A Small But Mighty NACTA
By Mimi Kmet
September 10, 2012 11:45 PM
At the National Association of Career Travel Agents (NACTA) meeting in Los Angeles last Thursday, Ann Van Leeuwen, NACTA’s vice president, praised her organization as being “small but mighty.” NACTA claims about 1,800 travel agent members, about 100 of whom were in attendance at last week’s meeting.
Nevertheless, it was an enthusiastic group and one that appeared eager to learn. It also truly a community – something that Van Leeuwen told me is a major benefit from NACTA membership. “They want to be connected, because they are independents,” she said, noting that a little less than half of NACTA’s agent members are not affiliated with a host agency. Van Leeuwen also noted their yearning for learning: “They want to be knowledgeable, and we want to provide the right products for their clients,” she told me. “They are very eager to learn.”
NACTA filled that bill last week, bringing in top agents and other experts in marketing, branding and selling travel at the day-long meeting, which took place the day before ASTA’s Travel Retailing & Destination Expo began. Among the speakers were Ryan McGredy, who turned a flailing agency in Northern California into the thriving Moraga Travel through smart branding, and delivered a presentation called “You Are Your Brand.”
Toni Lanotte-Day, a travel consultant at Toni Tours in the greater New York City area, shared her secrets of success in the presentation “Top Tips for Being Successful in Travel.” Scott Koepf, a former NACTA executive who is now with mega-host agency Avoya Travel/American Express, gave a musical presentation (literally) on “Selling: Learn the Skills and Reach Your Goals.” Koepf used the musical “The Music Man,” complete with his interpretations of the play’s songs, to show attendees how to woo prospects and make their clients “fall in love” with them.
Even suppliers who presented at the meeting saw how valuable it was to connect with NACTA members. In fact, one company, ABC Global Services, a supplier of services and solutions for travel agents and hotels, used the meeting to launch its new hotel booking engine, ezBook. Attendees were among the first to hear about the new tool, before ABC presented it at the ASTA expo the next day.
Meanwhile, NACTA is moving forward, expanding its horizons with new preferred suppliers. The most recent are Classic Custom Vacations and Crystal Cruises. NACTA also is bringing on more land suppliers and luxury vendors to round out its supplier portfolio, according to Van Leeuwen. Historically, the group’s partner portfolio consisted mostly of cruise products. “I need to source new suppliers to come into NACTA,” Van Leeuwen told me. “Members are selling luxury cruises now. NCFs are an issue, and members want to make money selling the product.”
In addition, and in a truly grassroots move, NACTA, which has 42 chapter directors, is working on developing its regions (which now number seven, including Canada). Next year it will offer regional workshops, where ASTA and NACTA members can come together to meet and learn. Leeuwen says there will be four regional meetings and more details are forthcoming.
As I mentioned before, the agents in attendance were enthusiastic. They were also personable. In fact, they represented what I have found, when I’m interviewing agents for articles, to be a major asset in selling travel: the ability to build relationships. These agents knew each other and the supplier representatives on a first-name basis. Some of them got to know me in the one day I was with them.
There’s no doubt that they bring their relationship-building skills to the table when working with clients. And that’s what makes them successful at what they do by developing a loyal bond with their clients, who return again and again to consult with -- and subsequently book – their vacations with them. Or, as Scott Koepf so appropriately sang, “There were agents all around, but I never heard them singing; no I never heard them all ‘til there was you!”
Mimi Kmet is executive editor covering travel agents and the Western U.S. for TravelPulse.com.