The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND) kicked off its third annual conference at PortMiami in Florida on Saturday (April 22), welcoming more than 100 travel agents and two dozen supplier partners on board the Norwegian Escape for a week of networking and learning at sea.
The seven-day symposium, hosted by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL), was organized to give travel agents who work with TTAND ample opportunities to nurture their relationships with suppliers, colleagues and the TTAND support team.
“The key to being successful is getting to know your supplier partners [and] building those relationships with one-on-one appointments,” Flemming Friisdahl, TTAND’s founder, told primary and associate agents in his opening remarks yesterday (April 23) in the Norwegian Escape's Manhattan Room.
TTAND's founder Flemming Friisdahl (right) and vice president, travel agent experience Penny Martin welcome conference attendees.
The week, produced under the appropriately titled theme “Watering Relationships,” will guide attendees through a variety of supplier presentations, training workshops, keynote speeches, group dinners and themed cocktail parties.
In-depth panel discussions will also be held, steering agents into topics such as high-end customers, consumer events, marketing on a shoestring budget and strategies for booking group travel.
Given that attendees are simultaneously sailing through the Caribbean on a cruise ship, the agenda also includes ports-of-call in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands; Tortola, British Virgin Islands and Nassau, Bahamas.
“The Travel Agent Next Door is a wonderful growing company,” Dana Gain, national director for sales in Canada at NCL, told PAX at the conference’s “Ships Ahoy” welcome party in the Norwegian Escape’s Skyline Lounge on Saturday night.
“We’re very happy to be supporting [the company] here on board,” Gain said at the lively soiree, for which many attendees dressed in nautical-themed attire, such as navy blue and white horizontal stripes, sailor hats and pirate eye patches.
The Norwegian Escape is NCL’s newest ship currently at sea, Gain noted. Launched in November 2015, the stylish ship with 29 bars and lounges on board accommodates more than 4,000 passengers.
The ship was officially named by the first godfather to a cruise ship, rapper Pitbull, at a naming ceremony in Miami in November 2015.
View of the Norwegian Escape's pool and waterslides from the upper sun deck.
“I think cruise is still one of those products that agents don’t know enough about,” Gain told PAX. Having travel agents on the Norwegian Escape for seven days to not only participate in TTAND’s conference, but to also experience the ship is “incredibly powerful,” Gain added.
Ian Smyth, business development manager for Eastern Ontario and Manitoba at NCL, echoed that sentiment, adding that while the conference is indeed on a cruise ship, agents still have “a lot of work ahead of them this week.”
The winners of TTAND’s first-ever supplier awards were announced Saturday night, honouring Transat for Best Overall Preferred Supplier Partner and Most Supportive Tour Operator Partner; Globus family of brands for Most Supportive Land/Guided Tour Partner; Norwegian Cruise Line for Most Supportive Ocean/River Cruise Partner; Bedsonline for Most Supportive FIT Partner; G Adventures for Most Supportive Specialty Product Partner; and WestJet Vacations for Best Overall Approved Supplier.
Conference organizers and attendees model their best nautical looks at Saturday night's “Ships Ahoy” welcome party.
Later this week, the conference will welcome its keynote speaker, John Furlong, executive chair of the Vancouver Whitecaps MLS team, chair of the Vancouver annual stop for the World Series of Rugby and chair of Canada’s Own the Podium Program.
Furlong, notably, also led the team that bid for, organized and staged the Vancouver 2010 Olympic and Paralympic Winter Games.
TTAND launched in March 2014 to support the retail travel industry, specializing in home-based travel agents, medium to small-size agencies, and agencies aiming to start their own home-based business.
Through an affiliation with TRAVELSAVERS and the Affluent Traveler Collection, the company provides a range of unique programs and services, including cutting-edge marketing tools and professional guidance.
Based in Toronto with a branch in Vancouver, the company currently has more than 400 travel agents across Canada in its roster – a number that continues to grow.
TTAND’s 2017 conference will also double as a fundraiser for Pencils for Kids, a charity run by Robin Mednick that provides classroom supplies, programs, libraries and schools to communities in need. Mednick delivered a moving motivational speech at last year’s TTAND conference in Varadero, Cuba.
For more information on TTAND, go to thetravelagentnextdoor.ca.
Stay tuned as PAX brings you more coverage from TTAND’s conference on the Norwegian Escape this week. You can also follow us on Twitter (@pax_news), Facebook ( and Instagram (paxnews) for on location updates.