What makes a great agent?
It's a question that undoubtedly has a plethora of answers, but if your gauge is the nominees for ASTA's Travel Advisor of the Year Award, great agents are dedicated to their customers, go above and beyond and build lasting relationships with their customers.
Last week, during the ASTA Global Convention in Washington, D.C., Jeff Coggin, Enterprise Holdings' assistant vice president of travel agency sales, announced the runners-up and winner of the award, sharing a bit about each agent.
"The product that a travel adviser sells is not the vacation, it's the advice and the service," Coggin said. "This is what sets one adviser apart from another, the quality of the advice and the quality of the service. Many travel advisers go beyond what their customers expect. They exceed expectations."
According to Coggin, there were more than 60 nominations for the Travel Advisor of the Year Award, narrowed down to three finalists.
The first runner-up was Brandi Brister, director of meetings, events and fulfillment at Valerie Wilson Travel in New York.
Brister had a large group traveling in Iceland that, at the last minute, decided to scrap their plans and spend a day watching Iceland play in its first FIFA World Cup.
"Not only was Brandi able to arrange a rooftop party for them, she taught her customers the Viking thunder clap so they could cheer appropriately with all the locals," Coggin said.
The second runner-up was Marisel Aleman, vice president of Cruise Elite in Ormond Beach, Fla.
One of Aleman's clients died while on an Australian cruise vacation.
"Her calming nature brought serenity to a wife who did not want to live without her husband, to a son who was so numb that he was lost and to a daughter at home paralyzed in grief," Coggin said. "Marisel was their lifeline. But in the end, when there was nothing else to be done, she did what dedicated travel advisers do: Marisel brought the family home."
The winner of the Travel Advisor of the Year Award was Tracy Whipple, owner of Travel on a Dream in DeForest, Wis
According to Coggin, Whipple received five nominations from five different customers.
"Her story is the embodiment of what it means to be a travel adviser," he said. "Her nominations talk about her commitment, her passion, her attention to detail."
Whipple is involved in her local community, he said. Her customers also talked about her level of knowledge and how she exceeds their expectations. Her ability to listen and provide feedback was lauded.
"Finally," Coggin said, "one of the nominations talked about how she just isn't a travel adviser, but she has grown to be a friend, which is the ultimate compliment."