Bev Edgar, Consuela Lewis and Brittany Rayner started off as strangers.
Now, they’re the Charlie’s Angels of travel advisors.
The three Ontario-based professionals recently attended The Travel Agent Next Door’s (TTAND) conference in Jamaica – their first TTAND conference ever – and while they had never met before, it didn’t take long for the trio to click.
“For some reason, we gravitated towards each other,” says Lewis, sharing the moment she struck up a conversation with Edgar and Rayner while on the 1.5-hour bus ride from Sangster International Airport in Montego Bay to Moon Palace Jamaica, where TTAND’s conference was held from Oct. 31 to Nov. 6.
“I thought I wasn’t going to meet anybody.”
The focus of TTAND’s 2021 conference, called “Agent ExtraordinIRIE,” was on what actions travel agents can take to ensure they are successful in a new travel landscape.
While the week-long event is full of practical and professional lessons, it’s the relationships attendees form that can prove to be the most valuable takeaway.
After that chance encounter on the bus, Edgar, Lewis and Rayner teamed up for the week, supporting each another as they plowed through a marathon of supplier presentations, workshops and one-to-one sessions aimed at helping agents get their business past the pandemic.
After 19 months of lockdowns, social distancing and virtual calls, the power of human interaction was restored and the ladies, wholeheartedly, leaned on each other.
“We’ve been hanging out the entire week,” says Edgar, who is from Orangeville but spends most her time at her cottage in Minden. “I’m learning so much from everybody else.”
“We need human interaction"
Joining a host agency and attending a conference in a destination – an in-person one, during a global pandemic, no less – can be an intimidating thing for some.
Especially if you’re new to the biz, as Edgar and Rayner are.
Edgar, without any previous industry experience, launched her agency in March of 2020 right before the pandemic hit and brought the industry to a near halt.
“It was a slow start for me,” Edgar admits, and while the lack of demand and poor economic conditions at the time would have forced many to pull the plug, she stuck to her vision, because selling travel is “something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – for myself.”
Entering TTAND’s conference, “I was very nervous and felt deflated,” she says, as business “hadn’t been doing very well.”
But after a week in Jamaica, meeting with other agents and suppliers, in person, “I have a new outlook on how I’m going to tackle my business,” Edgar says.
Sure, she had done virtual meet-ups with suppliers and completed the training modules. However: “It’s just not the same [doing everything online],” she says. “We need human interaction.”
Post-conference, she feels “way more confident about being in this industry, especially at this time” thanks to TTAND’s support system and community of likeminded professionals.
“Agents are so willing to help each other. It’s incredible,” Edgar says.
Build on what you know
Rayner, who is based in Guelph, ON, graduated from university with a political science degree last January and entered the travel industry in April as a part-time associate agent at Dream Adventures while holding down a full-time job at a bank.
“I really enjoy travelling,” says Rayner, who says she is “building clientele, slowly.”
As a first-time attendee at TTAND, Rayner’s strategy, last week, was to learn the tricks of the trade from others.
“The only way I can learn is from people who have done it,” she says. “Each associate and primary agent has their own version of what works for them…It’s all unique and different.”
TTAND’s conference, jam-packed with product information, can lead to information overload at times, which is why experienced agents recommend newcomers to focus on one or two niches to excel in.
TTAND “gives you the tools you need in order to be successful,” says Toronto, ON-based Lewis, a personal travel manager with Gravitate Travel.
Lewis has been a travel advisor for six years and has spent the past two years with TTAND.
Having a solid understanding of the biz, she knows well enough that, as an agent, there are so many areas to specialize in – “and you don’t need to go everywhere.”
“You need to focus on what you know, build on that and move forward,” she says.
Time to take action
So, after a week of sharing notes and logging tips, what are Edgar, Lewis and Rayner doing to elevate their business, post-conference?
“I’ve narrowed down my niche,” says Edgar, whose plan is to connect with specific suppliers, promote them on social media and her website and simply “get out there and work with them.”
Rayner’s plan is to increase her involvement in local clubs because “people who I think are doing well in the industry” are active members in their community, she says.
Consistency in marketing is key, even if it feels repetitive, she says, paraphrasing a piece of advice recently shared with her, and that is “somebody has to see you seven times” before they commit to you.
“Hand your card to them seven times and then they’ll finally go through with it,” says Rayner.
For Lewis, the plan is to connect with contacts she already has in other sectors, such as basketball and the wedding industry, and lock in partnerships.
Of course, the travel industry, though turning a page as vaccination rates increase and border restrictions ease, still faces hurdles.
Ever-changing travel rules are hard to keep track of, Canada’s pre-arrival PCR testing policy is a barrier for many and “there’s still a lot of people who are afraid to travel,” Edgar says.
“I know people who are anti-travel.”
But nothing is getting in the way of these ladies. Following their participation at TTAND, they are officially pandemic-era travel pros, trained to take on today’s new world.
And they say they're going to continue to help and promote each other.
“Even if you’re not travelling, but feel strongly about promoting travel, you need to be out there showing yourself,” says Edgar, who has found wins in promoting herself on social media.
Simply travelling to show that travel is possible can be the best strategy.
After Rayner went on a FAM with Sandals in August, “the inquires skyrocketed,” she says, and even while attending TTAND’s conference in Jamaica, “I’ve had eight, ten people reach out to me on social media.”
“I had no one interested in travelling until I travelled,” she says.