Thursday,  May 26, 2022  4:22 am

“We can do great things”: TTAND’s 2022 conference at sea wraps up with wisdom & awards

“We can do great things”: TTAND’s 2022 conference at sea wraps up with wisdom & awards
The Travel Agent Next Door's 2022 conference, “Sttanding Stronger Together,” wrapped up this past weekend. (Pax Global Media)
Michael Pihach

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.

“We can do hard things,” said Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe, this year’s keynote speaker for The Travel Agent Next Door’s (TTAND) 2022 conference, “Sttanding Stronger Together,” which took place on board Harmony of the Seas from April 24 to May 1.

Sharing ways to foster resiliency within ourselves, and others, Dr. Hanley-Dafoe, addressing some 200 travel advisors and 50 others representing 35 suppliers on TTAND’s final day of sessions on April 29, didn’t stop at encouraging attendees to simply pursue hard things.

“We can also do great things,” the doctor added, sharing her strategies for bouncing back from a crisis (like the COVID-19 pandemic).

“We can recreate our future in any single way we want to,” Dr. Hanley-Dafoe said. “Reframe, reprioritize…we can make what matters most, matter most. It’s not too late.”

Dr. Robyne Hanley-Dafoe addresses travel advisors at TTAND's 2022 conference on board Harmony of the Seas. (Pax Global Media)

The “bumps and bruises” travel agents have endured over the past 26 months while navigating the pandemic is something that “none of you signed up for,” Dr. Hanley-Dafoe, an expert in personal wellness and stress management, explained.

“Yet you responded,” she said, thanking all the travel agents in the room for their work – a service that’s “so important to so many people.”

Fostering relationships

To say that Dr. Hanley-Dafoe’s speech resonated with delegates at TTAND’s 2022 conference would be an understatement.

Equipped with a renewed sense of preparedness for regulating emotions, finding joy, and moving business forward, TTAND agents, after a week of workshops, supplier presentations, one-on-ones and awards, disembarked Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-Class ship on Sunday (May 1), ready to take on the world.

The fun and informative conference at sea, which included stops in St. Maarten, St. Thomas and “Perfect Day CocoCay” in the Bahamas, focused on making connections and leveraging peer support for the purpose of pivoting in an ever-changing world.

READ MORE: Agents, suppliers get in shipshape at TTAND’s 2022 conference at sea

“We’re trying to foster relationships,” as Flemming Friisdahl, founder of TTAND, told PAX, which covered the week-long event on location.

“The idea of the conference is to get agents together with suppliers. And to build and grow that relationship.”

“We’re trying to foster relationships,” as Flemming Friisdahl, founder of TTAND. (Pax Global Media)

There are things that in-person gatherings provide travel advisors that virtual Zoom calls don’t, such as opportunities to meet suppliers, on the fly, to ask questions, meet TTAND’s support team and, of course, connect with other agents.

After two years of dealing with pandemic-related challenges, “It gives people comfort seeing what others are doing,” Friisdahl said.

An open-mic brainstorming session, called “Agent Think Tank,” held last Tuesday, was dedicated to just that as agents shared professional tips for tackling professional obstacles, such as how to overcome customer hesitancy regarding COVID.

(Click here to read PAX’s recap of that session).

Terry Hawkins was one of many travel advisors to participate in this year's Agent Think Tank. (Pax Global Media)

There were motivational moments at the conference, too. 

READ MORE: Agent secrets revealed at TTAND’s open-mic “Think Tank” at sea

The week featured not one, but two personalized video pep talks from young Peterborough, ON-based Callan Perks, a.k.a. “Coach Cal” (of viral video and Ellen DeGeneres fame), who passionately urged TTAND agents to “Get The W.”

And returning this year was charismatic workplace trainer and CEO of BizXcel Gary Gzik, whose workshop, “Rising of the Phoenix: Coming Back Stronger Than Ever,” forced attendees to really think about ways to break old habits, and work together, to gain a competitive advantage.

Workplace trainer and CEO of BizXcel Gary Gzik returned to TTAND's conference this year. (Pax Global Media)

“A lot has changed since November”

With Canada’s easing of pre-arrival testing for fully vaccinated travellers, TTAND’s 2022 conference – sponsored by Royal Caribbean and TravelBrands – unfolded at a critical time as the world resumes travelling and travel advisors become busy again.

The “tone,” compared to last November’s conference at Moon Palace Jamaica – which, notably, happened during a small window of time between the Delta and Omicron waves – was different this time around, as travel advisor Judith Coates pointed out.

Travel advisor Judith Coates on board Harmony of the Seas. (Pax Global Media)

“A lot has changed since November because people are starting to make money,” Coates told PAX. “They’re starting to see revenues come in and they’re feeling more optimistic. That’s fuelling the fire.”

“Sttanding Stronger Together” marked Coates’ third TTAND conference.

“The more conferences I attend, the more suppliers I meet. And I’ve been richer for it,” she said.

A look inside Royal Caribbean's Harmony of the Seas. (Pax Global Media)

“We are better together”

TTAND announced several awards at a ceremony it holds at conferences every year to recognize achievements.

This year, Coates, who doubles as co-founder of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), a grassroots group she leads alongside travel pros Nancy Wilson and Brenda Slater, received TTAND’s annual Peer-to-Peer and Extraordinary Agent Awards.

“We are better together, we are stronger together,” Coates told attendees at last Friday’s sunset-soaked ceremony on Harmony’s outdoor Deck 15. “We can do hard things, we can do great things. We are not done yet.”

TTAND advisors attend session at TTAND's 2022 conference. (Pax Global Media)

There’s a scent of teamwork in the air at TTAND’s symposiums – new this year was a “buddy program” that paired new agents with experienced agents, or “mentors,” to help them navigate the week.

“We had more agents saying they wanted to help other agents than we had new agents requesting support,” Friisdahl noted.

There’s also something to be said about creating an environment for travel pros only.

TravelBrands and Collette were among the many companies represented at TTAND's 2022 conference.

Friisdahl, with more than two decades of conference-planning experience, says his conference is the largest one for Canadian independent travel advisors, held outside of Canada, because spouses aren’t allowed to attend (unless they form a team).

This ensures agents maximize their time with suppliers, whether it be at sessions, dinners or on leisure days, Friisdahl said, adding that every supplier who attends gets a time slot to present.

“How you sell more is by meeting with suppliers and getting to know their tips and tricks,” Friisdahl explained.

Flemming Friisdahl, founder of TTAND (centre) meets with travel advisors on board Harmony of the Seas. (Pax Global Media)

Like “rediscovering a new toy”

Ray and Sandra Swash of Vacation Travel Group praised the timing of the conference because “now is the time to travel,” as Sandra said.

“Everyone has this pent-up way of wanting to get out there…business is booming. We’re bringing on a lot of new [clients] and we’re all travelling together. Travel is back.”

Ray said the week’s lessons were like “rediscovering a new toy.”

Ray and Sandra Swash of Vacation Travel Group. (Pax Global Media)

“[Travel] is an old toy that needs to be rediscovered,” he explained. “The way the world has changed has opened up new and different opportunities. Travel is still travel, but people are thinking about it differently. They want to be away with family or rediscover what they’ve lost over the last two years.

“So, there’s a type of freshness and newness…like a new toy.”

Amy Davoli of Travitude Travel Group began the conference with an action plan for her business, but it wasn’t until she soaked up several presentations that she had the tools she needed to move forward.

“The conference has been amazing,” Davoli told PAX during a site inspection of the new Secrets St. Martin Resort & Spa, which some agents, with the help of Air Canada Vacations and AMResorts, visited last Wednesday while at port. (More on that later).

Stewart Travel Group’s Frances Gertsch, attending conference for the fourth time, appreciated how suppliers, this year, focused on agent support (in addition to tactical sales tips).

From left: Amy Davoli of Travitude Travel Group; Frances Gertsch of Stewart Travel Group. (Pax Global Media)

“The opportunity to have a small-group lunch with suppliers allowed us to ask questions in an intimate setting,” said Gertsch.

Gertsch also enjoyed the Think Tank and hearing coach Geraldine Ree speak on ways to grow business ten times bigger in half the time (“Her energy is contagious,” Gertsch said).

Getting the latest insights from Lindsay Pearlman, senior vice-president – international leisure, at Travel Leaders Network (TLN), who also spoke, was another highlight for Gertsch.

“Of course, it goes without saying that the opportunity to be on board and experience Harmony of the Seas, [Royal Caribbean’s Oasis-Class ship that debuted in 2016], has been a real privilege,” Gertsch told PAX.

Harmony of the Seas docked in St. Thomas. (Pax Global Media)

Team TTAND-TLN 

Speaking of TLN, it has been six months since TTAND joined the consortium in November 2021 – a combo that has unlocked an exclusive cruise program (some 96,000 staterooms, at special rates), an extensive hotel program (TL Network has the most Four Seasons out of any organization) and valuable marketing materials, like magazines, for TTAND advisors.

While conversations about TTAND joining TLN were happening before COVID hit, it was, Friisdahl said, the right direction for his company.  

“I am a huge believer in that one plus one plus one can equal five,” Friisdahl said. “One is The Travel Agent Next Door, two is our travel agent partners, and three is TLN. And I think when we all work together with a common goal of selling more travel, that that will equal five.”

TTAND is ultimately trying to push advisors to “be better at what they’re already good at,” Friisdahl said, noting that agents can decide on what they want to utilize from TLN.

From left: Flemming Friisdahl, founder of TTAND; Lindsay Pearlman, senior vice-president – international leisure, TLN. (Pax Global Media)

Friisdahl and Pearlman both agree their collaboration is built around helping agents succeed by offering more dedicated support.

“The whole idea is that TLN knows what we can do and are good at doing. The Travel Agent Next Door knows what they're good at doing. The more we learn how each other works, the more it's about how do we integrate seamlessly what each other needs,” Pearlman said.

“We want to integrate what we have, but only in the product lines they need. There is a lot of things that we do that don’t make sense for [TTAND’s] business model. So, we evolve it…and we continue to evolve and have conversations on a regular basis.”

Pencils For Kids & plans for 2023

As for takeaways, Friisdahl’s hope is that agents, after a week of connecting, know that they’re not alone in this game.

“We are together in this and together we will come through this,” he said. “That’s the number one thing.”

The team at The Travel Agent Next Door kicked off their 2022 conference, “STTANDING Stronger Together,” on board Harmony of the Seas on Sunday (April 24). (Pax Global Media)

Fundraising efforts for TTAND’s charity of choice, Pencils For Kids, which provides classroom supplies to communities in Niger, West Africa, also played out this year.

A total of $45,000 dollars was raised, which is enough to build two new schools.

The TTAND team also announced the venue for next year’s conference: Majestic Elegance Costa Mujeres in north Cancun, in partnership with Air Canada, will host agents in 2023 from April 18 to 25.

Visit PAXNews.com's Facebook page to see more pictures from the week!

Which TTAND agents won awards at this year’s conference? See the list here! 

Supplier Awards

5Continents – Garth Layden

Air Canada Vacations – Ruth Guiry

AmaWaterways – Shelley Cota

Bedsonline – Lorie Smith

Collette – Judi Oracheski & Judith Coates

G Adventures – Ola Ulewicz

Globus family of brands – Silvia Fuchs

Goway – Cindy Almond

Hurtigruten – Carol Baldwin

Insight Vacations – Colette Trabucco

Norwegain Cruise Line – Lee Ann Jensen

Oceania Cruises – Christine McFarlane

Regent Seven Seas Cruises – Garth Layden

Tourcan Vacations – Kim Lake

TravelBrands – Maria Garcia

Viking – Ruth Ruddy, Sandra McLeod, Linda Chan

Princess Cruises – Vivica Watson

Royal Caribbean International – Betty Brohman, Jackie Weinkam, Karen Davidson

Royal Irish Tours – Camille Wilson

TTAND Awards

Highest Insurance Close Ratio

  • Carolyn MacMillan (Primary agent)
  • Jennifer Jones (Silver/Gold agent)
  • Stewart Travel Group (Agency)
  • Brenda Ostlund (Associate Agent)

Highest Insurance Sales

  • Wendi Gladstone (Primary agent)
  • Jennifer Jones (Silver/Gold agent)
  • Stewart Travel Group (Agency)
  • Adrienne Sarabando (Associate)

Highest Average Rate of Commission

  • Danny Hoag (Primary agent)
  • Jennifer Jones (Silver/Gold agent)
  • Iain Perkins (Agency)
  • Liana Rowan (Associate agent)

Highest Earned Commission Award

  • Danny Hoag (Primary agent)
  • Larissa Bureau (Silver/Gold agent)
  • Stewart Travel Group (Agency)
  • Tracy Luff (Associate agent)

Top Preferred and Approved Sales

  • James Li (Primary agent)
  • Jennifer Jones (Silver/Gold agent)
  • Garth Layden (Agency)
  • Kerry Berlinquette (Associate)

Ambassador Star Award – Christine Winchester

Peet-to-Peer Star and Extraordinary Agent Awards – Judith Coates

Millionaires-Level Agents

  • Shelley Cota
  • Cindy Almond
  • Coralie Belman
  • Cynthia Davidson
  • Brenda Goodsell

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