Tourism officials say travel agents still key in vacation planning
Despite consumers’ increasing use of the Internet as a go-to source for information, when it comes to planning and booking a vacation, travel agents remain a key part of the equation today, tourism officials say.
As such, building and maintaining relationships with the travel agents is vital.
Representatives of the Greater?Fort Lauderdale?Convention & Visitors Bureau were doing just that this week as they hosted a special gathering of top-producing travel agents at the Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa in Hollywood.
“Travel agents continue to be a big force for us,” said Josh Winston, the CVB’s director of domestic sales Thursday before showing a slide show highlighting key selling points of the Greater Fort Lauderdale area to a group of travel agents.
In the 2012 budget year, Greater Fort Lauderdale welcomed 12 million visitors, and this year, officials have predicted numbers to reach 13 million.
“For us it’s really good to have them here, as many book pre- and post-cruise stays, which in Greater Fort Lauderdale have a big economic impact,” because of the vibrant cruise industry, Winston added.
More than 100 travel agents and roughly 150 industry suppliers and partners are participating in the Travel Weekly event Global Travel Marketplace (GTM), which kicked off Wednesday and runs through Friday.
“These agents represent more than $300 million in travel industry sales,” said Alicia Evanko, vice president for events for Travel Weekly, a business-to-business industry publication. “They’re selling all segments of travel and have diverse clientele from millionaires to average-income people.”
During the three-day event, travel agents will meet one-on-one with key travel suppliers in six-minute “speed-dating” sessions and also attend destination presentations.
In recent years the CVB has noticed a resurgence in the importance of travel agents as more consumers are again relying on their expertise when planning vacations, Winston said.
With that in mind, the tourism bureau actively seeks avenues to engage agents as partners in its efforts to promote the destination and boost visitor arrivals, he noted.
Those engagement tools include events like GTM as well as hosting educational seminars with large travel agent groups and associations such as the American Society of Travel Agents, National Association of Career Travel Agents and others.
Travel agents who are visiting the area are also given VIP cards that give them complimentary access to a variety of local attractions to get first-hand knowledge of what the destination has to offer.
The CVB will also host travel agents on familiarization trips of Greater Fort Lauderdale, and in turn conduct sales missions in key markets with industry partners such as airlines, cruise lines and large travel companies to give updates on destination happenings.
Many of the travel agents gathered Thursday said the opportunity to network with the Greater Fort Lauderdale CVB and other suppliers was invaluable.
“It’s a great benefit to us to speak to the local tourism bureau and be able to strengthen our relationship,” said Debbie Hicks, a Travel One agent from Bedford, Ind., who sends a lot of customers to Fort Lauderdale for beach vacations and on cruises. “It helps us to do our job better.”
“The more I know, the more I can make my customers’ [travel] experience better,” said Susan Tanzman, president of Los Angeles-based Martin’s Travel.