Jamie Biesiada is on leave. This insight originally appeared in the Home-based Agent eNewsletter Oct. 1, 2018.
The importance of community, especially for agents who work from home, can't be understated.
It's evidenced in the popularity of events held each year, from national and international conferences to regional networking events, as well as through participation in groups. ASTA, for instance, has retooled its chapter system in recent years and increased the number of chapters from 26 to nearly 40 throughout the country. With the recent inclusion of former NACTA chapters (recently rebranded as the ASTA Small Business Network), that number will be bolstered even more.
Most agree that meeting with one's professional community is a great way to network. But meeting online, too, holds great value for agents and it's an easy and popular way to ask questions, share ideas and more.
That is evidenced in the successful network built by Ogg Marketing Group: Travel Professional Community, which recently welcomed its 15,000th member since its inception in 2008.
"Collaboration is a powerful thing, and as we see at events like CruiseWorld or other conferences, the bringing together of people with a common interest breeds growth and innovation," said Andy Ogg, marketing and sales director of Ogg Marketing Group. "Members of TravelProfessionalCommunity.com do that on a daily basis. Whether it be in regard to a discussion regarding service fees or a fantastic experience with a supplier, it enables travel professionals to communicate freely and openly."
Joanie Ogg, co-founder of Ogg Marketing Group, said agents often take to the group to ask their peers for product recommendations.
Agents are vetted before they gain access to the Ogg's site. Joanie Ogg said that has been important to its success. No suppliers are permitted on the site and neither are agents "associated with nonprofessional host agencies."
She recommended any agents looking for an online home find one that is similarly vetted to ensure quality and relevant conversations.
And if you take anyone's advice in finding an online community, it should be Joanie Ogg's. She has long been operating in the online space and works with others who have, as well.
Sandy Elson, owner of Your Cruise Concierge, was the third member of the Oggs' site when it formed 10 years ago. Today, she is one of its administrators. Joanie Ogg said she launched the first online travel industry community, the Biz, on CompuServe.
Elson, Joanie Ogg and her husband, Tom, also a co-founder of Ogg Marketing Group, have operated a number of online communities "from the days before DOS," Joanie Ogg said. In fact, the NACTA Agent Digest started out as CAD, the Cruise Agent Digest, and was conceptualized by Tom Ogg; it was sold to ASTA in the early 2000s. (Joanie and Tom Ogg owned NACTA, the National Association of Career Travel Agents, before selling it to ASTA.)
Andy Ogg said networks like TravelProfessionalCommunity.com give agents, especially home-based agents, a place to connect with others that wouldn't be possible otherwise. Bringing agents together remains his No. 1 priority.
"In-person events and networking events should always be a must for travel professionals," he said. "However, the truth of connecting with other professionals instantly is undeniably powerful."