand’s flagship education platform, Travel Impressions University, has awarded more than 1,200 graduate certifications since its launch earlier this year, according to Wiseman, while the broader EducaTIon First initiative received positive feedback from attending agents.
Wiseman also spoke about exclusive added values received by Best of the Best winners.
“These incentivize your customers to book through your agencies since you may be the only professionals for miles around that can offer them,” he said.
Attendees received a walk-through of the new Flex Groups program which focuses on marketing and planning vacations for small groups, including smaller family reunions, corporate and incentive groups, anniversaries, bachelor and bachelorette parties, retirement and anniversary trips, destination weddings and other small group occasions. Wiseman noted that Flex Groups is applicable to bookings of as few as five rooms.
Wiseman also discussed a new partnership with Softrip Travel Solutions, a leading provider of technology solutions for group operators. Softrip is tasked with improving TI’s front-end interface via automated touchpoints. The new collaboration further opens the door for advanced technology customized to dramatically improve TI’s handling of agents’ group business. Travel Impressions will begin a rigorous beta testing phase before implementing permanent solutions.
“Our large groups staff continues to serve at your command, backing up our technology and your needs in full force, and more efficiently than ever before,” Wiseman assured attendees.
General session speaker Rachel McGee, director of product development for Apple Leisure Group (ALG), Travel Impressions’ parent company, updated agents on the launch of new “beyond sun and sand” destinations, including Iceland, as well as new independent and escorted tours in Italy and Switzerland. She also discussed the upcoming launch of its Colombia product, which will focus on Cartagena, and the relaunching of TI’s Asia portfolio, which will include significantly more tour options than what was previously available.
Travel Impressions is partnering with Iceland’s largest destination management company, a subsidiary of Icelandair Group, to offer a comprehensive portfolio of independent FIT and escorted tour options with guaranteed room allocation.
“Travel between the U.S. and Iceland increased by more than 70 percent from 2015 to 2016, while the destination is expected to receive more than 2 million visitors in 2017 overall,” Wiseman said. “Developing expertise takes time, which is why we’ve partnered with the largest destination management company in the country.”
Wiseman discussed how some of the supply challenges to the island nation can benefit advisors.
“The packages are out there for consumers, but vacancy isn’t, which benefits you as a travel agent,” he said. “Booking one of these tours with TI means that there are rooms already set aside for your clients, even before they sign up. We have the beds on reserve for you, all you need to do is fill them.”
While excited about TI’s new “beyond sun and sand” destinations, Wiseman stressed the company’s support and commitment to the Caribbean in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.
“As extensive and heartbreaking as the damage may have been to some areas, the Caribbean is very much open for business,” he said. “In addition to financial contributions, the best way retailers can support the region is by continuing to send clients. While our natural instincts might tell us not to feature the Caribbean in order to be sensitive and respectful, the region is looking to us in the travel trade to educate and inform consumers — and ultimately, to continue sending clients whose visits will inject much-needed capital into local economies.”
Travel Impressions is supporting a GoFundMe campaign set up by the Caribbean Tourism Organization as well as a relief fund set up by the Caribbean Hotel and Travel Association in conjunction with Tourism Cares.
In the second general session, agents were updated on product enhancements and developments by representatives of Hyatt Hotels Corporation and Palladium Hotel Group, while Steve Lassman, vice president of villa product and agency relations, briefed delegates on opportunities provided via The Villa Experience by Travel Impressions, a co-branded program offered in conjunction with Villas of Distinction.
The conference culminated with the Best of the Best Gala Awards Dinner and agents and suppliers rocking the rest of the night away by TI’s signature “surprise” private concert staring the cast of Rock of Ages in the resort’s Grand Ballroom.