Travel conferences can help agents forge new business relationships and develop skills for the workplace
Conferences form a big part of the travel industry, so there is a strong chance that you or a colleague will attend one somewhere down the line.
Going to a conference can help you become a more confident, effective agent, picking up skills around networking, selling and marketing along the way. However, conference tickets and travel can be costly, so businesses must know that they will be getting a decent return on their investment to attend.
We speak with two conference veterans, as well as a travel agency owner, for their tips on how to best prepare for and get the most out of a conference.
Agents should do their research before considering purchasing a conference ticket, says Jeremy Blake, co-owner and executive coach at Reality Training.
“Look at the conference theme, ask for a list of speakers and check whether there will be any sessions beneficial for your business. Will it improve your skill set, bolster your industry knowledge or help develop ties with new suppliers?”
For conference stalwart and Twitter personality Conference Kittie, revision is key. “Do some research to find out about the suppliers you will meet,” she advises. Agents should come armed with at least 12 questions for any speed-dating session. The operators can’t always do the talking.”
Less experienced members of staff shouldn’t shy away from volunteering to attend conferences either, she says. “Don’t be afraid to say that you’re new to the industry and are looking to learn. Operators like seeing new faces and getting the chance to share some wisdom.”
However, managers should ultimately choose a member of the team that will be able to pay attention and retain information, says Blake. “You want someone that will take notes and who is prepared to share what they’ve learned.”
Conference Kittie also recommends agents should prepare for the busy nature of conferences. “My best tip is to get a week’s worth of good sleep prior to the conference and pack caffeine tablets too!”
Blake says agents can employ “coming-soon marketing” during a conference – a technique to let clients know about the new skills they’ve gleaned while also promoting their brand.
“Use social media to share updates at the end of each day to show clients what you have learnt. For example, post five things to consider for first-time cruisers. This will give you authority while encouraging clients to buy a holiday from you.”
According to Conference Kittie, filming a presentation or speed-dating session is an effective way of accurately obtaining information for colleagues to access later. “Suppliers are not averse to appearing on camera,” she says. “They realise that when you go back to your agency, all their key points will be shared with the wider team.”
Choosing a session that takes agents out of their comfort zone is an effective way to learn new skills, she adds.“If you are already confident with social media, you don’t need to learn more about it, you can always catch up with the speaker later on. If you are out of your comfort zone, you will meet a new group of people and be introduced to product that might not be as hard a sell as you thought.”
She adds conferences can be a great opportunity to invite new suppliers to your agency at a later date. “They will be happy to get involved with a holiday show, afternoon tea or training day – that’s their job. Just ask.”
Agents can reap the benefits of conferences long after they’ve returned home by keeping in touch with contacts they’ve made. “The general rule when following up with someone you’ve met, such as a supplier, is to send them a card or a personalised letter,” advises Blake. “Write to them rather than contacting them digitally – that’s too predictable. After all, you want them to remember you.”
First-time conference attendees should gravitate towards the coffee station to meet like-minded agents and beat nerves, advises Conference Kittie. “Sitting at a table with strangers can be difficult. However, we all have a shared interest in travel. Find a friendly face and talk to them.”
Ian Goodenough, director at the Destination Lounge, reveals his team’s pre- and post-conference practices
Prepare: Before attending a conference, we always do our homework. It’s so important to look at the conference schedule and pre-book the speed-dating appointments that will be most beneficial for our business. We also try and pair a more experienced starter with a younger agent when we can.
Divide and conquer: When we took all our branch managers to this year’s Advantage Conference in Cadiz, our plan of attack was to split up during the day and attend as many sessions as possible. Then in the evenings we’d reconvene and share notes.
Share knowledge: To make sure all our consultants are up to date following conferences, we host several branch manager sessions a year, when we pull a training programme together that contains all the information we’ve gleaned. Afterwards, we share it with the wider team.
Get involved: One of my favourite breakout sessions at the Advantage Conference focused on how businesses could develop a CSR [corporate social responsibility] strategy. I found it so fascinating, I came back inspired to work with more local charities. Now we are in the process of setting up a relationship with dog therapy group Dogs Helping Kids, where we will encourage clients to donate £3 every time they book a holiday.