The planning got me thinking – are such conferences just a jolly, or are they justifiable? It’s a question that’s especially relevant this year – a particularly demanding one for the industry. We’ll feel the effects of new government legislation and a heavy strain on budgets.
Some of our members skip attending the conference every year. They feel the whole event is just a jolly – an excuse for four days of drinking. They think their time
could be better spent growing and improving their business. Some conferences require payment to attend too, which for agents can be off-putting when they are used to travelling on fam trips for free. And while there are conferences out there where operators pay for agents to attend, why invest money yourself?
At Aito, we find that approximately half of our members attend our conference every year, no matter where it is and no matter which speakers sign up. The rest are split between those who sometimes attend, depending on the destination, and those who feel it is a waste of time (see “jolly” above).
So what are the main reasons for our conference’s loyal followers to attend?
1. A drink in good company helps with creative thinking, and it’s true that the Aito conference bar is usually busy late at night. Most major travel concerns are assuaged by a glass or two. But there’s more to a successful Aito conference than a drink.
2. Getting out of the office into a different environment is invigorating. Being in the company of like-minded people, with the same concerns, eases the pain of day-to-day issues. Networking has thrown many Aito delegates a lifeline, helping them solve problems already tackled by others.
3. Travel business owners – operators or agents – are like-minded people and the line between principals and agents is becoming increasingly blurred with the advent of the Package Travel Regulation changes.
4. There’s a lot to learn at a good conference. At Aito conferences, we don’t just sit and listen. We participate in panel discussions and breakout sessions, and technology allows delegates to feed questions and comments direct to the moderator – they are truly interactive events.
5. Sometimes, as in Jordan in 2016, our conference destination is iconic, but mostly we head for lesser-known places, such as our best-ever-attended conference in Evora, in the Alentejo region of Portugal. A relatively little-known destination adds the spice of the unknown. Our evening events feature museums, art galleries and ancient palaces, which all add a sense of local culture to the event.
And 2018’s destination? It might be an iconic one, or it might be a little-known gem. We’ll announce it soon...!
Derek Moore is chairman of Aito