Last updated: 04:37 PM ET, Fri September 30 2016

Delta Vacations Pulls Off First Educational Conference in Atlanta

Tour Operator | Delta Vacations | David Cogswell | September 19, 2016

Delta Vacations Pulls Off First Educational Conference in Atlanta

Photo courtesy of Delta Vacations

The 23rd MLT University was also the first Delta Vacations University. After holding 22 annual travel agent education events in Minnesota, MLT Vacations/Delta Vacations has given the series a new name and a new location.

Delta Vacations U was staged at the Georgia International Convention Center adjacent to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. The conference hotel was the Marriott Gateway hotel, which is next to the conference center, and one stop away from the airport on the ATL skyway, a flashy, free monorail.  

Moving the event from Minnesota to Georgia brought it closer to the corporate headquarters of the company’s parent, Delta Air Lines, which is also in Atlanta next to the airport.

John Caldwell, president of Delta Vacations, said holding the event in a new location helped to make it more convenient for east coast travel agents to attend.  

“When we talked about moving, the U asked our advisory board about what they liked and didn’t like and if there was anything they thought we need to change,” said Caldwell.

Some agents suggested trying the event in a new location.

Photo by David Cogswell [/Imagecaption]

“A lot of the folks on the east coast, they don’t want to go that far,” said Caldwell. “Or maybe they don’t want to go to the Midwest for a show or something like that. It was hard to pick out exactly what it was, but there was a theme there. We said, ‘What about Atlanta?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, we’ll go to Atlanta.’”

By moving the event to the east coast, the company gained attendees from the east coast, especially in the Southeast quadrant, where it received a lot of drive-in traffic. Attendance was slightly down from the Midwest, but the slightly reduced attendance to the educational event does not mean a reduction in business from MLT/Delta Vacations’ loyal Midwest following.

“For many of the agents it is an every-other-year event,” said Caldwell. “I expect that many of those who didn’t attend this year will be back next year.”

Photo by David Cogswell [/Imagecaption]

Twenty-Three and Counting

Though it has a new name, Delta Vacations U has a long history.

MLT Vacations started its annual travel agent education conferences in the early 1990s in Minnesota, where the tour operator had its origins as in 1969 as a travel agency called Main Line Travel.

The travel agency became a wholesaler and was so successful that it was acquired in 1985 by Northwest Airlines and became the vacation packaging unit of the airline. When Delta acquired Northwest in 2008, MLT became the vacation packaging operation of Delta.

Delta continued operating the MLTU in Minnesota for a couple of years, then decided to try to move it to Atlanta, near the Delta headquarters.

“We moved it to Atlanta to be next to Delta, our parent company,” Caldwell told agents at the opening session. “So here we are at the world’s busiest airport. This is really the heart and soul of Delta.”

The slogan of the event this year is “Traveling Forward Together.”

At the opening session, 1,035 people were present. By a show of hands, the audience members indicated if they were first timers and Caldwell said, “Wow! They told me first timers were 50 percent this year. It looks more like 80 in this room.”

Delta Vacations University attracted 2,000 attendees over its two days of operation. Also participating in the event were 187 of Delta Vacations’ supplier partners, including hotels, destinations, car rentals and partners airlines.

The event was cut from three days to two, based on feedback from previous attendees. The curriculum included 65 classes, 22 of which are new for 2016.

The year 2016 is a record year for Delta Vacations University in both revenue and profit, Caldwell said, and 2017 is getting off to a “great start.”

The company took on 400 new hotels this year and signed a landmark deal with Virtuoso, as a response to requests from travel agents. 

Delta Vacations University will be held again in Atlanta next year, after which, the company may try moving it to different locations.



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