Almost six months after The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND) welcomed travel advisors and supplier partners in Jamaica, the host agency is back with another in-person conference – this time at sea in the Caribbean on board one of the largest cruise ships in the world.
TTAND’s spring 2022 conference, happening from April 24 to May 1, kicks off this weekend in Orlando, Florida, where more than 200 agents and 50 individuals representing some 35 suppliers, are meeting up before boarding Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-class Harmony of the Seas, the third-largest passenger ship in the world, at Port Canaveral on Sunday.
PAX is joining the gang on board to report on all the action, from the latest frontline trends – which truly come to light at conferences – TTAND’s own updates, such as the direction it’s taking with the TL Network, a partnership that took effect on Nov. 1, 2021, and, yes, the par-tays.
This year’s theme is “STTANDING Stronger Together” – no stutter required, just say it as is – which is a nod to partnerships and peer support and why those things matter to success.
“I’m a great believer that one plus one equals three,” Flemming Friisdahl, founder of TTAND, told PAX in a pre-conference interview on Monday (April 18). “We’re better, together, than independently.”
With Canada’s recent easing of pre-arrival testing for fully vaccinated travellers, the conference couldn’t come at a better time as consumer confidence rises and travel agencies get back to business.
“From what I’ve seen, clients are getting more comfortable with travel,” Friisdahl said. “Personally, I am very comfortable with it. I’ve travelled five, six times [during the pandemic], and I look at travel as being similar to visiting a grocery store. If you’re careful, if you wash your hands, and use sanitizer, I don’t see why it should be an issue.”
If anything, there’s greater peace of mind on a cruise ship, where most people on board have been tested for COVID-19 and are vaccinated, he said.
“Versus the grocery store, where I don’t know if staff have had their shots,” Friisdahl said. “I feel quite safe [on a ship], to be frank.”
“We’re trying to grow the industry"
TTAND’s latest sales figures suggest that many consumers feel the same way.
“Our sales last month were the best sales in the history of the company,” Friisdahl said, noting that TTAND paid out more than $1.3 million in commissions to agents in March. “And this month, it’s going to be close. I’m so happy for our agents.”
TTAND’s network of 570 primary agents and around 410 associates has grown over the past two years, despite pandemic-related challenges.
While the host agency lost some partners, it gained others – Friisdahl says 80 per cent of newcomers are a mix of agents from agencies that closed and already-established professionals who decided to seek out a new host.
“We’ve also had agents who are brand new and who just want to get into the industry,” Friisdahl said.
That point, in particular, is one that Friisdahl is particularly proud of as the travel and tourism sector continues to cope with intense labour shortages.
“We’re trying to grow the industry overall,” he said.
TTAND’s 2022 conference at sea was in development before the pandemic hit, Friisdahl said.
Each year, TTAND tries to select a unique destination for its week-long event, and choosing Harmony of the Seas, which holds 5,479 guests at double occupancy, was the “right thing for us to do.”
Besides, there's something about the camaraderie you build in person "that you can’t get from watching a Zoom link," he said.
The venue also aligns with TTAND's sales activity.
“We sell a lot of cruises,” Friisdahl said, noting an award TTAND recently won from Celebrity for being the quickest “bounce-back company” during COVID.
The company's all-inclusive resort sales are also “kicking ass,” he said.
“We’re up significant numbers compared to 2019,” Friisdahl said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if our year ends up being better than 2019, unless something bad happens.”
All-star speakers, sunny experiences
Let’s keep the bad stuff out of the universe, for now, and stick to the positives.
The team at TTAND, as always, has put together a jam-packed itinerary of interesting, fun and informative programming for 2022’s symposium, which will see more attendees than last November’s event, “Agent ExtraordinIRIE," at Moon Palace Jamaica.
On the conference’s first official day – Monday, April 25 – mentor and coach Geraldine Ree will be hosting a presentation on ways to unlock strategies for growing business “ten times bigger in half the time.”
Ree will also participate in breakout sessions.
Gary Gzik, workplace trainer, motivational speaker and CEO of BizXcel Inc., returns to conference this year with a workshop entitled: “Rising of the Phoenix: Coming Back Stronger Than Ever.”
This year’s keynote will be presented on Friday by Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe, who will deliver a talk entitled “Hope-Forward: Steadying Our Steps After a Challenging Season.”
In this presentation, Dr. Hanley-Dafoe will explore her conceptual framework for re-entry readiness that is based on the principles of psychological safety, resiliency, and productivity with purpose.
TTAND’s “Travel Agent Think Tank,” an open-mic forum that debuted at 2019’s conference at Iberostar Selection Playa Mita in Punta Mita, Mexico, will also return this year.
And let’s not forgot the ports of call.
In between supplier presentations, one-on-one sessions, exploring the ship and dinner events (including a gala and awards extravaganza on the Friday), attendees will have a chance to explore sun-kissed destinations, such as Philipsburg in Sint Maarten, Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas and Royal Caribbean’s “Perfect Day CocoCay” experience in the Bahamas.
It can be a lot to take in, especially for agents attending TTAND’s conference for the first time.
Which is why Friisdahl reiterates what everyone’s main focus should be next week: to connect with suppliers.
“The whole idea of the conference is to get agents together with suppliers,” Friisdahl said. “To build that relationship and grow that relationship. That will always be the main focus.”
What Friisdahl hopes agents take away from conference 2022 is that they’re not alone in the recovery.
“We are together in this and together we will come through this,” he said. “That’s the number one thing. You’re not by yourself. We’re there with you.”
Stay tuned for PAX's comprehensive on-location coverage from TTAND's 2022 conference at sea.