Consortium to hosts its first long-haul forum in 14 years. Ben Ireland looks ahead to this week’s event in Miami

‘Personal experiences help drive client engagement’

The importance of telling stories of personal experiences to customers to add value is the main theme of this week’s Advantage Conference in Miami.

American travel journalist Peter Greenberg and chat show host Jerry Springer are the keynote speakers at the May 10-13 event, which is themed ‘Miami Advice: The Next Chapter’.

Nearly 150 travel agents will attend the event at the Trump National Doral hotel – the consortium’s first long-haul conference in 14 years – alongside suppliers and Advantage staff.

Sessions, called ‘chapters’, will focus on the importance of telling stories and have been designed as a sequel to last year’s Man and Machine-themed conference, which concentrated on the growing role of technology in travel selling.

Chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said said: “Last year was very much about looking at the important part technology plays in our marketplace, and we learnt you have to invest in the right areas.

“But you have to invest in people too. If you’re looking to the future you have to understand how you might be interacting with customers years from now.

“It got us thinking that it’s an evolving story and the key thing is delivering that story to customers in a way that’s relevant to them.”

Lo Bue-Said said travel agents have a unique offering in being able to call upon their own travel experiences to add value when selling holidays to their customers.

“We want to help members go away and tell their story,” she said. “We often forget the knowledge base that our members have from the places they’ve visited. If you can connect that into storytelling to your customers, it helps drive that engagement and makes customers feel you are on their journey with them.

“The sessions will look at all the different ways we can tell stories, whether that’s face-to-face, social media or otherwise.”

Customers are increasingly interested in the morals of the companies they buy from, Lo Bue-Said added. Citing how TV documentary Blue Planet had raised the issue of plastic waste, she revealed Advantage had taken measures to reduce its single-use plastic waste by scrapping plastic cups for its water machine.

“Business is increasingly about what a brand stands for as well as what they are selling,” she said.

“We want our members to go away having heard inspirational stories that can help shape the way they promote their own businesses and tell their own story.”

‘Miracle on Hudson’ hack to say ‘trust vital for the trade’

The journalist who reported live on the so-called Miracle on the Hudson crash-landing will tell tales of “the good, the bad and the ugly” of the travel industry at the Advantage Conference.

CBS investigative reporter Peter Greenberg has a regular TV show called The Travel Detective that documents his research into the lesser-known aspects of the industry and a weekly radio show transmitted live from destinations all over the world.

Greenberg was introduced to The Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive Julia Lo Bue-Said at World Travel Market last year, where he told her about his live reporting of the crash-landing of a US Airways flight on New York’s Hudson River shortly after take-off from the city’s LaGuardia airport in 2009. The aircraft, which had 150 passengers on board, lost all engine power after a bird strike.

The Miracle on the Hudson – so dubbed because all passengers and crew survived – was retold on the big screen in the 2016 film Sully, starring Tom Hanks.

Greenberg, who also works as a firefighter three days a week, said: “The challenge was not providing a line-by-line report, it was about telling the public and those affected what they needed to know. It’s sometimes beyond the obvious – the things travel industry professionals would think of.”

He said one of the key issues for the industry is trust, and said it was up to agents to help consumers cut through the swathes of information available online. He also questioned the role of review sites, especially those that have become booking engines.

At the conference, he hopes to not only talk to a room of UK agents but also speak directly with as many delegates as he can.

“I’m always looking to learn from the people on the frontline. Hopefully they can tell me things that I can investigate,” he added.

Greenberg will be interviewing Advantage non-executive chairman Steven Esom and aviation and travel lawyer Joanna Kolatsis, of Hill Dickinson, at the conference in Miami.

But he wouldn’t reveal more, adding: “It’s not about putting them on the spot, but I can’t say what I’ll be asking because I want honest answers that are unrehearsed,” he said.

“That’s the key to keeping the conference interesting.”


The next chapter

Once Upon a Time…
Welcome from Advantage Travel Partnership chief executive
Julia Lo Bue-Said

My Travel Story…
Adolfo Perez of Carnival Cruise Line, Antonia Wysong of Delta and Nick Scott of arrangeMY tell their stories

Ye Olde Folktale…
Silver Travel Advisor’s Debbie Marshall explains research of the over-50s market

Digital Noise…
Bruce Martin of Ginger Juice on how to tell your story via social media

A Seafarer’s Tale…
Clia UK & Ireland director Andy Harmer on how emotion powers buying and experience

The Page Turner…
Bob Morrell and Jeremy Blake of Reality Training on attracting more customers

Tales of the Unexpected…
Travel Weekly editor Lucy Huxley and Atas chairman Giles Hawke bust the myths surrounding touring and adventure

Jerry Springer in conversation…
Chat show host tells stories from the worlds of media and politics

MoreVideo: Travel Weekly recreates Anchorman for The Advantage Conference