“We have to get back to travelling,” said Flemming Friisdahl, founder of The Travel Agent Next Door (TTAND), “and the best thing we can do is get agents on a plane.”
Just over a week after Canada lifted its non-essential travel advisory for fully vaccinated Canadians (while leaving its Level 4 warning against cruises in place), 165 travel advisors are heading to Jamaica this weekend for TTAND’s 2021 conference.
The jam-packed, week-long event from Oct. 30 to Nov. 6 is unfolding at the all-inclusive Moon Palace Jamaica in Ocho Rios and PAX will be there, on location, to report on all the action.
“The conference will be a big booster for so many of our partners,” Friisdahl said, speaking to PAX over Zoom earlier this week.
TTAND’s 2021 conference picks up where things left off in April 2020, which is when the week at Moon Palace Jamaica was originally supposed to happen but was, understandably, postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.
This year’s theme is “Agent ExtraordinIRIE: Actions & Tactics,” a name (created by TTAND’s Director of Marketing and Communications Shean Carmichael) that blends together the words “extraordinary” and “irie,” a Jamaican saying that means everything is alright, fine and feeling good.
It’s a refreshing and upbeat attitude, especially after all that has happened over the past year and a half, but the theme also points to the bright future that lies ahead for travel advisors as business picks up, Friisdahl explained.
“Agents are OK. We’re good. We’re going to be OK,” Friisdahl said. “It’s time to move on, safely, but we have to start smiling more. We have to start feeling good about life again.”
Actions & tactics
The focus at this year’s conference is on what actions and tactics agents can take to ensure they are successful in a new travel landscape and continue to grow their business.
Despite 18 harsh months of navigating ever-changing border restrictions, federal aid programs, refunds and future travel credits, the enthusiasm to move on with life, and business, is high within TTAND’s network, Friisdahl said.
The registration numbers speak for themselves – while this week’s conference is about 50 people less than what 2020’s was expecting, 165 agents is still higher than the 130 who attended TTAND’s conference in 2019.
“They’re so excited to be going,” Friisdahl said, touching on the “vibe” he senses among his partners.
The agenda for the week, which includes some 30 supplier presentations, is largely focused on how advisors can get past the pandemic with innovative marketing plans and creative ways of re-engaging customers.
With Ottawa dropping its non-essential travel ban, “I think the federal government has made some positive steps,” Friisdahl said. “But they should have included cruises so you can get insurance. That’s frustrating.”
On the conference’s first full day – Monday, Nov. 1 – workplace trainer, motivational speaker and CEO of BizXcel Inc. Gary Gzik will be hosting a “Personality Dimensions Workshop.”
To complement Gzik’s presentation, all attendees, in advance, were asked to complete a survey aimed at helping everyone understand different personality temperaments – especially their own.
The 1.5-hour session, which is about helping agents get “in tune” with their customers, is “something we haven’t done before,” Friisdahl said.
But when it comes to business and talking to clients: “It helps a lot when you know your own personality,” he said.
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.
Travel Leaders Network (TLN) has also been allotted a time slot, which is timely given that TTAND recently announced that it will be joining TLN effective Nov. 1 (which is when the first full day of sessions begins).
Friisdahl has previously lauded TLN’s exclusive cruise program, extensive hotel program and marketing materials. Conference attendees will likely learn more about this exciting partnership at TLN’s Tuesday (Nov. 2) presentation.
And, of course, there will be plenty of tête-à-tête opportunities, a pool party and fun dinner dos, too, starting with a dress-up Halloween extravaganza, hosted by WestJet and Palace Resorts, on Sunday, Oct. 31, before the week gets going.
Needless to say, agents and suppliers, that night, will be getting down to boo-siness.
No hugging allowed
But the realities of hosting an in-person conference during a global pandemic remain – even if most attendees are fully vaccinated.
Strict health and safety protocols will be in effect all week, Friisdahl said.
Moon Palace’s guest safety program, called Purely Palace, will be active and visible and TTAND is implementing its own guidelines, too, such as “no hugging” and requests to “keep the dancing to a minimum,” Friisdahl said.
“We want to make sure we’re being very, very careful. We don’t want anyone getting sick. I’m very conscious of that,” he said. “It’s important we get together, but safety is number one.”
“In my heart, I believe it’s safe to travel. If you do it smartly.”
Due to COVID restrictions, TTAND, this year, was unable to organize its traditional “Give Back Day,” which is when attendees spend a day helping out a local community organization.
However, the host agency will still be collecting donations for St. Christopher’s School for the Deaf in Brown's Town, Jamaica. Toys, toiletries, art supplies, board games and children's clothes are among the items being requested.
And, as always, there’s going to be a new theme song to bop to this year (TTAND’s talented Shean Carmichael writes and performs an original tune at every conference).
While Carmichael, unfortunately, won’t be attending conference in person this year, he has confirmed with PAX that he has, in the spirit of Jamaica, composed his first-ever reggae track, which will premiere at next week's sessions.
Bring on the irie vibes!
PAX will be reporting from TTAND’s 2021 Agent ExtraordinIRIE conference in Jamaica all week. Stay tuned for in-depth coverage and photos!
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