The Global Travel Group (TGTG) 2016 conference has been hailed a resounding success by CEO Andy Stark.
The event, which took place from 23 to 25 May at Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai, not only attracted a record number of agent members – 184 in total – but delivered a relevant, insightful and entertaining programme that has been overwhelmingly well received by the almost 300-strong delegation, he told TDUK.
“I have never been to a conference where we have had so much positive feedback,” said Stark.
“On day one of the conference, the hashtag #TGTGConf16 was trending on social media, taking the number one slot on Twitter in Dubai.”
Thirty-four conference-goers were first timers, 22 of which were brand new members.
Stark attributed the event’s success to a number of factors.
“To start with, Dubai is unique and has true wow factor,” he said. “For many of our agents, this was the first time they had visited the destination, which was evident when we were booking the Dubai city tour on the first day – it was oversubscribed with 100 agents wanting to do it, so we had to put on extra coaches.”
A TGTG survey conducted last year found an “overwhelming” number of agents wanted an overseas conference in 2016 given the annual gathering had been staged in the UK for the previous seven years.
Stark said the decision to hold the event in Dubai was not partially, but not entirely based on the fact TGTG’s new owner, dnata, is headquartered in the city.
“That wasn’t the tipping point for us because when we booked the conference we were only just formalising the acquisition. However, now we part of dnata, coming to Dubai has given us a chance to showcase the destination and to leverage some of the relationships we have here,” he explained.
Agent survey feedback also revealed agents wanted more speed dating with suppliers.
As a result, the 2016 conference saw two afternoons dedicated to speed meetings (instead of one afternoon), with each time slot increased from 10 to 15 minutes.
“We had 85 suppliers attend this year, which gave us a ratio of almost two agents per supplier,” said Stark. “You don’t get much better than that.”
Presentations were also kept short in response to feedback and the line-up included some big names.
“To secure Dubai Tourism CEO Issam Kazim was a real coup for us, as well as Iain Andrew, divisional senior vice president, travel, dnata; it gave us real presence,” said Stark.
“We managed to keep the buzz going throughout the conference – and the Red Bulls we gave out on the morning of day two certainly helped.”
Key conference messages
Day one of the business sessions (Tuesday 24 May) not only saw Dubai-based speakers Kazim, and Andrew provide insight into Dubai’s exciting tourism growth story and its future ambitions, but also tackled some pertinent industry issues.
An ‘Industry Insight’ panel featuring Stark, Andrew Botterill, CEO, B2B, dnata Travel Europe; and Lisa McAuley, commercial director, Silversea Cruises, covered a range of topics, from summer booking trends to the impact of Brexit on the travel sector.
Oliver Yeates and Sam Gadsy of Clicky Media told agents how to increase web traffic via mobile; Bruce Martin of Ginger Juice revealed ‘How to win more customers through Facebook’; and Darren Hepburn of NewZapp, provided some top tips on email marketing dos and don’ts.
Day two panellists included Myriad Travel, Your Travel, PST Travel and Honeymoon Dreams, who all revealed their agency success stories.
The agencies, who all received awards in recognition of their achievements at the conference gala dinner, said providing a personalised customer service had set them apart from the competition.
Other speakers included Nick Hughes, sales & marketing director, Attraction World who talked up the potential to sell customers “experiences”, as well as Andy Harmer, vice president of operations, CLIA, who reinforced the importance of training to ensure agents know more than their web-savvy clients.
Guest speaker Jo Fairley, co-founder of the organic chocolate company, Green & Blacks, and a self-confessed “chocaholic”, inspired agents to stand out from the crowd by providing a unique service or offering, and to use clever marketing tactics to turn customers into brand advocates.
Encouraging everyone in the audience to follow their instincts, be brave, and to launch business ventures or ideas they believed in, Fairley said: “If you don’t do it, you will never know what happened if you had done it.”
Stark said TGTG members would leave Dubai with some key messages.
“Get your basics right. Get a clear plan together. Set expectations. Be consistent,” he said.
“To be honest, the subjects covered in this conference – agents should already be doing. If they are not, they are missing a trick, and I’m not being overly critical here. For instance, if you have a website and a Facebook page, you have to use them! This conference was about agents shaking themselves down.
“We also learned that not everyone is booking online, particularly celebrities like Jo Fairley who use a travel agent. If you are booking a complex itinerary, you are not going to do it online. It’s all about service.”
Stark said there was a strong possibility next year’s TGTG conference would be staged overseas again and didn’t rule out a return to Dubai.
“We will conduct another member survey pretty soon to get their feedback,” he said.
The ability to take advantage of the extensive Emirates network would be a key consideration when planning the 2017 destination, he added.