Hollywood (Fla.) love story: GTM hooks up advisors, suppliers

Photo Credit: Northstar Travel Group

HOLLYWOOD, Fla. -- For the travel advisor attendees at Travel Weekly's Global Travel Marketplace (GTM), inspiration for their next booking can strike in a variety of ways.

For Lynda Hower, a Pittsburgh-area independent contractor with Travelsavers affiliate Classic Travel Connection, inspiration at the 2018 GTM came in the form of one of the event's Boardroom sessions, which gather a dozen agents for half-hour presentations from destinations, hoteliers, tour operators and other travel industry suppliers.

"I already sold cruises, but in one of the sessions, somebody had mentioned a world cruise and told us about how they worked," she recalled at this year's GTM -- which she attended a week after selling her fifth world cruise.

One of the stated missions of GTM is to expand attendees' business portfolios, and agents who returned to the Diplomat Beach Resort here for the event's seventh edition shared a number of examples of how GTM had sparked itinerary ideas or introduced them to new suppliers. 

Tara Hyland, a Houston-area Travel Edge and Virtuoso affiliate, recalled that two years ago, she was in search of an Italy tour operator who could offer a midmarket product, versus the luxury itineraries she usually sold. That operator was Olive Tree Escapes, which to Hyland's surprise "also do a wonderful job with luxury, so I can use them for both. And I've booked several trips with them."

Similarly, this year's one-on-one meetings with suppliers held out some promising leads for future bookings, Hyland said.

"An interesting one I just had was Lithuania, because that is a destination I really haven't considered much," she said as the ballroom's clocks counted down to her next six-minute meeting. "I got some really good information from the tourism board of Lithuania, and [the board's representative] can provide me with local contacts there as follow-up."

Indeed, GTM can offer a huge payoff for attendees who keep an open mind to new vacation ideas, said Beci Mahnken, a travel advisor based in Issaquah, Wash.

"There are suppliers that I never would have heard of otherwise that I have since used and have created more enriching experiences for the clientele because of that connection," said Mahnken, owner of Ensemble affiliate MEI-Travel.

Mahnken, like Hyland, was among 11 returning attendees who were part of this year's GTM Advisory Board, which helped the GTM team "ensure that our events are best in class and provide our attendees with the most rewarding experience, both financially and professionally," according to the event's organizers.

This year, the event included a number of services designed to facilitate attendees' success during GTM and beyond. For example, advisors who missed out on scheduling a one-on-one meeting with a desired supplier, or vice versa, could call upon the Connection Concierge team to facilitate an introduction.

VAX VacationAccess sponsored a photo area outside the event's main ballroom for advisors to get complimentary, professional headshots.

'Serious travel advisors'

On the other side of the deal-making table, representatives of the 158 suppliers that attended this year's GTM said they appreciated the opportunity to interact with 140 top-producing agents in one-on-one meetings and in Boardroom sessions. 

Via Tours Croatia was making its sixth appearance at GTM. 

"I like the fact that all the agents are vetted, so when you come to the event you know exactly who you're going to meet: agents who are going to sell," said owner and president Zvonimir Androic, whose company offers custom tours of Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro and elsewhere and works with travel advisors exclusively. 

During his Boardroom sessions, Androic took the opportunity to highlight off-the-beaten-path offerings such as Albania, and for many suppliers at GTM, their mission similarly included educating agents about less-visited destinations.

"We noticed that many Americans come to Germany, and they all know of the Black Forest, but they don't stay in the Black Forest," said Irene Spiessl, sales director for the Black Forest Highlands. "They just drive through and head to bigger cities like Cologne or Stuttgart or Frankfurt."

Carmen Escher of FWTM Freiburg, that city's tourism promotion arm, said, "We really want to make [advisors] more familiar with the product of Southwest Germany so they're thinking about us when they already have clients on a river cruise or a tour of Europe." 

Escher said that past GTM events had resulted in a high rate of follow-up from agents. 

"We get a lot of emails after the event," she said, adding that compared with other agent-supplier events, "I would say it's the best one we have in the United States."

Even for popular destinations, the event offered an opportunity to highlight lesser-known aspects of their tourism product. Tourism New Zealand, for example, took the opportunity in Boardroom sessions to spotlight ideas for longer itineraries (14 and 23 days) as well as to discuss the country's potential for off-season travel. 

Thanks to its climate and variety of activities available year-round, "There's no best time to visit New Zealand," said Alana Pietrzak, trade development executive for Tourism New Zealand. She added that one big GTM success story for her organization has been the number of advisors who have gone on to complete New Zealand specialist training.

"Education is key," Pietrzak said, especially "training and ensuring that they have the knowledge and they're empowered to go out and feel confident when they're making bookings."

Omar Banihani, North America marketing manager for the Jordan Tourism Board, said he has attended GTM every year since it began in 2013, and like other suppliers in attendance, he said that the opportunity to meet "serious travel advisors" who have the "type of clients that Jordan is looking for" keeps him coming back. He added that those clients often represent niches that Jordan hopes to target across both leisure and business sectors, "from adventure, religious, luxury [and] honeymoons to corporate and incentive." 

According to travel advisor attendees, that array of niches is part of the reason why GTM fosters a spirit of cooperation rather than competition.

"This event houses peers that are approachable, that want to share, want to help you," Hower said. "You can go to other events, and it's a competition. [At GTM], I know you sell a lot, I sell a lot, there's business out there for everybody."

To qualify to attend GTM, travel advisors must have annual individual sales of at least $1 million or be the owner of a multimillion-dollar agency. For more information on how to attend GTM (and GTM West for travel advisors based in western North America), visit www.gtmflagship.com.

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