“There’s one thing that never changes and that’s the power of the travel professional – the power we have to connect with our customers,” Gregory Luciani, president and CEO of TravelOnly, told a room full of suppliers and associates last Saturday (Nov. 17) on the final day of the host agency's Symposium at Sea conference.
A great way to network
More than 100 guests – a mix of home-based travel agents and suppliers – attended the week-long event, which started in Miami on Nov. 9th at the Eden Roc Miami Beach hotel and then travelled south through the Caribbean Sea aboard Princess Cruises’ 3,560-passenger ship, the Regal Princess.
In addition to visiting port of calls at Princess Cays in the Bahamas, St. Thomas and St. Maarten, travel agents participated in on-board workshops, training seminars and one-on-one sessions with suppliers with the goal of building their home-based businesses.
“It’s great meeting other colleagues from different realms of the travel industry,” Montreal-based Danielle Freeman, a travel consultant with TravelOnly, told PAX, which covered the conference on location, exclusively. “Their stories, business experiences, tips, tricks…It’s a great way to network.”
Travel advisors had multiple opportunities to network with representatives from six key suppliers during the day at ports of call, group dinners in the evening and, most importantly, at scheduled one-on-one meetings.
“The one-on-ones were perfect,” said Jessica Morris from Barrie, ON, who started her part-time business, Jessica Travel and Events, last April. “It was wonderful to meet everyone, ask questions and get feedback. It’s made me really excited to kick-start my business.”
Like many of the conference’s attendees, it was Morris’ first time on a Princess ship.
“It’s really elegant,” Morris said of the Regal Princess, a 142,229-gross tonne vessel that was inaugurated in May 2014 and launched Princess’ Ocean Medallion Class. “The food has also been amazing.”
The six suppliers who attended this year’s Symposium at Sea were Sandra Gardiner, director of national accounts, Canada at AmaWaterways; Diana Winters, business development manager, Ontario for Palace Resorts and LeBlanc Spa Resorts; Shannon Smith, business development manager at TravelBrands; Tanya Johnson, strategic account manager at Bedsonline; Karly Cook, global purpose specialist at G Adventures; and Karen McColl, business development manager at Princess Cruises and Cunard Line.
“One of the greatest opportunities in participating in something like this with an at-home network like TravelOnly is having the time to build those one-to-one relationships,” Shannon Smith of TravelBrands told PAX. “It’s not often you get that, unless it’s at a trade show.”
Pat Probert and Mary de Almeida of Bob Family Travel Team with TravelOnly attended the conference as mentors, with Probert advising agents to “keep your notes on cruising” and “build your network with suppliers. It goes a long, long way.”
Probert utilized every opportunity to share his industry knowledge with agents, at one point, rallying a group in the windex blue waters of St. Maarten’s Great Bay and delivered an impromptu masterclass in boosting sales.
Harnessing the power of social media
The week’s itinerary also included a series of masterclasses: Ian Elliott, TravelOnly’s VP of sales and marketing, spoke on social media and digital marketing - specifically what, when and how to make an impact; Sandra Gardiner of AmaWaterways gave an encore presentation, “River Cruising 101,” a guide to understanding rivers from around the world; Sinthia Gawlak, TravelOnly’s senior VP of sales and marketing, spoke on handling objections when selling travel insurance; and, notably, there was the iconic Heidi Olson, manager of industry training at Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA), a 40-plus year industry veteran, who spoke on successful qualifying and how to develop group business.
Accessibility and inclusivity also played an important role at Symposium at Sea as attendees volunteered their time to transcribe presentations in real time, on a laptop, for colleagues that were deaf or hard of hearing.
“It’s an amazing opportunity for everybody to get together, learn from each other and grow,” TravelOnly advisor and operator of Hand Wave Travel, Oliver Luehr, who identifies as deaf, told PAX.
All in the family
TravelOnly specializes in training business professionals – many of whom have never worked in travel – to becoming home-based travel agents through educational courses and expert training.
The Brantford, ON-based agency was founded by Gregory Luciani’s father, Patrick, who started the business, originally called Luciani World Travel, in 1974. As the company’s founder and chairman, Patrick Luciani still plays an active role in running TravelOnly today alongside his wife, Ann, who serves as the company’s CFO.
The Luciani family joined its advisors in Miami, and at sea, to participate in the week’s festivities.
“Our family unit is truly the bedrock of the company,” Gregory Luciani told PAX. “It’s one of the greatest strengths we have as an agency today – the fact that we are family run and that we treat associates like they were part of the our family.”
Gregory’s father Patrick agrees, noting how a family-run business in today’s workforce enables associates to “work smarter, not harder.”
“Associates come to with us with wonderful opportunities and ideas, and they’re implemented,” Patrick Luciani told PAX. “They’re not afraid to share, whereas sometimes in a large corporation, people are not sure who to call because there’s so many structures.”
TravelyOnly advisor Tracie-Marie Landry of Ohana Travels Inc. said her experience with the company “feels like a family,” especially when it comes to her day-to-day operations. “No matter where you go, you always have support. There’s always someone there to help you,” Landry told PAX.
It’s a unique feeling that Ann Luciani calls a “natural evolution” in the agency’s growth over the years. “To be a family, work as a family, and to grow as a family…Then as everybody came in, we felt they were part of our family,” Mrs. Luciani told PAX.
TravelOnly will celebrate its 45th anniversary next September, a milestone that Gregory Luciani calls “a true testament to a passion for the industry, a belief and hope that there is a future."
“Twenty years ago when [my parents] said ‘let’s do home-based,’ it was still brand new. There were lots of regulatory issues and legislative and regulatory hurdles that we had to overcome. To be able to get through that is a testament to [my Mom and Dad’s] hard work and dedication to the industry,” Gregory Luciani told PAX, adding that he is “the luckiest person to be raised in a travel family.”
Mom and Dad Luciani, for one, are excited to celebrate the upcoming milestone. “We share each other’s ideas on a regular basis. We talk about travel, our partners, our associates, 24/7. It’s a wonderful feeling,” Patrick Luciani said.
As for the ultimate takeaway from this year’s Symposium at Sea, Gregory Luciani advised agents to “be yourself, think outside the box, take what you’ve learned and spread that joy and message to your community.”
“Product changes all the time. Don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there,” the president and CEO said. “You’re selling dreams…be yourself, have fun and the business will come.”
Stay tuned for PAX’s exclusive video from TravelOnly’s Symposium at Sea!