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.
It was a rollicking royal reunion of travel advisors and suppliers on board Royal Caribbean’s Harmony of the Seas on Sunday (April 24) as The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND) kicked off its 2022 conference at sea with a welcome bash.
Gathering in the Solarium on Deck 15 of Harmony, the third-largest passenger ship at sea, excited attendees mixed, mingled, clinked glasses and got their groove on to live music while the sky turned 50 shades of orange during a blazing sunset.
“When you see this many people, it brings a lot of joy to my heart, obviously,” Flemming Friisdahl, founder of TTAND, told PAX as he worked the deck, confirming last-minute details with TTAND staff while catching up with partners. “It’s been really exciting.”
TTAND’s spring event at sea, happening until May 1, brings together some 200 agents and 50 individuals representing 35 suppliers, which is a slightly higher turnout compared to TTAND’s last conference, “Agent ExtraordinIRIE," last November in Jamaica.
“It’s so nice to see so many familiar faces,” remarked Bruce Lidberg, director of sales - Western Canada at TravelBrands, a presenting sponsor. “It’s going to be a great week.”
The Oasis-class Harmony of the Seas, which debuted in 2016, cast off from Port Canaveral yesterday and is now sailing south to Caribbean hot spots such as Philipsburg in Sint Maarten, Charlotte Amalie in St. Thomas, and Royal Caribbean’s “Perfect Day CocoCay” in the Bahamas.
Conference attendees this week will have opportunities to explore these ports of call, adding to a jam-packed itinerary of supplier presentations, one-on-one sessions, workshops, panel discussions and dinner events.
TTAND’s 2022 event was in development long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Friisdahl said.
“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.”
This year’s theme is “STTANDING Stronger Together,” which is about celebrating partnerships and peer support and how those two things lend themselves to the industry’s tenacity and agility to pivot in a world that is always changing.
“Ships are filling up"
With Canada’s recent easing of pre-arrival testing for fully vaccinated travellers, it’s a good time to meet face to face.
After two years of coping with pandemic-related challenges, travel agencies are back in business as consumer confidence comes roaring back.
“The comeback has been stronger than anyone anticipated,” Lisa Connell, director of sales for Canada at Royal Caribbean Cruises, told PAX last night. “Ships are filling up, we’re not seeing any lag in any markets.”
Connell noted the rising popularity of multigenerational travel and how that segment has resulted in friends and families, who have been separated for two years, booking multiple staterooms, all at once.
“[Guests] are upgrading their staterooms, they’re spending more on board, which is great for advisors,” Connell told PAX. “Our Suite Class is full.”
Connell’s advice to agents attending TTAND’s conference this week – especially those who are cruising for the first time – is to “really experience everything we have,” noting Harmony’s culinary scene and range of entertainment options, which span all levels, from air to water to stage.
She also encouraged agents to “observe the clients on board” and take note of the ship’s diverse demographic, which can range from guests as young as six months old to seniors in their ’90s.
“It’s important [advisors] see that and think about their own business and how they can engage,” Connell said.
“People are excited to recharge"
An all-star cast of speakers has been flown in to help get the creative juices flowing.
Today (April 25), mentor and coach Geraldine Ree will speak on ways to unlock strategies for growing business “ten times bigger in half the time.”
Charismatic Gary Gzik, workplace trainer, motivational speaker and CEO of BizXcel Inc., also returns to conference this year with a workshop entitled: “Rising of the Phoenix: Coming Back Stronger Than Ever.”
This week’s keynote will be presented by Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe, who 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 to shed light on frontline issues.
“People are excited to recharge,” Lindsay Pearlman, senior vice-president – international leisure at Travel Leaders Network, told PAX.
TTAND joined the TL Network in November 2021, and Pearlman, set to address agents first thing Monday morning, will be outlining how that partnership can help agents provide more service and support to their clients.
Pearlman’s talk will also focus on the future, illustrating what it’s like to be a travel advisor in today’s pandemic-era times.
“It’s not the way it once was,” he said.
What Friisdahl hopes agents will take away from the week is that they’re not alone in this business.
“We are together in this and together we will come through this,” he said. “That’s the number one thing.”
Friisdahl also had a cheeky warning for those TTAND agents who didn’t attend conference this year: get ready to experience some serious FOMO.
“For the agents who are not here, you missed out!” Friisdahl said. “We wish you were here.”
Stay tuned for more of PAX's on-location coverage from The Travel Agent Next Door's 2022 conference on board Harmony of the Seas.
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