Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
The Travel Agent Next Door’s (TTAND’s) 2023 conference, “Breaking Barriers Together,” is breaking attendance records.
The annual symposium for TTAND’s network of home-based travel advisors, currently taking place in Costa Mujeres, Mexico until April 25, boasts its highest turnout yet.
“It’s going to be an amazing week,” said TTAND’s president and founder Flemming Friisdahl, speaking to PAX at the conference's kick-off reception Tuesday night (April 18) on the outdoor terrace of Majestic Elegance Costa Mujeres, a spa-like, all-inclusive resort, located roughly 30 minutes north of Cancun, that will serve as this week's venue.
“It’s not lost on me that this is the largest event held outside of Canada for independent home-based agents. We don’t bring husbands, kids and wives. We bring travel professionals.”
Friisdahl is particularly proud of the fact that this year’s event – a week-long agenda of supplier presentations, workshops, training sessions, panel discussions, guest speakers, awards, and theme parties – welcomes nearly 240 travel advisors and 67 suppliers (representing 42 companies), which is an increase from last year's conference.
On the agent side, the numbers represent roughly 22 per cent of TTAND’s network of more than 1,100 travel advisors.
Friisdahl also limits the number of preferred suppliers that can attend in order to achieve the maximum effect.
“By doing this, we can really get exposure and we end up with 82 per cent of our sales being with those partners,” he said, noting that TTAND doesn’t charge suppliers extra to “stand in front of agents to talk,” and is only successful when agents lock in sales.
READ MORE: “I’m stoked”: Friisdahl & team gear up for TTAND’s 2023 conference in Mexico
His advice to his agents attending the conference this week is to “get out there” and make those face-to-face relationships with suppliers (who don't typically attend conferences for a full week) that are so vital to success.
The theme “Breaking Barriers Together” is a nod to TTAND’s nine years in business, and the many barriers the company and its network of agents have overcome.
Some of the obstacles TTAND has overcome in recent years include keeping its staff employed during the pandemic, paying more commission to agent partners than ever before (some $3 million dollars last December) and recording a 66 per cent increase in sales in comparison to 2019.
The host agency, not long ago, saw its highest month in sales (ever), generating some $45 million, Friisdahl said, adding to the time when agents sold a record $2.5 million in a single day.
“Those are the kind of barriers agents have broken,” Friisdahl told PAX earlier. “All of this validates home-based agents and their business.”
An all-star line-up
“Breaking Barriers Together” also welcomes the most guest speakers TTAND has ever booked at its conference, which, this year, unfolds in an environment without pandemic-induced travel restrictions (hence the “breaking barriers” theme).
“We’ve invested more money than ever in education and training,” Friisdahl told PAX.
This week welcomes experienced executive, author and business coach Geraldine Ree, who will discuss ways to generate “more leads in less time” on April 20.
Corporate trainer Gary Gzik, CEO of BizXcel, (and long-time TTAND contributor), is also hosting a workshop entitled “Building a Solid Future: The Power of Creating Strong Foundations Today.”
Social media expert and content creator Arienne Parzei is in attendance – she will be talking all things social media, showing agents how to create impactful Instagram stories and “reels” for their business.
Lori Gold, a Canadian travel advisor who lives in Mexico, is also on the scene to discuss excursions and tours.
This year’s TTAND conference welcomes newcomers from the supplier world, including Silversea, The Jordan Tourism Board and Project Expedition.
Travel execs are on the guest list, including Air Canada’s Lisa Pierce, vice-president, global sales and Air Canada Vacations. (Air Canada, in addition to Majestic Resorts, is a main sponsor).
There will also be events held off property this week, hosted by all-star partners.
Transat, on Thursday (April 20), will host a “contemporary Mexican” dinner at a local Secrets, while Air Canada Vacations is hosting a “superhero” theme night at nearby Palladium on Friday (April 21).
It can be a lot to absorb, especially for newcomers, which is why TTAND (in addition to flying 16 staff members down) has a “Buddy” program that pairs new agents with experienced ones who’ve attended the conference two or three times. Just so people can learn the ropes.
“These are not your competitors, these are your colleagues in the world of travel, and that’s why this conference is so important. To get that relationship going,” said Friisdahl, addressing a sea of attendees last night in Majestic Elegance’s piano bar space.
TTAND’s annual “giveback day” returns this year, which will give some attendees an opportunity to volunteer their time in a local community.
And, during the week, there will be calls to support Pencils for Kids, which partners with communities in Niger, West Africa to create sustainable educational programs for children, as well as income generating opportunities for women.
The goal, this year, is to raise $40,000 to support ten students, which will add to the more than $173,000 TTAND has raised for the Canadian charity over the last seven years.
A "mind-blowing" 2024
While 2023's conference has only just begun (opening session is this morning), Friisdahl is already plugging next year's event, which will mark TTAND's 10-year anniversary.
That conference will involve TTAND chartering its own Dreamliner to a destination that Friisdahl has yet to reveal.
"It will be a first in Canadian [travel industry] history, in terms what we’re doing," he said. "It's going to be mind-blowing. An epic event, in my mind."
PAX is reporting on location from TTAND’s 2023 conference at Majestic Elegance Costa Mujeres all week.
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