I have, over the years, mentioned in this space the importance of listening to customers, but sometimes I have a tough time practicing what I preach.
There was one recurring theme in comments from attendees following our CruiseWorld 2010 and Spring Home Based Travel Agent Show, co-located in Fort Lauderdale last April. Even so, I did not follow popular sentiment when working on the program for our LeisureWorld 2010 and Fall Home Based Travel Agent Show and Conference, which will be held in Atlantic City Oct. 27 to 30.
One comment I saw repeatedly in the show evaluations was that our practice of scheduling four or five breakout sessions concurrently made it hard for attending agents to choose among competing offerings.
"There were so many interesting topics and presenters that I found myself having difficulty making a decision as to which session I would attend," wrote Nancy Norris of Portside Travel.
Voicing a similar concern, Marlene DePalma of Dynamic Getaways commented, "My greatest issue was that I wasn't able to clone myself so I could attend more sessions."
But both agents gave high overall ratings to the conference, with Norris calling it "one of the best shows I have attended in a long time. I particularly liked the variety of speakers/content and also found the presentations interesting and informative without feeling like they were just trying to sell me something."
OK, I admit my confessional setup in the first paragraph was really just a transparent excuse to brag about the content of our spring shows and to talk about what's going on in our fall shows, but please indulge me. I'm just very excited about the rich content we'll once again be offering agents attending the co-located LeisureWorld 2010 and Fall Home Based Travel Agent Show and Conference. And I want to share some of the highlights with you. (Also see "TW mounting 'event of the year'. ")
The fact is we really did consider repeating some of the sessions over the four-day conference, but in the end we decided to continue our practice of making each breakout session unique, even if it means attendees will sometimes have to make difficult choices about which to attend.
Every travel agent has unique business challenges and opportunities, so given the dozens of sessions being offered, it's possible that no two agents among the 1,000-plus who are expected to attend will experience the exact same show; each will tailor the program to meet individual needs based on the agent's level of experience, agency positioning, product lines and professional interests.
Another aspect that makes the experience unique for each individual will be the type of networking that can only happen at a live, dynamic show filled with professionally minded peers. I have found over the years that the serendipitous choices I have made about which table I happen to join during meals, whom I'm sitting next to during a session or whom I run into at a tradeshow have resulted in profound and positive directional changes in my career.
We decided that this time around, however, we would not leave all the networking to serendipity. New to our show this fall is what we're calling the Idea Think Tank and Working Lab, which will be held during the evening of the first day of the conference. This session, limited to the first 200 attendees who preregister for it, will provide a structured opportunity for delegates to share ways in which industry technology and social media are being used by agents to increase their efficiency and grow their businesses.
Similarly, there are other agent-to-agent sessions focusing on benchmarking and best practices. We've also built in several programs that will give attendees opportunities for face-to-face interaction with suppliers, including C-suite executives.
The depth of the program addresses the full range of issues facing agents today. We have tracks that focus on destinations, technology, agency management, increasing sales and products such as all-inclusives, cruises, riverboats and tours.
Many will be of interest to any agent or agency owner, and some are geared specifically to home agents. We've asked Joanie Ogg, founder of the Home Based Travel Agent Community, to help us develop topics that speak directly to the needs and concerns of home-based agents.
And while we're proud that suppliers told us they were impressed with the seriousness, professionalism and overall high quality level of agents who attended our spring show, I do want to point out that this show, like the last one, will have its share of excitement.
In addition to speakers whose presentation style is lively, we've added a general session that brings a downright fun approach to the topic of destination geography. We're proud to present LeisureWorld Geography Bowl, a competition put together by industry consultant Marc Mancini that employs all the best techniques of infotainment.
There is, of course, a solution to the quandary of having a program that offers more than can be absorbed by one person: Attendees can bring along agency co-workers, while home-based or independent agents can urge like-minded independent agents to attend with them. That way you can divide and conquer, sharing what each has heard at the end of the day to reinforce the most important lessons you've learned.
To register for LeisureWorld 2010 and Fall Home Based Travel Agent Show and Conference, go to fall.homebasedagentshow.com and leisureworld2010.com.
Email Arnie Weissmann at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter.
This column appeared in the Aug. 30 issue of Travel Weekly.