Written By: Andy Ogg – Editor for Travel Professional NEWS® Avoya Travel is a name that you probably have heard by now, if you haven’t, you have the opportunity to learn a whole lot about them, right here at Travel Professional NEWS. Travel Professional NEWS was honored to be invited to the Avoya Travel Conference for 2016. This was the first time, in the history of their annual conference, that press had been invited to attend their festivities and announcements. Based in San Diego, my trip to West Palm Beach, Florida started early and ended late, arriving at the Club Med Sandpiper Resort. What an amazing place it was to rest my weary head. Being the only All Inclusive resort in the continental United States, Club Med Sandpiper Resort offers an island like escape with beautiful scenery all around the property. Upon my arrival I was greeted by a friendly staff and the accommodations offered a comfortable place to relax between sessions or at the end of a long day. The resort boosted a really cool kid friendly water feature that I would have loved to have shared with my daughter. The food was plentiful and delicious! The buffet style of dining lacked some of the “formal” luster, but the quality of the food was outstanding and always provided an abundance of cuisine to choose from. Upon my arrival, Avoya Travel had just kicked off their “Tropical” themed cocktail party into full swing. I made it just in time to enjoy a refreshing beverage while introducing myself to the massive gathering of Travel Professionals. It’s always a bit difficult to walk into a group of people, however, I have never felt so welcome as I did there. Independent Agencies in the Avoya Travel Network were outgoing and eager to discuss their work and success, and equally interested to learn about our publication. The cocktail party turned into dinner and before I could find a table, I was asked to join Van Anderson, Co-Founder of Avoya Travel, and Mark Conroy, Managing Director of SilverSea Cruises, as well as some of the “Best of the Best” Independent Agencies that Avoya works with. The dinner was not only delicious, but the conversation made it even better. The individuals at this table were not only successful, but some of the most down to earth, genuine people that I have had the pleasure of sharing a meal with. The next day started early with the first General Session kicking into gear at 8:30 AM. What I saw upon my arrival to the general session consumed me. The doors parted ways into a large auditorium lined with the entire Avoya Team clapping, cheering, and dancing. The excitement was contagious and nearly all of the Travel Professionals were dancing on their way to find a seat. As the session began, the crowd slowed the dancing to greet Executive Vice President, Jeff Anderson on the stage, officially announcing his return to Avoya. Jeff Anderson had suffered a terrible ATV crash in Montana last summer and as a result, had to fight for his life with serious head trauma, a collapsed lung, and much more. Jeff fought on and as he told his story of recovery, revelation and a new found appreciation for life he fought back the strong emotions. Many in the crowd were emotional with feelings of joy for his successful recovery. The crowd stood and applauded his full return to Avoya and the emotional mood could be felt throughout the room. Jeff was not only seen as a valuable individual and mentor, but as a close friend to many of Independent Agencies. Following Jeff Anderson’s “state of the union,” the stage filled with Avoya’s top suppliers. Adolfo Perez, Vice President of Sales and Trade Marketing for Carnival Cruise Line, Alex Pinelo, Vice President of Key Accounts for Norwegian Cruise Line, Dondra Ritzenthaler, Senior Vice President Sales, Trade Support & Service for Celebrity Cruise Line, Vicki Freed, Sales, Trade Support & Service for Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, and Mark Conroy, Managing Director for SilverSea Cruise Line. This powerful and influential collection of individuals spoke to the audience, not only informing them of new and exciting information, but also thanking them for their continued support. Each of these very successful lines shared great information about the future and I will summarize a lot of information into a few words. The future looks GREAT for cruising! Avoya hosts over 140 employees, many of which were able to be attend, but also many that had to hold the fort down and ensure that business continued as usual at the home office. From their IT department to the Presidents, they stood on stage to share their name, position, and a destination they hope to visit this year. Avoya Travel hosts one of the largest employee to Travel Professional ratios in the business. When asked, Van Anderson replied “The reason we are able to provide the highest support ratio is because the IA’s in the Avoya Network sell more, significantly more. In the Shared Success™ model, there has to be investments on both sides.” He continued to explain “Support and more support, we are constantly looking for ways to increase our support.” Among the many new releases shared with the 450 + Travel Professionals in attendance was the new Priceline Partner Network and Avoya Travel partnership. The new partnership allows Independent Agencies to offer customers air, car, and hotel options as part of their services to provide the most enjoyable and stress-free vacation planning experience. The Agent Portal will follow Priceline Partner Network’s policy of paying in full up front, which they shared tends to lead to a decrease in cancellations. Independent Agencies will have access through Agent Power™ to check pricing, compare options, and place a booking on their customer’s behalf. Brad Anderson, Avoya President, said “We can’t do everything, so we must pick partners that can do those different things well.” He continued to say “In the long run, this will help us continue to build the Avoya brand.” During the session, the representative from the Priceline Partner Network indicated that this was just the beginning and there would be more functionality down the road that will be available to the Avoya Travel Network. Lunch break arrived and I was able to sit and speak with some of Avoya’s top Travel Professionals. Janel Fidalgo, owner of Janel Fidalgo Agency LLC, who is based out of Ware, Massachusetts and is an Independent Agency in Avoya’s ‘Best of the Best’ President’s Circle category. The “President’s Circle” means that Janel has accomplished an amazing $2 Million dollars in sales in 2015. Janel has been in the Travel Industry for 8 years, six of which have been with Avoya Travel. Janel shared her thoughts on Live Leads™ by saying, “We love them! 95% of my business comes from Live Leads.” Janel shared that she sees a 31% closing rate with the assistance of the Live Leads provided by Avoya. Janel’s last comment really resonated with me, coming from a family business myself, she said, “I love the family feeling that Avoya brings. I’m really into family so that is important to me.” Susan Wolfson, owner of Go Astro Travel LLC, in Allentown, PA, has been a Travel Professional for 16 years. Five years ago, she joined the Avoya Network which has dramatically grown her business to new heights. Her success has allowed her husband to retire early from his profession as an Engineer and he plans to assist Susan with her agency. “The growth of my business is due to the Live Leads program, with my niche being focused on River Cruising. I work very close with Ama Waterways and have grown a great customer base as a result,” she said. Susan continued, “Becoming a specialist with Avoya in River Cruising has allowed me to become an expert, knowing the product like the back of my hand. Due to my expertise, I see a closing rate of 30% thanks to the Avoya tools and support.” Susan comes from a career in Computer Programming before joining the Travel Industry, “The technology that Avoya offers is amazing. I am in awe of the integration and ease of use of these very powerful tools.” Susan is a part of Avoya’s 2015 ‘Best of the Best’ program which means that she has sold over $1 Million dollars in the past year and with her positive attitude and enthusiasm, I’m sure she has much more continued success in her future. The afternoon session kicked back into gear and Avoya announced their new Marketing platform, AMP. AMP (Agency Marketing Platform) was another of the large announcements at the conference. While still in the BETA stages, AMP will allow Independent Travel Professionals to have access to custom branded marketing materials such as E-Mail Marketing, Social Media Marketing, and even direct mail assets. With full integration into the Avoya system, Avoya Agents will be able to select and customize items such as thank-you cards to send to their clients. With one click an Independent Agencies in the Avoya Network can customize, order printing, and have it shipped. The AMP model will be complimentary to Avoya members during the BETA stages, however, there will be a fee down the road. Marketing cannot only be a very time consuming, it can also drain your profits as well. Avoya Travel is pushing to provide an affordable, effective, and an easy to use solution for those Travel Professionals that wear the many “hats” of running their own business. Look for more information on the AMP addition to the Avoya Travel program in 3rd Quarter of 2016. Now, we all have a love/hate relationship with our e-mail accounts. Whether it is lack of space or constant errors, it can be frustrating. Avoya announced to their Travel Professionals that not only is their mail server getting a complete makeover, but there will also be increased storage size for each address with up to 10 GB of space. The crowd was on their feet with excitement the second they shared this news. On top of the increased email capacity, their Agent Power™ 6.0 interface is getting a complete revamp to improve supplier interactivity, income growth, and user experience. The tools offered to Independent Agencies are powerful and after these announcements, they most definitely have new artillery in their arsenal. The day continued to be full of amazing benefits for the Avoya Network and as the sessions ended, the “Pirate” cocktail party kicked into full gear. Now, I definitely underestimated the necessity to dress up, because I had no costume and was literally the only person not in full pirate attire. The agents rocked this event and not only did the staff at the Club Med participate, the entire Avoya family was in full get up and looking fantastic! I took the opportunity of standing out like a sore thumb in a sea of Pirates to chat with some Travel Professionals on their experiences, success, and thoughts on the Avoya Travel Host Agency program. Donna Leipper, owner of Donna Leipper Agency, from the Villages, Florida has been in the Travel Industry for 22 years. Joining Avoya 9 years ago has resulted in her business has grown to levels that she didn’t think were possible. “Avoya’s Technology couldn’t be any better. There is no one else in the marketplace that even comes close to Avoya,” said Donna, while in full Pirate attire. We continued our discussion and Donna’s enthusiasm continued with saying “I couldn’t work with a better family and better team. Everybody is supportive and willing to answer all of my questions. They are just super.” Coming all the way from Vancouver, BC, Canada, Shawn Power, ECCS, has been in the Travel Industry for a cumulative 10 years. Four years ago, Shawn joined the Avoya Network and saw his income double with the assistance of Avoya and their Live Leads program. Shawn is an Independent Agency Owner in the Chairman’s Club with a sales volume of 4.5 Million and 75% of that is by focusing on his niche of River Cruising. “Live Leads is what really made the difference for me. It really helped me increase my numbers and grow my business,” said Shawn. When asked about vendor relationships, Shawn said “Van Anderson made a point to introduce me to Mark Conroy from SilverSea Cruise Line and initiate a personal relationship there. Avoya completely supports having personal relationships with suppliers.” Shawn received several awards during the conference due to his success in sales and growth. We also offer our congratulations to Shawn and his wife Nancy on their continued success in our great industry. Mary Head, owner of Sunset Holdings, LLC, from Nashville Tennessee has worked in the Travel Industry for over 20 years. Her history includes working for Norwegian Cruise Line, Royal Viking Line and Continental Air, all before staring her new career as an Independent Agent for Avoya Travel. Mary is a ‘Best of the Best’ Independent Agency indicating that she has sold over $1 Million in sales in the past year. “Working with a Host Agency is a great stepping stone to enter this industry and to see if it is a good fit,” said Mary. When asked about her sales, “Live Leads work amazing for me! They account for 70% – 80% of my business.” Mary has seen great success with the Avoya Network and contributes that success to the high levels of support that Avoya provides. Mary ended our chat by sharing, “The technology and support is amazing but the Mastermind groups really allowed me to grow and become successful. It really made the difference for me.” With Mary’s experience working on the supplier end of the industry, I inquired if Mary had any last comments, she replied, “There is no need to look for any other Host Agency. There really isn’t. Avoya is way ahead of its time and way ahead of the competition.” During the “Pirate” cocktail party, there was a storm brewing and before long, the thunder parted ways to lightening and a downpour, which someone from San Diego doesn’t see too often. The Pirates moved their way into the Marketplace for another great meal followed by live entertainment provided by the Club Med Sandpiper Resort. The Avoya Travel family has a goal that is unique and that is “Shared Success.” After spending some time with not only the Avoya team but the Independent Agents as well, I can tell you that the entire family works together to accomplish their goal. From the support to the technology, from the staff to the relationships, Avoya has built a team of true Travel Professionals. It was quite inspiring to be a part of their celebration of their Independent Agents. Travel Professional NEWS was honored to attend this event and while there are many Host Agencies out there, each with their own value proposition, Avoya does stand apart with the goal of “Shared Success.” Brad Anderson said it very well “If you are paying us, there is a problem. We want to be paying you.” Avoya Travel will continue its growth, not just in sales volume but in personnel as well. Jeff Anderson, while discussing some of the recent announcements and additions to the Avoya Travel network, “We are able to afford curiosity.” Now if we stop and think for just a second, isn’t that why we are in the world of Travel? Do we not travel for curiosity? To see new things and experience life, other than the one we live? Curiosity isn’t just a driving force but it stems innovative thought, creation and new concepts of business. When I was around 10-years old, I was out surfing with my father at Swami’s in Encinitas, California. During a growing swell, a large set of waves rolled through. Being ten years old and about 90 pounds soaking wet, I backed out of one the larger waves from fear, and to this day, I wish I had dropped in. I returned to the lineup, slightly frustrated with my hesitation and my father said these words, “You never know, unless you go.” I have continued to apply that saying to everything I do in life. From being a father to being a husband. From surfing to career decisions. From finances to finding happiness. We will never know unless we go, so let’s go! A large thank you to the Anderson family and Avoya Travel for the stimulating experience. You are really going for it.