The ever-evolving role of the travel professional was a recurring theme as Ensemble’s Extraordinary roadshow arrived in Toronto on March 8, with 130 agents in attendance at the Delta Toronto Airport & Conference Centre for the annual event.
The day saw agents take in an absorbing insight from Ensemble’s National Training Manager, Cathy Varrecchia, into the may ways that social media could be used to increase business, followed by a series of sponsor presentations and rapid-fire table-to-table updates from niche partners.
Cristie Newell, senior director of training and development – North America, Ensemble, told PAX that a key goal of the event was to bring agents into contact with some of the company’s specialty niche partners, an opportunity that rarely presents itself. “What we were noticing years ago is a real shift in moving more towards luxury, experiential type of products,” she commented.
“We came up with a concept of, ‘Let’s do an event where we bring those partners under one roof for our members.’ We look at the partners that don’t necessarily have a lot of feet on the street; a few of them are managed by U.S. companies or even overseas, [and] it gives them the opportunity to come across Canada with us in these different shows – but also have that interaction with the agents.”
From Ordinary to Extraordinary
Varrecchia told agents some of the many ways that technology will revolutionize travel in the future, including biometric scans for passports, remote baggage drop-off, and try-before-you-buy augmented reality. “Are you ready?” she asked.
That evolution, she said, heightened the need for agents to continually enhance their marketing efforts through the realm of social media. “To adapt and thrive, you need to stay in the learning lane,” she advised. “Get comfortable being uncomfortable.”
Cathy Varrecchia, national training manager, Ensemble Travel Group.
Social media, she emphasized, was not a replacement for existing market strategies, but rather a necessary addition. With personalized and experiential travel now becoming increasingly significant, meanwhile, Varrecchia said that Ensemble’s On Location program – featuring over 90 in-destination partners located across the world – could provide agents with insider information and the ability to create a unique experience in a variety of different countries for a true ‘wow’ factor.
Other key takeaways from Varrecchia’s speech included the following:
- Agents registered to Ensemble’s profile page (agent.ensembletravel.com) are now visible in Google search results and on the company’s website when users search for agents according to travel specializations or proximity.
- Instagram and Pinterest are key tools for agents to add another dimension to their marketing efforts. Only four per cent of agents at yesterday’s event used Pinterest for business and only 19 per cent used Instagram for business, but both can provide useful tools to inspire clients through visual content.
- Paid advertising, especially on Facebook, can be a useful and inexpensive way to boost posts and widen the reach of social media content.
- Selling is rarely, or never, done through social media; however, it can act as an indispensable networking tool and can also be a useful way for agents to keep in contact with their clients in case of queries or an emergency.
- Agents who feel overwhelmed by social media should choose one platform and master it; with around 19 million active users in Canada, Facebook is a strong option.
- Tools that can help agents with social media marketing include Likalyzer (a personal Facebook advisor), Buzzsumo (which searches for relevant business content on Facebook) and Hootsuite, which lets you share and schedule social media posts across multiple platforms from one app.
Sponsor presentations saw representatives from Abercrombie & Kent, Big Five Tours & Expeditions, Lindblad Expeditions, Manulife, and Uniworld take to the stage, with a cocktail reception and tradeshow rounding off proceedings.
View from the co-president
Ensemble’s co-president, Lindsay Pearlman, said that the event reflected the continuing importance of developing expertise and furthering education in specific niche areas for travel agents to continue growing their business. “In the industry, you maintain your relevance by continuous education and continuous evolution,” he reflected.
Lindsay Pearlman, co-president, Ensemble Travel Group..
“You can’t be everything to everybody, and I think most people are starting to recognize that – so find what you love, and then you’ll never work another day in your life.”
Although the final numbers are not yet available, Pearlman noted, 2017 looked set to surpass the record-breaking performance of the company in 2015 and 2016. “In general terms,” he said, “the last three years have been the best in the 50-year life of this company.”