LAS VEGAS — It was breakfast time in the Riviera, before the start of the eighth annual US Airways Vacations scavenger hunt incentive event, and teams were gathering.
“This is a good experience, and you have to have a good attitude,” said Mel Nobel, owner of the Travel Guy in Stuart, Fla., a four-time participant in the hunt who this year was a member of Team Yellow.
Nobel was one of 39 agents taking part in US Airways Vacations 2014 scavenger hunt, 10 more than competed last year.
A few were return competitors, which offers a $15,000 prize in gift cards from US Airways and retailers to be split among winning team members. But even more contestants were new to the event.
For some travel agents, this was a first trip to Las Vegas, and what better way to get to know the city than through myriad experiences and site visits folded into a five-event competition?
For the first event, the eight teams headed to the casino floor for an activity served Vegas-style: a slots tournament. If teams hadn’t already bonded over breakfast, they instantly connected while cheering each other on as everyone raced for the highest score, fingers pounding on “spin” buttons to hit the triple double diamonds.
Moving on to the Tropicana, teams were given a site tour of the refurbished property, then tasked with setting up a room from scratch based on what they’d just seen. Participants raced around, grabbing handfuls of toiletries and counting out bed sheets.
“Does this flyer go here?” asked Loretta Phillips, a member of Team Beige from Irish Cue Travel in Cornelius, N.C., her hand hovering over the desk with a spa promotion piece.
“How many towels are supposed to be on the left side of the sink?” came a shout from the bathroom.
After lunch at Chayo at The Linq, teams were given their third challenge: developing a 30-second promotional videos to help sell Las Vegas to prospective visitors. Using the High Roller observation wheel as a backdrop, they talked about hotels, entertainment and a vibe that can only be experienced with a vacation.
Between activities, this was a common topic of conversation as teammates forged new professional relationships.
“You have to match the hotel to the client, and until you see it or what surrounds it, you don’t really know,” said LaDawn Lopez of Universal Travel Services in San Antonio, a member of Team Blue. “Being here gets you excited to go back and sell it.”
Lisa Sultana, a member of Team Green from Penobscot International Travel Service in Detroit, agreed. “The thing I love about this experience is I feel I can sell Las Vegas better now,” she said.
By the second day of the US Airways Vacations scavenger hunt, friendships were being formed. Each team piled onto an oversize chair in the Canyon Club at Four Queens for pictures, reminisced about the previous day’s activities and speculated on what was to come.
They didn’t have to wait long: Chris Ames, director of product and sales for American Airlines Vacations, soon revealed details about the main activity of the event: a two-hour scavenger hunt through downtown Las Vegas.
Teams huddled over packets containing clues, a map and two photographs, searching for hints on smartphones and strategizing before setting off on the Fremont Street Experience.
They weighed in at the Heart Attack Grill, searched for wall art made of dice at Downtown Grand and took a team photo with $1 million at Binion’s before checking in at Gold Diggers at the Golden Nugget.
“I had no idea it would be this hard, this physical,” said Jeff Jacobi, a member of Team Blue from Mann Travels in Charlotte, as his team took a breather after the race.
At the awards dinner, where Team Red was honored as this year’s winner, Michael Schmeltzer, president of American Airlines Vacations, addressed concerns regarding the merger of US Airways Vacations and American Airways Vacations.
“Change is interesting and fun and hard,” he said. “And change is coming.”
Plans are in the works to make American Airlines Vacations more travel agency friendly, which agents can expect to learn more about this month. The scavenger hunt may be on hiatus in 2015, but Schmeltzer said he hoped that a reincarnation of the event will return in 2016.