An initiative launched by the Caribbean Hotel and Tourism Association at its recent Marketplace event in Nassau introduced a dozen Caribbean-selling travel advisors into the mix of buyers and suppliers.
The program matched advisors with suppliers during pre-set appointments on the tradeshow floor. Advisors also attended receptions, networked with a cross-section of executives from destinations and properties and toured nearby properties, and some went on post trips to the Bahamas Out Islands.
I polled several of the advisors after the conference about the experience, and their responses were a unanimous thumbs-up -- although they had suggestions, as well, for future programs.
One of the biggest benefits for Susan Collins-Peavey, head of Susan Peavey Travel in Marshfield, Mass., was the knowledge gained about Caribbean destinations she was unfamiliar with.
"For example, one of the appointments arranged for me included hoteliers and vendors from Barbados," she said. "I learned a lot about the island, its offerings and its hotel product in a short amount of time, and now I have contacts there who can answer my questions.
"I'd do this again. This was a win-win. The buying power on that trade floor was amazing."
Vickie Love Greenlee, a luxury advisor at For Travelers Only in Ridgeland, Miss., said she liked that the Marketplace show was concentrated on the Caribbean, "and I wish more tradeshows were location-specific. This one offered some great networking opportunities and opened up new contacts for me."
But she also said, "Most of these shows are well-oiled machines, with the pre-set appointments running like clockwork. I was disappointed that some of the appointments canceled on me and that some of the suppliers seemed unaware that travel advisors were part of the mix at each appointment.
The CHTA had set the appointments for the advisors who accompanied buyers on their scheduled rounds.
Helen Papa, president of TBH Travel in Dix Hills, N.Y., said that she received her invite to attend "about two weeks prior, and we were given our meeting schedules without choice."
In the future, Papa suggested that advisors themselves choose with whom they meet during the appointment sessions. "That way we would be able to focus on who we can learn from and what we learn about," she said.
However, she found some of the meetings very useful. "I was able to build new relationships and learn details about hotels and islands with which I was not familiar," she said.
Benefits gleaned from the conference for Cristina Buaas, owner of River Oaks Travel in Houston, included meetings with hoteliers, destination management companies and tourism boards that she doesn't usually see at Virtuoso meetings or conferences like Pure or the International Luxury Travel Marketplace.
Buaas also echoed comments from several other advisors regarding the pre-set appointment schedule. She recommended that the CHTA incorporate an educational component in a roundtable or panel format with tourism boards speaking about their destinations and the differentiating factors of each island. She also suggested that a slate of pre- and post-show site inspections would have been a welcome option. "I am a firm believer in that you sell what you see/experience," she said.
Cristy Lombardi, owner of Endless Journeys in Branford, Conn., connected with many familiar faces in the industry and met a lot of new contacts.
"I found it very beneficial to be there, and I was happy to meet with the smaller hotels and their owners," she said. "I came across quite a few places that I hadn't had experience with before and now will be able to consider them for clients' vacations."
She also said that meeting ground operators was quite helpful. "Client trips are becoming more outside the box, so meeting the ground operators makes it a little easier to provide custom itineraries that aren't largely available through a tour operator," she said.
Lombardi recently celebrated her 17th year in business and described her agency as a "one woman show" with few outside agents.
"If given the opportunity I would definitely attend again," she said. "We are in an ever-changing industry, so the more opportunities to stay informed, in my opinion, the better," she said.
The CHTA also asked the advisors for their feedback and plans to fine tune the program to address their comments and suggestions.
"This was a pilot program, and we want to have this advisor component as part of Marketplace going forward," said Karen Whitt, who will serve as the CHTA's president for two years upon her induction in June.