Eat, drink and be scary.
Costume-wearing travel advisors and suppliers did the monster mash Sunday night (Oct. 31) on the beach at Moon Palace Jamaica to kick off The Travel Agent Next Door’s (TTAND) 2021 conference, “Agent ExtraordinIRIE: Actions & Tactics,” which is taking place at the resort until Nov. 6.
The cocktail and buffet beach bash, which was hosted by WestJet, WestJet Vacations and Palace Resorts, marked a big return to in-person interaction – on Halloween night, no less – for an industry that has, for the most part, operated virtually since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year.
As Flemming Friisdahl, founder of TTAND, roamed a sandy, bulb-lit, bay-facing outdoor event space, wearing his lederhosen, some 165 agents and 30 suppliers – clad in ghoulish, glamourous and campy attire – mixed and mingled like it was 2019.
“This has been two and half years in the making,” a beaming Friisdahl told PAX, which is covering the conference on location in Ocho Rios on the north coast of Jamaica this week. “Everyone is so happy.”
TTAND’s 2021 conference picks up where things left off in April 2020 when the week at Moon Palace Jamaica was originally supposed to happen but was postponed due to the global health situation.
This year’s theme, “Agent ExtraordinIRIE,” marries the word “extraordinary” with “irie,” a Jamaican saying that means everything is alright, fine and feeling good.
“It’s time to move on, safely, but we have to start smiling more. We have to start feeling good about life again,” Friisdahl told PAX during a Zoom call last week.
Smiles & shoutouts
The vibe at last night's Halloween extravaganza was, indeed, irie as travel pros – disguised as witches, warlocks, pilots, zombies, princesses, hippies, Disney characters, "peanut butter and jam," Where’s Waldo? and, in one case, Mister Rogers (kudos to Playa’s Freddie Marsh for that) – exchanged eye-popping omg-it's-so-good-to-see-you hellos and, as per TTAND’s guidelines, resisted hugs (many caved).
“Tonight is all about the agents,” said WestJet Business Development Manager Matthew Djorsev, who miraculously survived the humid night clad in an astronaut suit. “It’s so good to see everyone’s smiling faces.”
The WestJet flight attendants who worked the flight from Toronto to Montego Bay on Saturday morning (Oct. 30) shared the same enthusiasm.
Adding to the flight’s pre-departure announcements, one flight attendant took to the cabin’s intercom to acknowledge all the travel agents on board (and there were a lot), telling the regular passengers that if they had any questions during the flight, “the person sitting beside you is likely a travel agent.”
TTAND agent Judith Coates, who has emerged as a key advocacy figure during the pandemic as a co-founder of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), said it was “very emotional” seeing some colleagues that, until now, have only existed on Zoom or Facebook.
“Everybody has gone through hardship in their business, through different stages of almost-defeat, and this conference, so far, has been very optimistic. And it’s going to be,” said Coates, dazzling as a magical mermaid last night.
“The travel world, and other agents, need to see that this is happening. And that it’s safe.”
Health and safety protocols – especially for the indoor portions of the conference – will be in effect all week, Friisdahl said.
“We want to make sure we’re being very, very careful,” Friisdahl told PAX. “It’s important we get together, but safety is number one.”
That includes mandatory mask wearing indoors and other measures that fall under Moon Palace’s guest safety program called Purely Palace.
“Good to be back at it”
Protocols aside, the conference, for many travel advisors and suppliers, is an exciting return to what life used to be, pre-pandemic.
Calgary-based Tannis Dyrland, owner of Travel With Tannis, said it was “good to be back in it, doing what we love.”
“When I got down to the pool this morning, it was a little emotional. I’m not going to lie,” said Dyrland, who, last night, dressed up as “Thing One” from The Cat in the Hat book.
Sharon Wilson, a business development manager for Palace and Le Blanc Resorts, said it was great to be doing “normal things,” like seeing people face to face again.
She encouraged agents attending TTAND’s conference to share their experiences on their social media to “create excitement for their clients.”
“It’s a wonderful opportunity to talk to your clients about travel and how they, too, can experience it,” said Wilson, who greeted agents last night dressed as Snow White.
The jam-packed week, which includes supplier presentations, a “Personality Dimensions Workshop,” and a “Travel Agent Think Tank,” will focus on the actions that agents can take to ensure they are successful in today’s new travel landscape.
Travel Leaders Network (TLN) has also been given time to present, which is timely given that TTAND recently announced that it will be joining TLN effective Nov. 1 (today).
“As we get started, one of the biggest things for attendees is to start engaging,” Friisdahl said.
TTAND’s conference doesn’t allow partners to bring spouses (“It’s just travel professionals and suppliers,” Friisdahl pointed out), which gives agents an opportunity to mingle with the right people who can elevate their businesses.
“You do better when you know more people and can draw knowledge from those who have stronger skills in certain areas,” Friisdahl said. “Sure, you could do a Zoom call, but you don’t have that dynamic where people are sitting and talking and getting to know each other.”
“The conference provides agents with that network of support that they may not have had beforehand.”
Stay tuned as PAX brings you more on-location coverage from TTAND’s 2021 Agent ExtraordinIRIE conference at Moon Palace Jamaica.
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