Despite a few hiccups in communication resulting in me missing the Downtown Los Angeles tour, my time spent at the ASTA Travel Retailing & Destination Expo (ASTA-LA) was very insightful and productive.
I arrived in LA on the afternoon of September 6th and settled into the beautiful Westin Bonaventure Hotel. The property is conveniently located near both the Hilton Checkers and the Millennium Biltmore. I mention this because I walked to a lovely reception at the Hilton hosted by Hahn Air on the Thursday night. Hahn Air is a new partner with ACTA and offers a unique service that you really need to check out. You can find more information on them by checking on our website at http://www.acta.ca/partners.
Friday started early with an industry panel session on “tapping into emerging opportunities”. Panelists Roger Block, President, Travel Leaders Franchise Group, Roger Hale, President and CEO ADTRAV Travel Management Group, Chris Kroeger, Senior Vice President, Sabre Travel Network and moderator Arnie Weissman, Senior Vice President and Editor-In-Chief, Travel Weekly provided their views on the latest trends and hot destinations/markets including Vietnam as one destination mentioned and multi-generational travel as a market segment to target.
Following the industry session, I decided to sit on an educational session “Building Your Business with Leadership”, presented by Lisa Buckner, President and COO CTS and Tim Smith, President, GlobalPoint Travel. I believe that even if “you’ve heard it before’, it’s always good to get a refresher on tips to lead successfully. The presentation delved into the 3 P’s (different from the 4 P’s I studied in a Marketing course at Queen’s): Purpose, Process and Pay-Off. I took notes for anyone interesting in learning more.
I spent Friday afternoon on the trade show floor. As I walked up and down the aisles, I met a good selection of suppliers providing unique services as well as serving destinations from all over the world. Hopefully we can introduce you to some of the products and services offered by these suppliers through our ACTA ID Card program.
Friday evening had delegates on the rooftop of the ICON Ultra Lounge across from the LA Convention Centre courtesy of the Los Angeles Tourism and Convention Board. This was a fabulous spot for networking and hearing what the issues are from agencies south of the border. It is important to be tuned in to ‘their’ issues which may become 'our' issues down the road.
The Saturday morning industry session titled “The Relationship Between Travel Agents and Major Industry Segments” brought together panelists Jack Anderson, SVP of Marketing and Sales for Crystal Cruise Lines, Chris Austin, VP of Global Retail Leisure & Luxury Sales, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc., John Lovell, President, Vacation.com and Lisa Simon, President, National Tour Association. James Shillinglaw, Editor-in-Chief, TravAlliancemendia moderated the panel. Attendees gleaned from the industry cross-section a better understanding of the trends, expectations of customers and the relationship with travel professionals within the major segments of the industry. James Spellos, President, Meeting U followed with a presentation.
Mr. Spellos also conducted an Education Session titled “Hot Technologies 2012: It’s Social, Mobile & Local”. Wow, was this an eye-opening experience. Mr. Spellos was a captivating speaker but introduced the session with showing the participants a Youtube video on ANW (articulated naturality website). You have to check this out… it’s where we’ll be very soon. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tnRJaHZH9lo
Mr. Spellos shared a lot of great tips including if you are overwhelmed with trying to stay on top of social media and find you may need to give something up, you could give up Facebook, but NOT Twitter. He also talked about Social Curation, your ‘new’ newspaper citing tools: Paper.li, Scoop.it, and Pinterest.com. Oh, and Word Lens was another ‘must have’ app but it’s not free. The session wrapped up with his question: what would an app look like for your company? Not many in the room had one but he pointed out why you should. All-in-all this was a terrific session that left me wanting more.
I rushed from this session into the highly anticipated presentation: The Future of Travel Distribution – The IATA Solution, presented by Kevin Mitchell, Business Travel Coalition and Paul Ruden, VP Consumer & Industry Affairs, ASTA. All eyes focused on Mr. Jean Charles Odelé-Gruau, Regional Director, IDFS The Americas when he took to the podium. As outlined in the the show event guide, Mr. Odelé-Gruau was to talk about IATA’s “new messaging standard” based on the idea of “authenticated shopping”. This term refers to a system in which, before receiving information about price and service options, a consumer, or a travel agent working on the consumer’s behalf, must first identify himself to the airline(s) in a manner that permits the airlines to tailor the “offer” to the personal characteristics of that traveler. These developments raise many questions. Among them are whether, in the fast-changing travel distribution landscape, a collective global effort by the airlines will sweep aside a) current managed-travel community economic relationships; b) remaining visibility to fares and ancillary services to leisure and corporate customers; and c) the ability of travel managers to effectively control business travel costs, among many others. The expectation was for this session to be highly interactive and they delivered on this point. As I scanned the audience, I saw many heads shaking in disbelief during the Q&A. IATA’s response to almost all questions began with “we don’t know” but there was no question that IATA is planning ‘something’ that we all know is going to by-pass the GDS and ultimately restrict your ability to provide your clients with complete content choice. ACTA is obviously involved in this global concern, independently as well as collectively through WTAAA and Open Allies. Rest assured that we will keep you updated on this important matter.
IATA’s new distribution ‘plan’ was still top of mind as next I attended the International Travel Agent Summit hosted by ABC Global Services. For those unfamiliar with ABC’s Hotel Premier Program, this is a terrific search engine that is easy to use, has the best rates and is accessible via GDS. The outgoing International Chapter President, Rob Durant (and Chair of ACTA BC/YK region), introduced Michael Merrithew as the incoming International Chapter President. It’s great to have another Canadian as the Chapter President and long standing member of ACTA.
With another tour around the show floor, I set out to make myself look “beautimous” (sorry to insert a ‘Here Comes Honey Boo Boo’ reference but someone just made me aware of this television show on TLC). The Advocacy Dinner on Saturday evening was again walking distance from the Westin. Held in the amazing Crystal Room of the Millennium Biltmore Hotel, I learned that this was where the original Academy Awards were held. The hotel and ballroom in particular were simply breathtaking and worthy of the same accolades given to European palaces. Paul Ruden, ASTA’s VP Consumer & Industry Affairs was thoroughly entertaining as the MC. It was a wonderful event with special thanks to Cynthia and Klayton at ABC Global Services for inviting me to sit at their table. Also at my table, I had the pleasure of meeting my counterpart from the Travel Agency Association New Zealand (TAANZ). TAANZ is celebrating 50 years as an association and is a member of the WTAAA to which we are a founding member. In addition to New Zealand, there was representation from Canada, Bulgaria and United States making it a truly global experience.
On Sunday, I caught an early flight home to Toronto leaving L.A. behind and only one regret – I didn’t get to see the sights outside of three hotels and the Convention Centre. Oh, and as I told those that asked if I had any celebrity sightings, I saw one actor as I was standing in business class waiting to get to my seat at the “back of the bus”. Scott Grimes who most would remember from the television show ER was, as I discovered after, flying to Newfoundland. With TIFF taking place at that time, most of the celebrities were walking the red carpets in Toronto.