Attended By: Joanie Ogg, CTC, MCC, Co-Founder- Travel Professional NEWS®
It was truly an honor and an amazing experience to have been able to attend the Avoya Travel 2019 Conference at the Hyatt Regency Miami and then on board the newly revamped Navigator of the Seas, a Voyager Class Ship in the Royal Caribbean Fleet. I was nominated by my company partners to cover this event for Travel Professional NEWS and it was a spectacular experience.
I headed down to beautiful Miami from San Diego and arrived rather late in the evening, so I wanted to rest up and be ready to hit the ground running on Sunday. The first event that I attended was the press briefing with six of us from the trade press in attendance. There was a great deal of news shared by the Avoya Strategic Leadership Team and some heartfelt sentiments and words of wisdom offered by Co-Founders, Brad and Van Anderson. Brad and Van are now officially slowing down in their roles at Avoya and it is a long time earned reward for these two incredible visionaries.
I need to share at this point a bit of history with you our readers as it relates to my relationship with the Avoya family over the 24 years that I have had the pleasure to call them colleagues and friends. Actually, we were once competitors so it makes the story even better! Both the Anderson family and the Ogg family owned retail travel agencies in North San Diego County at the same time. We ventured off to start a home-based travel agent business model at our agency and shortly after that sold it and began writing books on being home-based and then on to owning and operating NACTA. Fast forward a number of years and I had the pleasure of chatting with Brad many times about the home-based agent model and they launched the incredible Avoya Travel Network of Independent Agencies.
It has been a distinct honor and joy to watch the incredible powerhouse program they have built over the years. On the personal side, being part of a family business as Tom, Andy and I are makes seeing the legacy of the Anderson family at Avoya go from generation to generation with amazing success truly a personal joy for me. I really care deeply for and admire their entire family and the phenomenal team of leaders and support staff that they have attracted to the operation. I consider them extended family at this point. Now that I have that history in your mind, let me share the highlights of the 2019 Conference with all of you.
Back to the press briefing we go. The Avoya Strategic Leadership Team. Brad Anderson and Van Anderson are in the picture below. Unfortunately Jeff Anderson, Co-President took ill and was not able to attend that morning so he is not pictured in this photo.
Van and Brad spoke about their new roles in the company and assured us all that they were not going away, just stepping back and letting the next generation take hold and build on the legacy that began with their parents Pal and Pat Anderson more than 50 years ago. With sincere and heartfelt emotion they talked about their wonderful parents who passed just a few short months ago and how proud their parents were of all of the family. I had the pleasure of knowing Pal Anderson and let me just say he was one of the sweetest and smartest men I had the pleasure to know. He had a sparkle in his eye and a smile that was truly special. He and Pat are so missed by those who knew and loved them. Van talked about how the time now is right for he and Brad to be Co-Founders and how they now can continue to watch the company grow under the team that is now in place, just as their parents had watched them grow the business.
Ashley Hunter, SVP of Strategic Operations and Partnerships announced that this is their 12th conference and how exciting this was to have on board the newly re-vamped Navigator of the Seas. Heading the department that puts these events in place she has worked long and hard along with her team to create a spectacular conference for all in attendance. She feels that conferences enable the Avoya Network members to meet face to face with their peers and to collaborate with one another. She also loves to see the Independent Agencies (IA’s) have time with the supplier partners in attendance. Additionally, they get to know many of the Avoya support staff. There will be 50 at this 2019 event! The event will celebrate Avoya’s Record Success and highlight the newly formed Avoya Strategic Leadership Team and all of the new innovations to the Avoya Platform.
We heard from Michael Anderson, Co-President and he spoke about the continuing Avoya 2025 the initiative that began at the 2018 Conference. Mike was very excited to be at the event and have face time with all of the IA’s as he said he is usually back in the office watching over the technology. He talked a bit about Avoya’s 7-year plan with
Steve Hirshan, SVP of Sales loves these events and especially enjoys the feedback given by the IA’s that he can take back to the office and work to implement. Avoya recognizes that cash flow for newer agencies can sometimes be a challenge so Avoya has been working on several ways to help IAs with that situation. The Avoya Mastermind Program continues to be an amazing success as an invaluable coaching program to help the IAs improve business management. Additionally, in 2018 Avoya developed an exclusive partnership with Cruise Lines International Association to provide Independent Agencies a first-of-its-kind professional development and introductory travel education program with top industry support and benefits. The partnership is an educational program designed to help entrepreneurs new to the industry get the foundational knowledge needed to start a travel business. Boasting a 1 in 8 support ratio of Avoya support team to IAs allows the agents 24/7 support.
I had the pleasure of meeting Daniel Rego, VP of Business Intelligence for the first time. He was thrilled to be at the event as he too is typically back at the home office managing the technology. He shared that Avoya had a record year in 2017, and the Avoya Network grew over 20% in 2018. Avoya experienced double digit sales growth in 2018 and publicly reported sales were over $478 Million.
The conference officially kicked off at 3:00pm with the General Session in the Regency Ballroom. As I walked in, I enjoyed the energy in the room with the Avoya team dancing and welcoming all the IA’s to the opening of the conference. The mood of excitement and enthusiasm was simply contagious and the joy permeated the entire room. There was no doubt we were all in for a fantastic event for the next 6 days.
The session began with a very lively and fun take on the Brady Bunch starring the Anderson Family and the Avoya Leadership Team. They were decked out to look the Brady Bunch parts with wigs and all the fixings! The audience loved it and the video they made was hysterical. Brad and Van both shared some personal stories about their lives growing up in a travel family. They shared some history about their parents and the beginnings of their travel career 55 years ago. They boasted that the quality of IAs in the Avoya Network is second to none. He and Van are ready to step into their new roles as Co-Founders and are proudly watching the next generation of Andersons taking their roles as Co-Presidents.
Mike Anderson took the stage and shared a heartwarming and welcoming message to all of the attendees. He also talked about how important the family atmosphere is to the business and how proud he is of that sense of family that spreads throughout the Network. Mike shared more insight into Avoya 2025, which is the company’s aggressive five-phase growth plan that was first unveiled at Avoya’s 2018 conference. New brand updates, technology enhancements, powerful business intelligence sharing, and Network developments, will all be unveiled at this year’s event. Each of these is designed to further improve vacation planning efficiencies and accelerate Independent Agency sales and incomes in 2019 and beyond.
Following Mike’s opening remarks we heard from the other members of the Avoya Executive Team and they shared more detail about those new enhancements and unveiled the new Avoya logo, business card design and more. The audience was excited about the upcoming developments and the presentations made by the team met with tremendous applause and enthusiasm.
The General Session also featured information packed presentations by Dondra Ritzenthaler, Senior Vice President of Sales, Trade Support & Service for Celebrity Cruises as well as Nicki Upshaw, Senior Vice President of Sales for Oceania Cruises. Each presentation was preceded by awards presented to the IA’s who had achieved the highest sales with those cruise lines. The last supplier presentation of the day was made by Adolfo Perez, Senior Vice President of Sales and Trade Marketing for Carnival Cruise Line.
It was 5pm before we all even realized it and the General Session ended on a very high note. There was a First Timer Orientation for those attending their first Avoya Conference and the rest of the attendees had some time to relax and prepare for the evening dinner and entertainment.
Everyone regrouped again at 7 p.m. for the Bon Voyage Sale-Abration which was a lovely seated dinner in the ballroom. The theme for the evening was nautical wear and needless to say some of the attendees went all out and more! Let’s just say the contest winner was someone in a ship costume so that should give you some idea of the enthusiasm that went into many of the costumes. There were mermaids and mermen and more.
For me though, the highlight of the night was the video presentation honoring Pat & Pal Anderson, the founders of the company who had passed just months before. The video featured photos of Brad and Van and their parents on their many trips and life experiences through the years and a video recorded conversation between Pat, Pal, Van and Brad where they talked about the company and their lives together. There were not too many dry eyes in the room, especially not mine. It was truly a gift to have had the opportunity to share in this special salute to Pat and Pal.
The evening continued on with awards recognizing the Best of the Best Independent Agencies and their remarkable sales. As a final surprise to cap of the evening, Celebrity Cruises entertained the audience with a wonderful song and dance routine from one of the ships. Needless to say it was a very full and fantastic day.
Monday, June 3 was day two of the event and there was quite a busy schedule set up for the day. It began with a breakfast and General Session. Ashley Hunter hosted a Luxury Supplier Panel Discussion, which was both enlightening and thought provoking. This session ended with a presentation made by Paula Hayes, Vice President of Sales with Globus Family of Brands that was followed by the annual Make-A-Wish presentation. One young man’s dream will come true as he was given a trip to Italy for he and his family. He was on stage to accept this and his whole family was in the audience rooting him on. Sincere thanks to Avoya and Globus for making this dream come true for him.
The trade-show followed right on the heels of the General Session where the agents were able to spend a couple very productive hours with Avoya’s Preferred Suppliers. It was a very busy trade show and I enjoyed seeing the agents taking time to get to know their key suppliers and gathering information. Avoya announced on day one of the event that they would be opening the Avoya Storefront for the first time at the trade-show where IA’s could do some serious shopping for a variety of Avoya branded items for themselves and their clients. I stopped by to do a little retail therapy but it was packed with agents having a great time picking up really cool clothing items and travel accessories.
After the trade-show the IAs were directed to coaches to take them to the all new Royal Caribbean cruise terminal at the port of Miami for embarkation on the amazing Navigator of the Seas where we would all enjoy the next four fun and information packed days. The check-in and embarkation experience was seamless and took less then 15 min from the entrance to the terminal to my cabin. Kudos to Royal Caribbean for making the experience so easy and enjoyable.
I spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the ship and catching up on some emails. The internet was lightning fast and my cabin was gorgeous. What a lovely way to start the trip in a balcony cabin. The ship is amazing and it would seem almost impossible to be able to see and do all there is available on a 4 night cruise, however it looked like my fellow passengers were planning on giving it their all.
Dinner each evening on the cruise was in the Main Dining Room that is simply gorgeous. We dined with fellow Avoya IA’s and staff and the food and service was spectacular. This was followed by a Sail-away Cocktail Party in the Solarium on Deck 11. Royal Caribbean pulled out all the stops with a beautiful array of deserts and a huge Welcome Avoya Cake presented by Vicki Freed. Drinks, delicious food and great conversation was enjoyed by all. The first General Session onboard the ship started promptly at 8 a.m. in the Royal Theater. We enjoyed presentations by Regent Seven Seas Cruises, Collette, Playa Hotels & Resorts, Silversea Cruises, Azamara Club Cruises, Sandals and more! It was a busy morning filled with great information and incentives to build sales with these suppliers.
Additional optional educational workshops were offered following the General Session or one could decide to make their way to Perfect Day at CocoCay. I made my way over to see what all the fuss was about. Wow, is all I can say! Royal Caribbean really hit the mark with this venue. There is far too much to even begin to share about why the island is so spectacular and such a great experience for one and all. All I can say is, go and check it out for yourselves. There is really nothing they did not think of to ensure their passengers have a Perfect Day on CocoCay! After dinner there was a cocktail reception in the Star Lounge for the Best of the Best in the Avoya Network. This event is where all the top selling agents gather to share in their pride and joy of being so successful with their agencies.
On Wednesday we enjoyed another information packed General Session that began at 8 a.m. where we heard from Avoya’s Preferred Suppliers. The suppliers presenting were ShoreTrips, Norwegian Cruise Line, Uniworld Boutique River Cruise Collection, Windstar Cruises and Club Med. The General Session was followed by more optional workshops and of course the day in Nassau, Bahamas. Of course the day would not have been complete without another cocktail reception, this one was hosted by Royal Caribbean for their Top Producers in the Avoya Network.
Thursday was the last official day of this fantastic conference and it was a busy one. There were three General Sessions throughout the day featuring a variety of topics and presentations from more of the Avoya Preferred Supplier on board. We heard from Insight Vacations, Princess Cruises, Amtrak Vacations & Railbookers as well as Viking Cruises during the first session.
The second General Session began with a presentation by Apple Leisure Group, followed by Holland American Line, AmaWaterways and Crystal Cruises. Between each of these presentations we heard from the Avoya Strategic Leadership Team with updates and new pertinent information for IAs in the Avoya Network.
After the lunch break the closing and final General Session began with presentations by MSC Cruises, Trafalgar & Brendan Vacations and Paul Gaugin Cruises. Jeff Anderson, Co President gave a heartwarming and very poignant talk about the need for all of us to think about our mortality and our family’s future. He spoke about how important it is to give back in anyway that we can and the impact it can have on our world and for our future relatives. He shared how involved Avoya is with a variety of different charities and causes and how their belief in how important it is share heart and wallet to make a difference where we can and how every small gesture has meaning and makes a difference.
The final presentation of the day was Vicki Freed, Senior Vice President of Sales & Support for Royal Caribbean International. Vicki Freed is well known to be a true and genuine friend to the travel professional community and her talks are always amazing and typically focused on helping travel agents to grow their businesses. Instead of giving a sales talk about Royal Caribbean Vicki gave a fun and lively analogy comparing a travel professional’s clients to different kinds of candy and finding the sweet spot for one’s customers. It was fun and loved by the audience. To top it off, Vicki who is always dressed to the nines and has the best shoes in the world…wore a dress she had made just for this presentation. The material of the dress featured all different kinds of candy and it was simply adorable.
On the final evening of the cruise as the sun was setting over the Atlantic and we were sailing back to Miami, one of the highlights of this week took place. Pal and Pat Anderson were an adventurous couple during their long and beautiful life. They traveled the world and experienced cultures sharing all of this with their family. Pal always had a fondness for sea turtles and cared deeply about the importance of the sea turtle filling a vital role in the balance of marine habitats. So on this final night of the event, all dressed in matching white tee shirts hundreds of travel professionals, suppliers, the Avoya staff, friends and the Avoya Family participated in a Chairman’s Walk for Sea Turtles event for Pal and Pat Anderson on Deck 12 of the Navigator of the Seas. My heart was full and my gratitude immense to have been a part of this special moment in time.
My sincere and heartfelt thank you to the Avoya team, Anderson family and to all of the Independent Agencies and Industry Suppliers for allowing myself and Travel Professional NEWS to experience the 2019 Avoya Travel Conference. It was an honor and a privilege to represent our team at Travel Professional NEWS at this year’s conference.
Interviews with Independent Agents of the Avoya Travel Network
Braycation Travel, an Independent Agency in the Avoya Travel Network™
How long have you been in the travel industry and can you tell us what motivated you to be a Travel Professional?
I have been in the industry now for 9 months. Prior to the travel business I worked 27 years in corporate America for a pharmaceutical company.
My corporate friends at work nicknamed me Braycation because I traveled as often as possible and loved talking about my experiences. They continually asked me to plan their travel too, but I had to keep everyone at arms length up until I qualified for early retirement. At that point I decided to do what I loved and that brought me to the travel industry.
After I retired I took 6 months and did a great deal of research on the business to familiarize myself with all of the options. I knew I wanted to be a travel agent and have my own business. The consumer needs help navigating the myriad of travel options and how to book their vacations and that is exactly what I would be able to offer to my customers.
How did you hear about Avoya Travel Network?
I found out about Avoya when doing my internet research. I did find a great deal of information on your site, www.FindaHostTravelAgency.com and used much of that to narrow my focus. I spent a great deal of time reading everything I could and realized that there were dozens of host agencies and that I would need to narrow my focus. It took about 3 months and I made notes, had a spreadsheet and interviewed the various hosts that I believed would be good options for my business goals.
Avoya Travel’s Shared Success™ model and family oriented business model was very similar to that of the pharmaceutical company where I worked for so many years. Those values were very important to me and Avoya just kept coming to the top of the list for many reasons.
Is this your first Avoya Conference or event?
Yes, and I am so impressed. I have been to so many conferences in my past career and this event has stood out as an invaluable time spent. Getting to have one on one face time with the vendors is fantastic. Additionally, getting to meet the Avoya staff and Leadership Team in person has been wonderful.
The connection to the suppliers at this event has enabled me to find new suppliers to work with and grow my business. I am leaving here with a renewed focus on who I want to get certified with and the brands I want to get more proficient at.
Among the wide variety of tools available to those in the Avoya Network, is there one or more that stand out as a favorites?
For me it is threefold. “What’s New This Week” is so helpful and gives me weekly bullets on what is hot and of value to my clients.
I also love the “Vendor Power Hours”. They spend 30 minutes sharing product information with the supplier speaking about their product and then the next 30 minutes focuses on how we as the Independent Agencies can access and book these vendors. This is so helpful to me as a new agent.
Of course there is really nothing like Agent Power™. It is so robust and hits all the bases on what we need to operate our businesses successfully. That is a major differentiator between Avoya and the other host agency programs. The information in Agent Power makes us very powerful as travel sellers.
What are three things that you’d like to share about the Avoya Network with Travel Professionals who will read this?
1. Shared Success™ Model – They pride themselves on this model. Instead of charging lots of fees for different things they share in the commission on the sales you make. It is a very fair and equitable way of operating for all involved to be successful.
2. Technology – Great technology is paramount to me. I need to have those resources to successfully operate my business and with Avoya we have that and more.
3. The Opportunity to Make Lots of Money – I am excited about growing and prospering in my travel business. They have the buying power with the suppliers that allows us to be competitive in the marketplace. We need that and we get it with Avoya.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
The name recognition with Avoya Travel and also with American Express gives my company the legitimacy I need. Being new to the travel industry allowed me to make great strides this first year with the strength and name recognition of both. The fact that I am affiliated with the Avoya Network and American Express gives me that seal of approval for my customers and prospects.
Orca Travel, an Independent Agency in the Avoya Travel Network™
How long have you been in the travel industry?
I have been in the industry for 2 years and all of that time with Avoya. Before I started in travel I was a professional matchmaker for 9 years. I had about 26 marriages that I set up in my time. I had used Avoya as my travel agency when booking a cruise and they connected me with a Celebrity specialist in the Avoya Network. I booked the cruise that day and booked my second one with Tim as well.
What made you want to change careers and get into the travel business?
I of course love to travel and my career, as a professional matchmaker was very demanding. You would be surprised how picky people were and those who were 50 wanted 20 year olds. It was not an easy job. I was very successful at it and was making great commissions but the company I worked with kept lowering my percentage.
I decided that I wanted to make money for myself and have my own business. I needed a change and travel seemed the perfect fit for me. I reached out to my travel agent friend Tim at Avoya and asked him how to do it! He has been affiliated with the Avoya Network for 9 years and he helped me get started and is my mentor.
Is this your first Avoya Conference? If not, how many have you attended so far?
This is my second Avoya conference and last year in Long Beach I was awarded a Rising Star. I also had the opportunity to go to the American Express Travel Conference that was also a great opportunity.
What is your biggest takeaway from these yearly conferences?
Meeting and getting to know the agents and suppliers is fantastic. I feel like I have 50 best friends here. I know that with the contacts I have made with both the agents and the suppliers that if I ever needed any help or guidance, I know right who to reach out to. Just knowing that you have these friends and peers all over the country is fantastic. I know I could literally send an email to an agent in another city and meet up for coffee or lunch if I was in their town. The relationships with all of my peers are so special to me.
Do you find that your business sees a new level of growth as a result of attending conferences like this?
My goal each time I attend an event is to add a new supplier. I want to always be re-evaluating my business. I then get my certifications with that supplier and add it to my business portfolio.
As an example, I had never sold Paul Gaugin Cruises before and I decided to add it to my business. I did all my homework and in June I hit 100K in sales with Paul Gaugin in one year. At this event I have connected with Shawn Tubman at Regent Seven Seas Cruises and that is going to be my new focus.
What is the tool that you find most useful as an Independent Agent in the Avoya Network?
This is hard because there are so many. I think it is the webinars. We have vendor webinars and if I cannot sit in live for some reason, I can listen to the recording later on. I learn so much from these.
“This Week at Avoya” are fantastic too. We call in and get to hear from the Avoya team on what is happening in the industry and anything important we need to know for our businesses. It is always very helpful.
I also find great value with Avoya’s Mastermind Program. I really think the Independent Agency owners should all be in this program. We can help eachother so much and learn so much from one another.
What are three things that you’d like to share about the Avoya Network with Travel Professionals who will read this?
1. Support – You need something and there is always someone to help you.
2. Leads – Avoya Live Leads™ is really why I joined the Avoya Network. I needed this to grow my business. I have a great closing ration and I am very happy about the leads.
3. Education – There are so many educational opportunities to take advantage of. There are land events, cruises, conferences and then all of the online events just add to the mix.
Do you have anything else you would like to share with our readers?
I am so happy I joined the Avoya Network. I could not be happier with my choice. I have had amazing growth in my business and I know it is because of my partnership with Avoya.
Hands Down Avoya is the Best!