Uplift on Friday named not one, but two, winners of the CruiseWorld Uplifting Travel Advisor of the Year contest at CruiseWorld: Sue Slater, owner of Presto Magic Travel in St. Louis, Mo., and Maurisia Jeffers, owner of Travel Cruzan in Plantation, Fla.
The advisors were the top vote-getters among their peers at CruiseWorld, held virtually this year. Both will receive a $1,000 prize in the form of a travel loan to be paid off by Uplift.
This was the first year the contest was held at CruiseWorld. Advisors were asked to share stories of how they have uplifted themselves, their peers or the industry at large in 2020, and the five finalists were selected. They presented their stories to their peers on Thursday, who then voted on their favorites.
Slater shared her story of navigating the rough waters of 2020 as a blind person, and alone, after suddenly losing her husband and business partner Larry in February.
"This is my perfect job," Slater said Friday after being told she won. "This is my passion. This is what I was meant to do, and if [Larry] was here today, he would be the loudest one cheering and clapping for me."
Sue Slater, owner of Presto Magic Travel in St. Louis, Mo., was a winner in the Uplifting Travel Advisor of the Year contest.
Tom Botts, chief commercial officer for Uplift, virtually presented the awards. "I think your story is very meaningful to all of us, and certainly your colleagues in the industry felt that way," Botts said to Slater.
After giving Slater her award, Botts announced Jeffers as the surprise second winner.
Jeffers had shared her story about heading into a rough 2020 after the death of her father. But she and her team created a three-day virtual tourism expo that made them forget about Covid-19 for awhile and brought more than 150 potential clients to her agency.
"I'm telling all my advisors and friends who supported us with this, you could do it, too," Jeffers said. "We just need to work as teams and push, because we need to keep our industry alive."
Each finalist on Thursday had three minutes to tell CruiseWorld attendees their stories.
Since the pandemic began, Florence Brethome, an advisor with Los Angeles-based TravelStore, has become "a training machine." She has been mentoring new independent contractors (ICs) so they can learn more about the industry and be ready to sell travel post-pandemic.
About five years ago, Brethome created a mentoring program that matched new and seasoned agents for one-on-one training over the course of the year. But when the pandemic hit and she found herself working from home, she realized she could do the same quality of training as before, but with more agents.
Now she is mentoring five or six ICs, she said, with the goal of helping them rise to their full potential. Her next goal is to create a larger mentoring team to help even more ICs.
Stacey Cabell, the owner of Starstuff Travel in Toms River, N.J., said this year, everyone at her agency has worked hard to change their mindset and show more gratitude. It "just saved our business, it saved our lives," she said. "Period."
Showing gratitude helps change moods, and grateful people are happier overall, Cabell said. When the pandemic was ramping up in April, Starstuff started incorporating gratitude into the business with steps like using a gratitude journal to set the tone for the day and ending the day by sharing something really positive that had happened.
Cabell and her advisors also redid their vision boards, which they use to motivate themselves and set annual goals. They had created them in January, but they clearly needed to be redone because on the pandemic. Cabell's original 2020 vision board had included a visit to Cabo San Lucas in Mexico; she came full circle, calling into CruiseWorld from a familiarization trip there with Travel Leaders Network.
Shannon Cunningham, chief romance officer of Paradise Vacation Escapes in Baton Rouge, La., has been working to uplift her colleagues and industry peers in a variety of ways. For one, she started a web series, Travel Connections Live, to keep travel alive. The series features interviews with suppliers, cooking demonstrations, mixology demonstrations and even spa demonstrations.
Cunningham also co-hosted Advocacy Awareness Day, an online event highlighting the advocacy work ASTA does on a daily basis. Also a fundraiser, the event raised nearly $30,000. In May, she hosted a National Travel Advisor Day online event highlighting and honoring advisors.
On a personal note, Cunningham said, she has lost 50 pounds in the past year and a half, an "inspired journey" she has shared with accountability groups including other advisors.
Jeffers was already having a difficult year going into 2020. Her father had recently died, then came the pandemic, stifling her and her clients' plans. But she created and hosted Travel Cruzan's first virtual tourism expo, a three-day event featuring more than 20 suppliers and tourism boards, with more than 150 registered client attendees. Jeffers didn't even know most of the attendees, she said, but they are now customers for the keeping.
The event was streamed live via social media and was both fun and educational, she said. Suppliers and destinations also dug deep into their pockets and came up with more than $5,000 worth of gifts and trips; particularly needed, Jeffers joked, was the rum that came from Barbados.
It was a weekend when "we said, 'Covid, who?'" Jeffers said. She now knows it wasn't about the prizes, but about reminding everyone there is so much more life to live and that the world will travel again.
Slater has a unique perspective: She is veteran travel advisor of 20 years, and she's also blind. She's never seen the destinations she sends her clients to, but regardless, 2020 was supposed to be a milestone year for her. Instead, it's held its own set of challenges.
In February, her husband and business partner, Larry, died unexpectedly. A month later, Covid hit, and everything stopped; she had to figure out how to navigate the world, and her travel business, on her own. But Slater persevered. She found an app, Aira, through which sighted people can look at what she's doing through her phone. It has helped her navigate the world, including attending webinars and conferences. She became a Switzerland expert and completed certification courses with Norwegian Cruise Line and Carnival Cruise Line on her own.
Slater has also been on several drive vacations with her cousin, one to Branson, Mo., and another to Bentonville, Ark. She is using those trips as examples of drive vacations for her clients. 2020 has held challenges, she said, but it has also been rewarding for her, and she starts each day with a smile.
Mary Pat Sullivan, CruiseWorld's director of content and the president
of Sullivan Marketing Advisors, said dozens and dozens of stories were
received, and it was difficult to narrow the field to five. As such,
Travel Weekly is giving the three other finalists a $100 gift card each
for sharing their stories.
On Thursday, before the five contest finalists shared their stories,
Botts had some uplifting news of his
own to share.
"Yesterday was actually the biggest day we've had
at Uplift for outbound loan activity since March, so we are super
excited," Botts said.