Shane Nelson
Shane Nelson

InsightHeadlined by a visit from Gov. Neil Abercrombie, last week’s 17th annual Travel Weekly Hawaii Leadership Forum attracted more than 220 hoteliers, tour operators, airline executives, travel marketers and state tourism officials to the Royal Hawaiian, a Luxury Collection Resort in Waikiki.



Featuring a range of presentations and panel discussions, covering topics like consumer travel trends, online marketing and even the impact strategic partnerships with travel bloggers can have on destination and product promotion, the event provided its usual abundance of tourism industry content.

ShaneNelsonIn the morning session, a keynote presentation with John Lovell, president of Vacation.com, and Brad Anderson, co-president of Avoya Travel, an American Express Travel Representative, generated some interesting discussion about travel agents.

Both men agreed that the days of full-service travel agencies are behind us and said specialization has been a vital strategy for success in recent years. Anderson introduced a home-based Avoya agent who focuses on Hawaii and cruise sales to show just how lucrative Aloha State specialization can be.

“In January, her agency booked commissions were over $25,000,” he said. “In February, I believe she did another $25,000. These are commission dollars, not gross sales. And this April, her business was three times that of the previous April.”

The aging travel agent population was another topic both men addressed.

“Fifty-eight percent of all travel agents today are 55 or over, so we really do have a problem bringing youth into this industry,” Lovell said, adding that the Travel Leaders Group, Vacation.com's parent, recently launched the first in a series of online education modules aimed at training and recruiting younger agents.

“This is a profitable industry, and I think it’s only going to become more and more profitable,” he said. “The reason for that is really simple. I think suppliers recognize we produce the highest margin of business, and they will reward us for that moving forward.”

Lovell conceded, however, that recruiting younger agents is only part of the equation. Attracting younger customers through focused marketing will also be crucial, he said, in years to come.

“We’re too reliant on existing clients today,” he said. “I think every organization is looking closely at lead generation and how we’re going to bring new clients into the fold.”

Asked where agents would make the most money in 2020, Lovell noted that cruise and tours would likely continue to be the top two sources of revenue for travel sellers, but he added that many of Vacation.com’s more than 5,100 membership agencies are already doing very well on commissions earned from the sale of high-end airline seats, and he expects that to increase moving forward.

During a later forum discussion with Travel Weekly’s editor in chief, Arnie Weissmann, United Airline’s director of leisure sales, Vic Kerckhoff, addressed Lovell’s air seat commission forecast.

“Other segments of the tourism business do pay for the right kind of yield or [average daily rate], and I think the airlines are no different in that respect,” he said. “We pay for the upper-fare classes, and I would anticipate that is something we would want to continue with travel agents.”

This article has been updated to reflect that Travel Leaders Group, Vacation.com's parent, and not Vacation.com specifically has launched an online education program aimed at training and recruiting younger agents. Also, Vacation.com counts 5,100 agencies as members. Incorrect information appeared in a previous version of this article.
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