From hosting participants on a cruise ship to breakout sessions designed to inspire creative thinking and content appealing to both travel advisor and suppliers alike, everything about Carlson Wagonlit’s 2018 Conference was about thinking outside the box and redefining possibilities.
This year's conference was held on board the Ruby Princess by Princess Cruises, sailing from Los Angeles to Vancouver. PAX caught up with Una O’Leary and Mark Stubbert – CWT’s senior director of marketing and supplier management - North American Leisure and senior director, operations, North American Leisure respectively, to learn about what’s new and how the company is encouraging its travel advisors to embody this year’s theme of ‘I’m Possible.’
According to O’Leary, that theme of redefining the possible was at the very heart of this year’s conference format: while past years’ conferences were hosted at resorts, this time around the CWT team opted to take to the high seas, with a brief stay in Los Angeles (where participants were hosted at the renowned Beverly Hilton for the first two days) to start off the week. The conference also served as the relaunch of CWT’s Possibilities magazine, putting more focus on the advisors and their tips over destinations.
From exploring an iconic city to taking part in a cruise, the format allowed for participants to take part in a number of experiences, in keeping with a core value of the CWT brand.
“Part of what we focus on is experiences and this way, they were able to experience L.A. and the iconic Beverly Hilton Hotel,” she said. “It’s such a fantastic place to be; it’s a little outside of the box for us and allowed us to do things differently,” O'Leary noted.
In addition, another format change was the involvement of advisors, agency owners and suppliers in all sessions, with content applicable to all groups.
“It’s really important that everyone is integrated because your sales can change over a drink or when you’re chatting, you can set up a group or learn something new about a product,” said O’Leary. “It allows for that one-on-one time, which you wouldn’t get if you have to separate all the time.”
“Advisors are about advice – we want to make sure that we’re lining them up with a product that’s going to meet their needs, not just being an order-taker but cultivating an experience for them,” added Stubbert. “We want our advisors to ask what their clients want to experience, what they want to feel; the very last thing is the price.”
Transat’s Dan Prior and Louise Fecteau, sales manager – Ontario & Atlantic and commercial director, respectively, meet with advisors during the conference’s supplier fast track session.
Breakout sessions: social media, coaching & travel trends
Those themes of both innovation and integration of advisor and supplier were also evident in the conference’s breakout sessions, which covered timely subjects including social media strategies, coaching techniques and travel trends. Stubbert explained that by designing the sessions to contain relevant information for all attendees, everyone wins.
“We ensured that they were applicable to not just our people but our suppliers as well,” he said. “There’s value in that if you can improve someone, whether it’s one of our advisors or a partner’s BDM, we’re all in the same boat and trying to grow these individuals and improve their skill sets.”
In regards to trends, O’Leary detailed a number of trip styles getting attention, from the growing singles travel market to the railway revival to so-called ‘last-chance’ tourism, involving regions or attractions which are in a state of change, such as the Great Barrier Reef and Venice. Additionally, she explained that CWT’s four newest supplier partners exemplify a number of innovations: this year, CWT has brought on Just You, Total Stay, Auto Europe and Events365.
“With the trends session, it was about getting advisors to look at what’s out there and be suggestive to their clients, like solo travel,” she said. “It’s just about thinking differently in terms of how you position things.”
On the social media front, advisors, owners and suppliers alike were able to benefit from the strategies detailed by Jonah Cait, director of strategy for Wave Media and Christine Ufniak, CWT’s director of marketing for North American Leisure.
“Advisors tend to be more tenured and they have the knowledge and clients,” Stubbert said, “but the challenge is that as you get older, everything becomes more complicated and we’re a little more resistant to change. They want to use it and they see the value, but sometimes they feel intimidated that they’re not going to do it correctly.”
A reimagined Leisure Advisory Council
Out-of-the-box thinking was also applied to CWT’s reimagining of its Leisure Advisory Council (LAC) in Canada, which will now include two representatives each in Ontario, Quebec and Western Canada, plus one in Atlantic Canada. O’Leary told PAX that the council’s new approach will allow for the identification of themes while allowing for “regional discussions through a national lens.”
“We’ve tasked the LAC to be the conduit for their regions for input, allowing us to be more efficient and effective as we’re streamlining the messages that are coming back.”
“We started from the ground up looking at what the mission statement was – we deconstructed and reconstructed,” Stubbert said. “It gave everyone an opportunity to share what they think the leisure advisory council should be doing and what our goals should be. We’re trying to take the output from the time we’re spending together and share that more effectively from a communications perspective, down to the individual locations and the front lines.
“We’re here spending this time to create value for the network to allow us to grow and be more successful, along with our supplier partners; we have to do it in tandem.”