Vacation.com's Annual Conference Kicks Off Aboard Quantum of the Seas
PHOTO: John Lovell, President of Vacation.com (photo courtesy of Vacation.com)
In what is believed to be the largest-ever travel industry event at sea, Vacation.com drew 1,250 attendees to its 17th annual International Trade Show & Conference, now underway aboard aboard Royal Caribbean International’s Quantum of the Seas on an eight-day Bahamas itinerary from Cape Liberty in Bayonne, N.J.
Unquestionably, the topic garnering the most buzz during the conference’s kickoff was the news that an enhanced version of the Vacation.com consumer Web site just went live, with nearly 900 Agent Snapshot profiles.
Agent Snapshot, an online referral tool, serves as the centerpiece of the revamped site, featuring individual profiles of Vacation.com agents, including their photos, backgrounds, destinations, specialties, preferred supplier partners, geographical locations, and contact information.
“This is a big moment for us,” said John Lovell, CTC, president of Vacation.com. “The asset that we’re going to grow is our greatest asset, and that’s our members.”
To date, Vacation.com said close to 4,000 agents, including the approximately 900 whose profiles are already live on the site, have signed on to participate in Agent Snapshot.
“That’s a great start. But we have a long way to go,” said Lovell. We’re 31,000 agents strong,”
In Lovell’s view, Agent Snapshot will help solve what he contends is one of the biggest challenges that today’s leisure distribution channel faces: connecting the online consumer with an offline expert. “All the studies that have recently been published in the last nine to 12 months have talked about the renaissance of the travel distribution channel,” he said. “The consumer is looking for somebody that can really give them that professional guidance that they need and want — but there’s very few people that are connecting those two.”
An important element of Snapshot is a ratings and review feature providing consumers with the ability to evaluate an agent’s performance. “Seventy percent of online consumers will not buy the product unless there is a consumer testimonial or review online — and in this case the product is you,” said Tiffany Glass, chief operating officer of Travel Leaders Leisure Group and Vacation.com, during the general session.
In particular, reviews are critically important to the increasingly lucrative Millennial market, noted Lovell. “They really buy based on reviews,” he said.
During the conference, agents are being encouraged to participate in Agent Snapshot training sessions. To date, Glass said a team of writers hired by Vacation.com has created 600 member agent bios, with staff photographers attending an array of regional events to provide them with professional headshots.
In other developments, Vacation.com announced a new guarantee for Distinctive Voyages, its hosted group program. When agents fall short of filling the cabin quotas for groups, and are unable to obtain the tour conductor (TC) stateroom, Vacation.com’s preferred cruise will nonetheless host a cocktail party and exclusive shore excursion. “It’s important that when we make you a promise we keep it, and it’s equally important when you make a promise to your customer you keep it,” said Stephen McGillivray, chief marketing officer of Travel Leaders Group. “And the promise is Distinctive Voyages hosts cocktail parties and exclusive excursions.”
Cruise lines offering the guarantee include Cunard, Azamara, Silversea, Celebrity, Seabourn, Holland America, Crystal, and Regent Seven Seas. “Starting May 1 this is a guarantee,” he said. “So if we don’t have a host on they’re going to help us distribute packets, help organize cocktails parties, and help get your clients on the bus for exclusive shore excursions.”
To help agents further capitalize on the booming honeymoon and destination market, Vacation.com will debut Destination Bliss, an annual guide on the subject in November. Agents will be able to distribute it to individual clients and at honeymoon and destination wedding shows.
Throughout the remainder of the week, the conference, whose theme is "Think Bigger," will feature an array of panels, general sessions, networking opportunities, training sessions, and a trade show, as well as a welcome by Michael Bayley, Royal Caribbean International’s president and CEO.
More by Claudette Covey
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