The 13th annual Luxury Travel Expo kicked off Monday with hundreds of luxury travel advisors packing the conference center at Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.
The general session saw some words of encouragement by John McMahon, vice president/group publisher of the Questex Hospitality Group; the 11th annual Leaders of Luxury Awards; a Las Vegas travel update and a presentation by the popular customer service expert Nancy Friedman.
McMahon began the session by reassuring the advisors in the room that they have chosen the right market to sell, especially during the economic downturn.
"This is a wonderful year for luxury travel," says McMahon. "You are in the right place today. This is the market that has rebounded the most."
McMahon addressed the false notion that travel agents are a dying breed, referencing President Obama's recent comment that vacations are now entirely booked online.
"The real solution sits in the room," he says. "It's us working together so we have a voice. We need to rally together to send the message out that travel agencies are still alive."
Art Jimenez, director of leisure sales for the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Bryan Gay, vice president of sales for Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino, both announced that the recent struggles with regards to Las Vegas tourism have ended.
"The bigger you are, the harder you fall," says Jimenez. "We were affected. But we are back."
In fact, Jimenez noted that Las Vegas has seen 19 consecutive months of both visitor growth and average-room-occupancy growth.
"There was a time where we were getting a little nervous," says Gay. "As a resort in a great destination, we were struggling. But we are back and occupancy at the resort is coming back to a level that we can maintain and that is great news."
Gay also announced that a new nightclub at Mandalay will be completed by 2012.
Next up was Friedman, founder and president of Telephone Doctor Customer Service Training. During her 20-minute speech, Friedman encouraged attendees to always stay positive with clients, to expect change and to always go above and beyond for customers.
"In order to be a great luxury travel agent, you need to be grateful for what you have," Friedman told attendees. "There is no room for jealousy."
Ruthanne Terrero, vice president and editorial director of the Questex Hospitality Group, then announced the winners of the 2011 Leaders in Luxury awards.
They were Gary D. Davis, president of All About Travel, Inc., who took home the award for Travel Professional of the Year; Greg Tepper, president of Exeter International, who was this year's Tour Honoree; Nicholas Clayton, president of Viceroy Hotel Group, who was this year's Hotel Honoree and Richard Sasso, president and CEO of MSC Yacht Club, who was named this year's Cruise Industry Honoree.
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