Conference Preview: Advantage takes to the sea aboard MSC Fantasia

Conference Preview: Advantage takes to the sea aboard MSC Fantasia

The Advantage Travel Partnership Conference takes place at sea this weekend. Hollie-Rae Merrick reports

‘New tech will underpin our future activity’

The Advantage Travel Partnership will encourage delegates to prepare for change in the industry at the consortium’s annual conference this weekend.

The conference, being held on board MSC Fantasia from April 16-20, has the theme Blink, highlighting how things can change in the blink of an eye, particularly in the “challenging climate” of the travel sector. More than 470 delegates will hear of existing and looming changes across the leisure and corporate arenas, and ways to tackle them.

Delegates attending the four-day conference will also learn more about the significant investment Advantage is making in technology as it looks to “protect members” and “lead them into the future”.

Managing director Julia Lo Bue-Said wouldn’t reveal details of the technology developments ahead of an announcement at the conference. However, she previously told Travel Weekly that plans for a technology push involved a new dynamic packaging platform and customer relationship management system.

She claimed the technology drive would “empower members” and “help them take some control back when selling to a customer”.

When asked if this involved more dynamic packaging or a land-based version of Cruise & More, Advantage’s cruise dynamic package solution, Lo Bue-Said simply said the organisation needed to “explore more options” to help members prosper.

“We know we need to invest back into the membership largely through technology,” she said.

“We need to do that to enable our members to prosper against challenges in the future.

“I hate to say it, but over the years we have, until now, only dabbled in technology. But we are now in a position where we have significant funds to invest in technology and we believe it will be the key driver and game changer for the organisation moving forward.

“The new technology will underpin a lot of our activity moving forward.”

Conference speakers include astronaut Chris Hadfield, ‘trendspotter’ Daniel Levine, Abta’s Stephen D’Alfonso and Hill Dickinson’s Joanna Kolatsis.

Advantage business development director Colin O’Neill said the speakers would help highlight various challenges facing the sector, issues that delegates will then be able to discuss further during breakout sessions.

“The world is changing and we can’t keep doing the same thing, and nor can our members,” he said. “We need to better serve the needs of customers and buyers and we can’t have blinkers on and assume that what you’re doing is what customers want you to do.” Lo Bue-Said added: “We need to make sure our organisation is always relevant and that we can provide solutions for our members to help against some of these changes.”

The pair agreed the most important thing about the conference was that members felt “fired up and excited” and left feeling “inspired, motivated and excited to try new things”.

“We also like to see members realising they might not have maximised their Advantage membership as much as they could have,” O’Neill added. “We have a good level of engagement but we want our members to use everything we put out for them and see the value in the membership.”

Other sessions at the conference will focus on marketing, with particular emphasis on vlogging.

Partnership Charter to be rewritten to make it more focused

Advantage is looking to further develop its Partnership Charter to reflect the consortium’s diverse membership. The charter was introduced in 2014 as an evolution of the consortium awarding preferred partners with a commended or highly commended status.

In a bid to create transparency and to build stronger ties with suppliers, they were encouraged to sign the charter; in turn, Advantage promised to boost suppliers’ visibility with agents.

Head of commercial John Sullivan said the charter had been a success, and it had been evolved further to reflect highly commended and commended partnerships with suppliers. Now Advantage is going to develop the charter to make it more focused on different markets and sectors.

Sullivan said: “We’ve had the Partnership Charter for a number of years now and we are evolving it because it isn’t a one-size-fits-all charter. Someone selling ancillaries is different to someone in mass market or someone selling mainly long-haul.

“We are rewriting the charter to make it more centric to the markets that members are looking after. It’s a work in progress and we’re working through it at the moment, but it will take some time.”

Sullivan said the leisure breakout sessions on board MSC Fantasia would also focus on partnerships and how to develop them further, with a particular emphasis on regional airports.


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