Last updated: 06:57 PM ET, Thu October 01 2015

Keynote Panel Sets Inspirational Tone for Second Day of Travel Summit

Travel Agent | Tim Wood | October 01, 2015

Keynote Panel Sets Inspirational Tone for Second Day of Travel Summit

Photo by Eugene Kang

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Day No. 2 of the Agent@Home Travel Summit began with a chance for four of the event’s premier companies in the spotlight as part of a keynote panel.

The panel, moderated by travAlliancemedia founder and CEO Mark Murphy, included Avoya Travel vice president of sales Scott Koepf, Exclusive Group Travel president and CEO Steve Gorga, Royal Caribbean International director of trade sales and national training Laurie Bohn and Intrepid Group vice president of sales Ron Fenska.

Koepf led off by telling the audience about Avoya’s 50-year-old history and its beginnings as a tour operator in Hawaii and a brick-and-mortar office in San Diego. Still family-owned and operated, Avoya was one of the earliest adopters in understanding the value of the Internet.

In 15 years, Avoya has grown into one of the largest online agencies in the world.

“We are a pure host agency. Our 150 employees don’t sell travel, they are solely focused on making our family of agents more visible and successful,” Koepf said. “We are the connector. We connect the consumer to you. Marketing is the No. 1 concern and frustration for agents, and we make sure potential clients know how to find you.”

Koepf touted Avoya’s industry-leading dedication to support, with 17 support staff for every 100 agents. The next closest competitor has four staff for every 100.

“We are singularly focused on helping your network grow,” Koepf said, pointing to the company’s proprietary Live Leads program as just one example of Avoya’s commitment to excellence.

Next up, Bohn took the stage to give the crowd a preview of the exciting changes coming to Royal Caribbean, a miniature version of her workshop session Tuesday.

Bohn focused on the May 2016 arrival of the newest member of the fleet, Harmony of the Seas. The list of innovations the massive ship will bring to the market is extensive, with the line’s first waterpark, the introduction of the luxury experience Royal Suite class and the top-secret Ultimate Abyss ride, where cruisers will take a slide ride dropping from Deck 16 to Deck 6.

“We are so proud and so excited to share our latest innovations with y’all and can’t wait to set sail on this brand new chapter of our journey,” Bohn said.

Bohn also spotlighted the upcoming Voom internet expansion that will allow passengers to stream TV shows and movies with ease, a gigantic step forward for the industry. Voom will be available on Anthem of the Seas and Harmony of the Seas to start, with more ships added over time.

Finally, she explained the cruise line’s Autism Friendly certification, providing services tailored to families with special needs kids. Royal Caribbean is the first cruise line to receive the certification, which is designed to make the vacation obstacle-free with priority check-in, special dietary offerings and tailored policies for the kids’ inclusion in the Adventure Ocean program.

“So many families bravely fight autism and we are proud to offer our help in creating a normal and memorable vacation,” she said.

Next up, Gorga went through the evolution of his fully inclusive travel planning available exclusively to travel agents.

The former Travel Impressions leader said the growth of EGT has been rapid, with 100,000 bookings in just six months. EGT is expanding their support and sales staff to keep up with the demand.

“We are building the most amazing itineraries and adventures for our clients and are partnering with suppliers that are dedicated to first-class attention to the customer,” Gorga said. The company is focused on Mexico and the Caribbean for now, with more destinations to come as EGT builds out the product to match their tropical getaways.

“I love travel, I love working with you all and we can’t wait to partner with you to create lifelong memories for your clients,” he said.

Fenska then took center stage to educate the audience on the Intrepid Group, a 30-year-old company largely centered in Australia that is making a big push in the U.S.

“Adventure is something inside of you,” Fenska said. “It’s defined by an eagerness to find something unique in every community.”

Fenska laid out the four different brands under in its U.S. portfolio — Geckos Adventures, Intrepid, Peregrine and Intrepid Urban Adventures.

Peregrine and Intrepid offer trips for all ages, while Geckos Adventures focuses on the 18-39 traveler. They all share the same principles – average trips of eight to 12 people, local restaurants and guides and no chain hotels.

Fenska described Urban Adventures as the “coolest thing you’ll ever do” and a gateway drug to touring a city. The three- to four-hour tours show sides of the city even locals would never find or know.

“The concept is simple. We get absorbed in our destinations, we get under the skin of a community for a truly unique tour,” he said.

The panel ended with the experts answering questions and offering advice on where to start as a new agent.

“What is your strategy? Why did you get into it? What do you want to get out of it?” Gorda said. “Once you get there, the plan makes itself. You have to be comfortable. If you don’t like cold weather, don’t sell Antarctica.”

“Follow your passion,” Bohn added. “If it’s a destination or a style of travel, go for it. Be all in.”

Murphy then jumped in with advice of his own.

“Have stories. What drives you, how you see the world. Inspire your clients,” Murphy said. 


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