CANCUN -- Nearly 200 travel agents descended upon Karisma Hotel & Resorts' El Dorado Royale property outside Cancun this month for the first gathering of participants in the company's Gourmet Inclusive Vacation Consultants program.
The sales and marketing event featured agents from across North America joining company executives in asserting their determination to persevere through tough economic times.
The three-day event, of which Travel Weekly was a co-sponsor, was held from Dec. 3 to 6 and centered on Karisma's recently launched GIVC initiative. The program provides aggressive marketing and related support for members who consistently sell Karisma's six all-inclusive properties, which operate under the El Dorado and Azul brands on Mexico's Riviera Maya.
Roughly 500 agents have joined the program, which carries a membership fee of $250. Membership will be capped at 1,000, according to company officials.
An awards banquet recognized Karisma's top-performing agencies, while sales and marketing sessions served to buck up agents' spirits regarding the economy.
"There's a lot of good news out there," said Mandy Chomat, Karisma's vice president of sales and marketing, citing the fast-dropping price of oil. He stressed the importance of agents' marketing creatively in times of recession and pointed to surveys predicting that Americans would continue to travel. Chomat told the 197 agents in attendance that "71% of active travelers plan to take a trip in the next six months."
"You have to find a niche and create an opportunity for yourself," he said.
Chomat, a former top executive at Sandals, and Amy Dang, Karisma's director of marketing, announced a series of "turn-key" marketing tools aimed at helping agents create such opportunities. For example, agents' Karisma site visits will be videotaped and posted on YouTube so they can be shown to clients. (The company's newest "gourmet all-inclusive" property, the 438-room Azul Sensatori, opened last month.)
"These people are agents; they are not designers, they are not Web decoders," said Dang in describing agents' marketing needs. "They need materials, they need websites, they need direct mail."
Dang's pitch resonated with attendees like Laurie Johnson, an owner and agent at Owatonna, Minn.-based Cedar Travel.
Johnson described her own less-than-successful independent marketing effort, when she sought last year to create a spa vacation display in her storefront window.
"We put our mannequin on the table, like she was on a massage table, put a turban on her head like they do [during] a massage and put a sheet over her," said Johnson. "She looked like she was a getting a massage, or so we thought. But we got a lot of people stopping by the window and asking if she was in a morgue or dead or what!"