LAS VEGAS, Nevada -- It’s not every day you find a room full of young professionals in the travel industry, but roughly 110 industry representatives under the age of 40 flocked Monday afternoon to the first Young Leaders Conference hosted by The Travel + Hospitality Group as part of the annual Luxury Travel Expo tradeshow.
The all day event held at the South Conference Center of Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino was hosted by Jose Barreiro, group director of sales for The Travel + Hospitality Group, and was deemed by many in attendance a refreshing alternative to education and networking for young business leaders.
“I’m usually the youngest one at all these events and conferences, so it's great to be able to trade advice with people my own age for a change,” says Aimee Leon, manager of leisure services for Travel Dynamics Group in La Jolla, California. “It’s very beneficial.”
|Andy Stuart, executive vice president of global sales and passenger services for Norwegian Cruise Line, kicks off the inaugural Young Leaders Conference.|
Selling Travel 101
The conference got off and running with the first topic of discussion, “Rapid Fire Ideas: 100 Ways to Soar in Luxury Sales and Marketing,” spearheaded by Andy Stuart, executive vice president of global sales and passenger services for Norwegian Cruise Line.
Stuart was also joined by Michael Distler, destination specialist for Africa for Admiral Travel International; Jill Taylor, luxury travel consultant for Jet Set World Travel and Monika Weinsoft, luxury travel consultant for Jet Set World Travel.
Here’s a good chunk of some of the most interesting and some of the most quirky tips Stuart and company preached to the young leaders in attendance: Ask your dentist if you can put up a cruise poster; attend and promote at high school or college reunions; give your clients a video or some resource they can show off to friends and family; call three customers every day before 11 a.m.; send Thanksgiving cards to your clients; become a notary public and blog as much as you can.
“People want to know where you are going and what you are doing,” Distler says in regards to blogging.
And as far as following up with a client?
“Never give up, keep it simple, send a magazine article,” says Taylor. “You don’t want them to feel forgotten, that they aren’t just one of a million.”
Among the other notable tips: Do not be afraid to advertise your own popularity; ask open-ended questions in the qualifying process and be sure business phone voice recording reflects what you want it to. To avoid “shoppers,” ask for an up-front deposit. Talk for an hour or two, tell clients about the ins and outs and then ask for money.
“This says. 'I’m valuable, the information I have is valuable',” Stuart says. “My knowledge is worth something.”
Other tips included attending as many fam trips as possible; learn and master new technology and social media (Twitter, Facebook), take part in local partnerships; use your business card everywhere; create an advisory board with customers; don’t limit yourself to just couples travel, take advantage of large families as well; have a marketing plan; add ‘cruise’ to your company’s name; never be afraid to sell up; take a public speaking class at local community college; get together with a local band that has a big following; take part in education programs and attend travel shows.
“So much of (the tips given) were innovative and out of the box, which I think speaks to this audience and how we need to do business now,” Barreiro says.
How Fast Can You Network?
Armed with 100 tips on selling travel, industry representatives then took part in a networking exercise, “Mingle for Success: Young Leaders Business Card Exchange,” the networking version of speed dating that gives industry representatives the opportunity to network for two minutes, exchange business cards before moving one seat to the left and doing it all over.
“Its great for people starting out in this industry, looking to network and just really relate to a lot of people who are in the same age group,” says home-based agent Szymon Krasucki, of TravelbySimon.
Learn from Your Mistakes
|Ralph Iantosca, owner of GoGirl Travel, presents at the inaugural Young Leaders Conference at Luxury Travel Expo in Las Vegas|
The afternoon session of the conference got jump started with a presentation by Ralph Iantosca, owner of GoGirl Travel, titled “$1 Million and Counting: A Young Leader Shares Strategies and Secrets.” Iantosca spoke to the young leaders in the room about successful strategies, lessons learned and how to tailor your career journey to fit your personal passions.
“I’m here to talk to you about my mistakes,” Iantosca says. “Not enough people tell you about what not to do, about their mistakes. You’ll always hear, 'I just opened up a million dollar business,’ but never about what not to do.”
We put him to the test and asked Iantosca about performing damage control when a client is unhappy with a trip an agent booked for them.
“Well there are two things you are not going to get back and that’s your time and your money. Tell your clients that,” Iantosca says. “It’s done and done, so all you can do is apologize and tell your clients you screwed up, its always your fault and not theirs. Say, 'I don’t want to lose your business, can you give me a second chance, how can I get to know you better so its better the next around."
Age is Just a Number
|Talula A. Gunter, assistant dean and professor in travel and tourism at Northern Virginia Community College, presents at the inaugural Young Leaders Conference at Luxury Travel Expo in Las Vegas|
During the portion, “Fooling Mother Nature: Tackling the Generational Gap in Luxury Sales” by Talula A. Gunter, assistant dean and professor in travel and tourism at Northern Virginia Community College spoke about how to attract and land older, experienced travelers as permanent clients. How do you overcome perceptions about your young age being a detriment to their experience and needs?
And this was something of particular interest to resort manager Rheanne Etken.
“For me it was just great to see people my age and get pointers from people who are in the same position as I am,” says Etken of The Inn at Entrada in St. George, Utah. “I think a lot of people we need to market to are much older than us, so it’s great to get some advice from other professionals on how to be successful with these older clients.”
Gunter preached giving value, to always being ethical, to “sell up not to a little extra commissions, but sell up so your luxury clients come back” and to cross sell.
But how do you get that very first client?
“Start networking and let people know you are in the business and have cards ready and get a friend to write you up," she says. "Start with friends and family, sometimes they can be very difficult to work with but that’s how you get started. And remember: they don’t have to know they are your first client.”
Scratching That Niche
|Michelle Mangio, owner of Magical Express, presents at the inaugural Young Leaders Conference at Luxury Travel Expo in Las Vegas|
As the second half of the conference got into full gear, Michelle Mangio, owner of Magical Escapes, kept the momentum of the day going with her presentation, “Working the Niche: An Entrepreneurial Case Study.”
Mangio, a 34-year-old entrepreneur and successful agent, taught the attendees how to duplicate her entrepreneurial success and fine-tune niche sales through concrete strategies and steps.
“If you have 100 other people saying you are luxury travel advisor, well, there are 100 other people saying the same thing, so how are you different, how do you stand out?,” Mangio asked the attendees.
“If you are a niche specialist, (clients) will perceive you as an expert,” added Mangio.
Mangio says, in order to sell niche markets, an agent must be focused on these categories: research, training and certifications, organizations, marketing and public relations, and brand and presence.
“Selling a niche will help you excel and increase your sales,” Mangio says.
Technology is the Present and the Future
|Leah Peterson, vice president of client development for Response Mine Interactive, presents at the inaugural Young Leaders Conference at Luxury Travel Expo in Las Vegas|
The next session was “Stay on the Edge: Keeping Your Foot on the Technology Accelerator” with Leah Peterson, vice president of client development for Response Mine Interactive.
Peterson focused on how clients will communicate with your agency in the future, how they and will they plan their vacation, and how all of us will conduct our personal and professional business via futuristic hardware, software and social networking options.
A Word From the Experts
The inaugural conference concluded with a panel discussion, titled “Best Practices from the Pros – Our Skilled Experts Tell All” featuring Jack E. Mannix, of Jack E. Mannix & Associates along with Nancy Strong, CEO of Strong Travel Services and Kathryn W. Sudeikis, vice president of corporate relations for All About Travel.
|Jack E. Mannix, of Jack E. Mannix & Associates, along with Kathryn W. Sudeikis, vice president of corporate relations for All About Travel and Nancy Strong, CEO of Strong Travel Services present at the Young Leaders Conference|
Here are some notable quotes from that discussion:
“This is a business, ladies and gentlemen, be a great business person who happens to sell travel,” says Mannix. “If you don’t have the passion for what you do, I promise you that customer is going to feel that passion or the lack thereof. This is a dream come true for most of them. If it doesn’t feel like a dream come true in their eyes, you won't have the selling effectiveness.”
“Its amazing how first hand knowledge for your first hand agents makes such a difference,” Strong says. “You don’t know your customer, but you can work on it.”
“Everyone I get to speak to one on one today just makes me really delighted about the industry,” Sudeikis says. "Go to industry events like this and seekk out (industry representatives). I think they will be flattered so share advice."
“ If you want the best tip I can give you, it is develop a relationship with your supplier," says Strong. "You’ve been told to develop relationships with your clients. It is equally as important to develop a relationship with your supplier cause he is in charge of your client after they are on their vacation.”
|Jose Barreiro, group director of sales for The Travel + Hospitality Group, wraps up the Young Leaders Conference|
That’s All Folks
The Conference concluded with Barreiro conducting a brief wrap-up session, offering resources to help put the attendees’ newfound knowledge into practice.
“The energy throughout the day was exciting and innovative,” says Barreiro. “It was so wonderful to see some of the travel industry’s brightest young professionals interacting with longstanding industry icons. It made all of us hopeful about the future of the travel agent.”