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KHM Travel Group - 728 x 90 - May 2024
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Event – Avoya Travel’s 2023 Conference: Reaching New Heights with Travel Professionals

Elevating Excellence for Travel Professionals

 

Attended By: Joanie Ogg, CTC, MCC – Co-Founder – FindaHostTravelAgency.com

 

The 2023 in-person Avoya Travel Conference began with the Million Dollar Showcase at the Hilton Bellevue, WA September 22-24th and continued on with a 7-night cruise to Alaska onboard the magnificent Discovery Princess, the newest ship in the Princess fleet. The Million Dollar Showcase highlighted Avoya’s IA’s with a million dollars in sales in the previous 12 months. I was unable to be at that event, which I heard was simply amazing. It was followed by a 7-night Conference at Sea sailing from Seattle and cruising to the ports of Ketchikan, Juneau and Skagway, Alaska ending in Vancouver, BC on Sunday, October 1st.

My journey to join the conference began with what we in the travel industry often refer to as a hiccup. I arrived at the Phoenix, Arizona airport only to find that my Alaska Airlines flight to Seattle had been cancelled. Apparently they emailed me at 1:00am to let me know but it must have gotten lost in the mail. After jogging through the airport with luggage trying to get on another flight to Seattle, I unfortunately was not able to fly out to arrive in Seattle in time to board the ship. I reluctantly returned home, pouted and sulked until I figured out a way to meet the ship in Ketchikan.

My journey began again on Monday as I flew to Ketchikan, Alaska. Arrival at the Ketchikan airport was a breeze and the small but efficient airport made it a great second beginning to my Avoya Adventure. When you arrive in Ketchikan you can simply walk to the ferry and enjoy a nice little cruise over to the old town of Ketchikan. I stayed at The Gilmore, a historical hotel right next to Annabelle’s (famous for their seafood). The hotel is managed by Wyndham so I figured while it would be old, it would certainly meet basic 3-star standards. Not sure I would allow that many stars to be awarded, however I made the best out of no heat in the room, no hot water, no closet, etc. I still enjoyed it and will forever laugh about my adventure and enjoy the fond memories. For those who visit Ketchikan, be sure to enjoy a meal at Annabelle’s for their world-famous halibut and chips.

I boarded the ship on Tuesday in Ketchikan and was thrilled to find that I was given a gorgeous balcony cabin and even access to the concierge lounge. Again, thank you Avoya! The ship is spectacular in so many ways. Since the day was a port day (albeit a bit rainy), most of the passengers were off the ship enjoying excursions and shopping in quaint and beautiful Ketchikan. Boarding the ship I heard several passengers sharing that the day before, which was a sea day, had been very stormy with seas of over 20 feet. Sorry I missed that…not so much! The General Session set for Monday had to be postponed due to the weather and I had not missed it which I was thrilled about. A VIP cocktail reception was the last official event for the day. My good friend Brad Anderson spoke to everyone and shared that he is officially retiring from his role at Avoya. That being said, I am certain we will continue to see our friend at industry events and at future Avoya events. He is such an integral part of Avoya and its rich history and a dear friend to Tom, Andy and I.

 

Wednesday, 9/27/23

Juneau, Alaska

Early in the morning I awoke to the most spectacular site. I opened my drapes to find that we were cruising the Endicott Arm and then by Dawes Glacier. What a site that is. Truly one of the most beautiful sights in the world, in my opinion. What a tremendous way to start the day!

 

 

The first official General Session kicked off with Ashley Hunter, Senior Vice President of Partnerships at Avoya who welcomed everyone and introduced the day’s events. She encouraged everyone to spend time with and enjoy the time with supplier partners, other IA’s and the 35 Avoya staff members in attendance. Reach New Heights was the theme of this year’s conference. She encouraged the IA’s to make the most of their time to reach those new heights in their respective businesses.

Carmen Roig, Vice President of Sales for Princess Cruises, gave everyone an enthusiastic welcome and provided a brief update on the Princess brand. She shared that Princess brings more passengers to Alaska than any other cruise line. The new Sun Princess will be cruising the Caribbean in February of 2024 and then Princess will welcome the new Star Princess in 2025. Carmen’s energy and vibrant personality is always so much fun.

 

 

Next up was a keynote presentation by Beth Kellan who is a Realtor, Coach and Motivational Speaker. Her topic focused on Living On Purpose and how important it is to focus on the vital few and not the trivial, to set expectations not boundaries and to live life and business in harmony.

Hannah Westerdoll, Director of Sales atAmaWaterways presented next and updated the IA’s on the new and exciting itineraries and ships. She was followed by Alicia Steuart, Senior Director of Sales at Carnival Cruise Lines, who shared a wonderful presentation.

Jeff Anderson, Co-CEO of Avoya Travel and Phil Cappelli, Chief Sales Officer of Avoya Travel, came on stage for a one on one talk. Phil is new to the Avoya executive team and we were able to learn more about Phil and his plans and strategies. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to interview Phil during the cruise and that interview is featured here as well.

Another highlight during today’s session was a chat on stage between Jeff Anderson, Co-CEO, Mike Anderson, Co-CEO and Ian Woodward, Senior Director of Product Development at Avoya Travel. The gentlemen shared with everyone the new and innovative technology enhancements across all of the Avoya Platforms.

 

 

The rest of the afternoon was free and everyone was able to enjoy the afternoon in Juneau.

 

On a personal note, I fulfilled one of my “Bucket List” items while in Juneau. I am a dog lover and have always wanted to do one of the dog sled and puppy petting trips in Alaska. Even though the weather was not stellar with lots of wind and rain, the excursion was fantastic. I had so much fun. It turns out it was the last tour of the season. I felt so lucky to have the opportunity to experience this fun afternoon with the dogs. I highly recommend it!

 

 

Thursday, September 28th, 2023

Skagway, Alaska

Today was a free day for everyone to enjoy all that Skagway has to offer. I have always loved this port for its beauty, charm and history. I had some serious Grandma duties to perform in town shopping for Peyton and Lyla Ogg. Of course a beer at the famous Red Onion Saloon was a must do as well.

That afternoon I had the opportunity to interview Phil Cappelli, CSO of Avoya, while back on the ship. Then I met with my friend Jesse Morris, owner of We Book Travel, LLC, to learn all about what he is up to in his very successful travel agency. I also spent time with Dana Virkler Dziegiel owner of Gypsea Travels, LLC. Be sure to read both of the interviews with these two power-house travel professionals. They are simply amazing and it was such a wonderful afternoon spent learning about their many successes.

 

Friday, September 29th, 2023

Day at Sea

We met early this morning for the General Session in the Princess Theater. Following is a brief overview of the information packed agenda we enjoyed.

Brittany Yochum, Manager of National Accounts at Royal Caribbean updated everyone on all that is new at Royal Caribbean. Following this we heard from Globus Family of Brands.

Next up was time to announce the Avoya Award Winners for 2023. While the year is not quite done yet, it was wonderful to see these super-star agencies recognized for their sales and hard work. The winners list represented estimated agency sales based off current pacing for the year.

After the award winners were recognized we heard from MSC Cruises and my friend Kris Endreson, VP of Strategic Sales. Kris is always a superstar on stage and her update about all that is new and exciting with MSC was great.

Following this, Jeff Anderson came back on stage to present the Flowerfly Award. This award is for someone that fully embodies the true spirit of Avoya. It recognizes the commitment to integrity and professionalism that the Independent Agent brings not only to their agency but also to the Avoya Network and Travel Industry as a whole every day. Their consistent positivity, willingness to support their fellow Independent Agencies, and dedication to being an ambassador and advocate for Avoya exemplify what it means to be a part of the Avoya Family. This year’s 2023 Flowerfly Award was presented to Penny Rushing, Owner of Four Points Travel, and her husband Mike Rushing, an Independent Licensed Agent of Four Points Travel, joined her onstage.

 

 

We all enjoyed a lovely private “Avoya Only” dinner in the Juneau dining room. Lobster and steak were the choice for many and of course Baked Alaska put the final touches on the day. The food was spectacular and everyone enjoyed a lovely evening together.

Saturday, September 30th, 2023

Day at Sea

The General Session began with a beautiful performance by two lovely and very talented young violinists from the entertainment team of Princess Cruises. It was the perfect way to start the last and final General Session.

 

 

Ashley Hunter came on stage to welcome everyone back to the final day. First up was a Fireside Chat with Phil Cappelli, CSO with Avoya Travel and Charles Silva, ECC the Vice President of Trade Relations with CLIA. They spoke about CLIA and the long-standing relationship with the Avoya Network. Charlie shared that Jeff Anderson, Co-CEO of Avoya, will be hosting the cruise line President’s panel at the upcoming Cruise3Sixty conference.

Lori Goldspiel, AVP of Sales, Key & National Accounts and Kelly Ross, Key Accounts Manager with Azamara Cruises presented on Azamara’s itineraries and other important updates. They were followed by a video presentation by Celebrity Cruises.

The big announcement of the conference was then shared by Jeff Anderson, Co-CEO of Avoya. Elite 100 has arrived. This has been awhile in the works but it is now official. Avoya Travel will be paying 100% commission to qualified IAs. The 100% commission is a huge benefit for those agencies that qualify and a motivator for those that do not yet qualify to grow their businesses to achieve that level. The 100% commission payment will be only on preferred vendors. 80% commission will be paid on non-preferred and on air sales. The agents were thrilled with the official announcement of this news and there is no doubt this is going to be a game changer for many.

Two more supplier presentations followed. We heard from Atlas World Cruises and Virgin Voyages. This was followed by Jeff Anderson and Nick Renoux of Avoya. Nick Renoux has just taken on a new role with Avoya as the Director of Content. Nick talked about some of the new marketing and content programs for the IAs. They shared exciting news about the new Direct Mail initiative for the customers of the IAs. Leveraging the Travel Leaders Network will provide turnkey implementation. With just a few short steps, the agents will be able to send out a beautiful eMagazine to their clients which will be able to easily view on all their various devices. There are certainly some great new options in the content arena for the IAs to utilize.

The last two supplier presenters were Eva Damato, Senior Manager of National Accounts from Seabourn and Brennan Quesnele, Vice President of Sales for Strategic and National Accounts for Norwegian Cruise Line.        

Ashley Hunter returned to the stage to announce the 2024 Avoya Events. This was a much anticipated announcement and the IAs were so excited to learn where they might be going next. Here is a breakdown of the 2024 schedule.

 

Top Producer ($1M+) Reward Trip 3/24-30, 2024 Avalon Chartered Cruise

Best of the Best (2M+) Reward Trip5/1-6, 2024

Avoya Land Forum 6/24-28, 2024

Avoya Conference 9/25-10/2, 2024 Norwegian Joy Cruise

Avoya Luxury Forum TBD

 

There will also be 4 events in 2024 for New IAs and the Million Dollar Showcase location will be announced later as well. The agencies in attendance were thrilled with the announcements and the energy in the room was electric. I could imagine calendars were being updated throughout the room. This concluded the final General Session.

In the evening, we all enjoyed a fun and very festive Octoberfest themed cocktail reception in the Vista Lounge. Lederhosen and Dirndl dresses were the attire for many suppliers, IA’s and the Avoya staff. See the photo below of Phil Cappelli, CSO and Sam McCully, SVP of Marketing. It was great fun and a very festive way to celebrate this fantastic conference and memorable week on the beautiful Discovery Princess.

The evening continued with an exclusive experience on Princess. Carmen Roig with Princess invited some of the press and other Avoya team members and IA’s to enjoy a Mediterranean destination-inspired, immersive 7-course indulgence, paired with drinks, adventures and surprises along the way. I have never had the opportunity to experience anything quite like it in my many years of travel. It is beyond spectacular in every way and my very sincere thanks to Carmen Roig for her hospitality.

One more nightcap and I was off to get a good night’s rest before my journey home to Phoenix thefollowing day. The experiences, time shared with friends and colleagues, the beauty of Alaska and the entire Avoya “Reach New Heights” 2023 Conference was simply unforgettable.

 

Event Interviews:

 

Phil Cappelli, Chief Sales Officer – Avoya Travel

 

Joanie: “I am here with the newly appointed Chief Sales Officer at Avoya Travel, Phil Cappelli. With an amazingly impressive background in the travel industry, Phil has recently joined Avoya. This new role of Chief Sales Officer is a new position and title. There is no doubt Phil will be a perfect fit to the Avoya Travel family. Thank you so much for spending some time with me today, Phil, as we journey through Alaska on the beautiful Discovery Princess at the Avoya Conference.”

Phil, it is so great to meet you and can you share just a little bit of your industry background for our readers?

Phil: “Sure thing, Joanie. I believe it was in 1996 when I first went to work in the travel industry at Tauck Tours. Prior to that I was a business consultant.”

Joanie: “Was that in travel as well?”

Phil: “No, outside of travel. I actually worked at a psychiatric hospital when I finished my degree in liberal arts. This was in Connecticut. I met my wife there when we were 16. We didn’t date until after high school and college. This helped me pay for grad school. I then went into consulting for some time. I was living in Stanford, Connecticut but was always driving to and from Long Island and always traveling to client’s sites such as Ameritech, Dean Whitter and Morgan Stanley. We had our daughter, Katie, and I just did not want to be away so much so I left consulting due to traveling too often and then I joined the travel industry, which is kind of ironic.

My brother worked at Tauck Tours and still does 25 years later as their President of Treasury. He suggested I interview with Tauck. I enjoyed the conversation with their HR person and was scheduled to speak with them for only 1/2 hour. 2 1/2 hours later we were still talking. I remember she said, ‘I am not sure where you are going to work with us but we want you to come work for us now.’

And that’s where I learned everything. It was an amazing experience working for Tauck and if I was to have an alumni tattoo from a company, I would definitely have the Tauck logo. I ran the call center for a time and then I was their Sales Director of North America for a while. Then I had an opportunity to go over to Insight Vacations which was my first role as Vice President of National Accounts. Within a year I was promoted to President of Insight in the USA and I enjoyed that role for five years.

The Travel Corporation was a great company to work for and they took great care of me. I decided I was ready to take a break from all the travel so I gave my notice and enjoyed what I like to call ‘The Summer of Phil.’ Then I was recruited by Alex Sharp at Signature as the Senior Vice President of Partnerships. I was responsible for the supplier side of things at Signature, which made the move to Avoya Travel a perfect fit for my skills.”

Joanie: “I am sure you knew the Anderson family well and that must have had a great influence on your decision to take the new role at Avoya.”

Phil: “I’ve always had respect for the family going back to when it was headed by Van and Brad, so that of course had influence on my decision. Another reason was the technology at Avoya. I know we talk about it a lot, but it needs to be talked about. It’s amazing. It’s like our number one thing and it helps us stand out against others. I knew it was great because I had seen its power from the supplier side. But just in the last 10 days since I joined Avoya, I’ve been here getting under the hood and it is truly phenomenal.

There’s nothing like it to be able to join Avoya as an agent and book a million and a half in business in just one year. That’s pretty substantial. No one else is doing that. Now that person is obviously a tremendous sales person and a hardworking individual to be able to do that, but we’re providing those tools. If somebody wants to work hard and build their business, they can do it here.”

Joanie: “Let’s get a bit more personal. I heard you speak during the general session about how important family is. You and Jeff Anderson spoke about how you had that in common with one-another. Can you share a little more on this subject?”

Phil: “Sure, I know how important family is to the Andersons and it’s one of the things I’ve really loved about them. I was able to see it from the outside, just the way they treated each other. Obviously, they’re in business and when you’re working in a family business, you’re trying to grow it. The first generation starts it. The second generation builds it. Then the third generation sometimes has challenges. But when you look at what they’re doing here and the people they’re bringing on and what we’re spending on support and technology, it is compelling. Growth is our number one priority for our IA’s and the company as a whole.

Avoya’s history and success is based on the family values from Pat and Pal Anderson. Family has always been the most important thing to me in my life. My wife and my three kids are my world. That’s where it starts. The support that I’ve received from everyone at Avoya has been unbelievable. To be able to work with an organization that has those same family values that I do is so important.”

Joanie: “Let’s get back to technology for a minute. The technology initiatives and the implementation of those I think personally have been a key differentiator for Avoya. You have certainly seen many different technology platforms in your past positions in travel. Can you share your thoughts on this?”

Phil: “Certainly. I had access to a lot of those big agencies in my role at Signature and even as a supplier. The technology at Avoya goes the total distance for the IAs. If an agent wants to build their own business we have those tools for them. If they  want to take leads and have everything done for them, and just close the lead and get that business, they can do that as well. Or they can bring in their own book of business and work with us that way. They have got a lot of options here that not a lot of other host agencies do. There’s a great deal of money, time, and technology invested in growing that Avoya business to drive into the advisor. “

Joanie: “What are some of the things you plan on focusing on in your role as Chief Sales Officer?”

Phil: “One is to bring the partners closer together with the IA’s. Having Steve Hirshan on the IA side and Ashley Hunter overseeing partnerships is key. My job really is to work with them and the other teams to grow both the independent agency network, but also the supplier preferred partnerships. We want to drive results for our supplier partners. I am going to ask for our fair share from the suppliers, but we are going to deliver on bookings and productions as we have in the past. However, we are now going to take that to the next level.”

Joanie: “What is your most memorable travel industry memory? Have you met somebody or experienced a what I like to call ‘A Pinch Me Moment’? Our industry allows us some pretty spectacular experiences. I was able to have dinner with The Prince of Monaco years ago, which was certainly a highlight for me.”

Phil: “There are so many. You are correct, we are very lucky to have these kinds of experiences. I was able to meet Michael Jordan, which was very cool. I’ve been able to play golf with a lot of actors and dignitaries. But if I had like one, it would actually go back to probably why I’m here in this industry at all.

Believe it or not, I was kind of introverted in the beginning in my role in the call center at Tauck and when they said we want you to run sales, I was a little unsure it was the right fit for me.

I was about 25 years old and attended an American Express event. At the cocktail reception I was walking around the room and trying to find a way to break into any conversations. Most of the people there were older than me and they all knew each other. I kept looping around the room looking for a possible place to land and I was about to give up and go home. I called my wife and she said to make another loop and not to give up.

I made my loop and as I was about to walk out, Jimmy Murphy, the founder of Brendan Tours, stopped me. I had never met him before and did not realize he was likely the most important man in the room. He asked me where I was going. I told him I was just about to leave and he then dragged me into multiple conversations around the room and helped me break in. I will never forget it.

When Jimmy passed away a few years ago, I sent his son, Gary Murphy, a letter sharing this story with him and how much his father had meant to me. Gary is one my favorite people in the industry and I wanted to share the impact his father had on my career. Now, I try to pay that forward when I see a situation where I can help someone else as their career begins.”

Joanie: “I love that story. The Murphy family is amazing. I was lucky to know Jimmy as well and he was an icon and such a kind man.

Here is my last question and it should be an easy one. What adventure is still on your bucket list that you have yet to experience?”

Phil: “I have been able to do some really fun things in travel but what I really want to do is travel through India on a motorcycle. I want to go really deep into India. I don’t want the 5-star India but I want to see the heart and soul of India.”

Joanie: “Wow, that is not a typical travel experience. It sounds amazing and I hope that you make that opportunity happen for yourself. I will look forward to hearing all about it.

That concludes our time together today and I cannot thank you enough for this wonderful conversation. It really is a pleasure to get to know you better and I hope our paths cross again soon. I know you and your Avoya team have great plans and will achieve amazing success.”

Sam McCully, Senior Vice President of Marketing – Avoya Travel

 

Joanie: “I am speaking with Sam McCully, Senior Vice President of Marketing with Avoya Travel as we sail on the Discovery Princess in Alaska at the Avoya Travel Conference.

Thank you so much for speaking with me today, Sam. It is so great to see you and be able to enjoy some time catching up with you. I have had the pleasure of knowing you and watching your incredible success for I think what is 10-years now. Can you share a little bit of history about your time with Avoya?”

Sam: “I joined the company 10 years ago. When I joined Avoya originally I came in to build a best of breed marketing organization. Avoya had  really invested in their platform, lead distribution and building the network. At that time, it was really to focus on feeding that network with high quality leads. So I came in a decade ago to build up our organization.

So fast forward, and as you know, we really do have the best of breed digital marketing capability.  We have a very talented in-house creative services company. Hopefully you see that in all of our branding. That was really the Second Phase of the partnership.

We don’t just have a team or teams. We have an organization market. I’ve got people in seven states out there who are just amazing. They are really talented marketers and creative people. So that was phase one.

Phase Two was to scale up our marketing technology and also our ability to see that our IA’s could benefit from those tools. We launched as a publisher in 2018. The digital magazine was a focus on helping suppliers get in front of our travelers and to also get in front of the travel sellers at the same time.

We call it dual reach, and that’s as an advertiser on our platform like TripAdvisor does. We allow suppliers to influence key parts of the traveler journey such as the planning and booking phases and then also travel sellers at the same time. Obviously it’s a different conversation that the advertisers are having with sellers would be focused around offers around their product, etc.

The third phase of my partnership with the Andersons and Avoya is to now evolve the network. We are very focused on providing the tools and support to enable their continued success.”

 

 

Joanie: “Well, the IA’s I have had the chance to speak with on this cruise are very impressive to say the least. So very successful and so very focused on growing their businesses.”

Sam: They’re amazing entrepreneurs. They’re unbelievably intelligent and smart, and they all have different needs. Some of them really focus on their own clientele and also utilize our leads program and others primarily focus on the smart leads. So, from a marketing standpoint, how do we support a very dynamic, high performing network with very unique needs for over 1,587 agency owners? That is our focus and our goal.”

Joanie “So, you have currently 1,587 Independent Agencies to date but how many total travel sellers? Do some of these agencies have other agents working under their umbrella so to speak?”

Sam: “Yes, we have over 1,800 travel sellers to date. This number represents the 1,587 IA’s and there are the additional 216 who are called we refer to as ILA’s or Independent Licensee’s. Some work as employees and others as independent contractors for the independent agency.”

Joanie: “How do these number compare to say 10 years ago in 2013?”

Sam: “In 2013, so that was before we had started to really ramp up with those who were new to travel. We were really the first in the industry to really invest and make that a focus. That started around 2016. Brad and Van Anderson were very ambitious and felt that was the next direction to take. It began in 2016 and really ramped up from 2017 to 2019. Here is a slide that shows the growth of the network over time.”

Joanie: “During the General Session you shared more details about the digital magazine. Can you elaborate?”

Sam: “Yes, the quarterly digital magazine is a real game changer. We used to have a flip-page book or magazine and it was really great, however we needed to take that to new heights. Our partners at Internova Travel Group have helped to bring this to the Avoya Network. We invest in spectacular marketing technology to support the network, not just through the public marketing resources center, but with all the assets and all co-branding. The IA’s can request co-branded versions of the marketing materials.

They can request co-branded version of our marketing material. The digital magazine is absolutely stunning and we are so proud of it. it works across all devices and is really a game-changer. The network really loves it. We represent, in our opinion, the most important part of the leisure travel industry, which is the travel advisor.”

Joanie: “Can you share with our readers, three initiatives for your team in 2024?”

Sam: “I would say Number 1 is we want to continue to differentiate the Avoya brand and obviously the travel advisor is at the forefront. We have both B to C or direct to traveler. We call it traveler marketing. This year in Q1, we launched B two C expert. That was both B to C and B to B. That was a new brand campaign. It’s really the first time we believe in the industry at scale in the US market.

We are out hitting hundreds of thousands of possible travelers with branded TV advertising as well as Internet based TV targeting. We can track it and see what, what it’s doing for us. The next phase will launch in 2024. We will continue with this strategy and build on it. That’s one key thing for next year.

Number 2 would be we are starting to work on Wave Marketing now and a new brand campaign. And I actually share that at our all company meeting that we’re now starting to work on wave marketing and, and, you know, so there’ll be a new brand campaign. That’s the first thing. The second thing is more marketing technology. Like our, what’s powering our digital, quarterly magazine. We have more advanced capability for our network.

And then Number 3 would be continuing to leverage partnerships such as social partnerships, either profile and engagement capability that we have for our agencies. For example, Jeff was talking about them having the ability for the IA’s to utilize those programs. How do they utilize these and utilize them for their clients. We are heavily focused on telling our story, differentiating the Avoya brand and making the value proposition even more compelling to book with our network.”

Joanie: “This is perfect Sam and so exciting for the entire Avoya Network. Let’s finish up our time together with a personal question. What is your most memorable travel memory and why?”

Sam: “There are so many amazing experiences I have enjoyed. I think a real highlight for me was an event we experienced with a supplier partners at Devil’s Thumb Ranch in Colorado. We have great partners and along with our executive team and our families we enjoyed a really special weekend. The dude ranch is beyond spectacular and the time we all shared with our families is a wonderful memory for me. I have a picture of my daughter when she was seven (she is now 13) where she was horseback riding and another of my son experiencing fly-fishing for the first time. These types of memories with my family are what I truly cherish.”

Joanie: Sam, I have so enjoyed this time with you. There is no question that the future for the Avoya Network is brighter than bright! The technology combined with the marketing initiatives will certainly be explosive. Avoya has always been a trendsetter and leader in our industry and I am so honored to be here to learn more about the initiatives and to share them with our readers.  Thank you so much my friend.”

 

Dana Dziegiel, Owner – Gypsea Travels, LLC – Utica, NY

 

I am here today on the beautiful Discovery Princess sailing in Alaska with Dana Dziegiel. Dana is the owner of Gypsea Travels LLC. Dana, thank you so much for taking the time today to share your story with our readers.

Joanie: Can you share how long you’ve been working with Avoya?”

Dana:I have been with Avoya Travel for seven years.”

Joanie: “So, how did you choose Avoya to be your host agency, were you already a travel advisor?”

Dana: No, I was not in travel at that time. I had actually studied travel and tourism after high school thinking that was going to be my career choice. I did not pursue it though. However, I seemed to always be planning trips for my family and friends.

I remember years ago I was planning a trip to Turks and Caicos for my family. We wanted to go to Club Med. I called Club Med directly and the call rolled over to an Avoya IA! We had a great conversation but I told her the price she was offering was the same as Club Med directly online, so I would just book it with Club Med. Then I thought to myself, why would I do that when she has experience selling it? So, I booked with her.

Fast forward years later and her and I became friends. She passed away a few years ago, and I really miss her. She was so helpful to me.

Joanie:That is a great story! After you decided to pursue travel, who did you speak with at Avoya?”

Dana:I spoke with Skip Fortier, Vice President of Network Expansion at Avoya. He was so helpful. He put me in touch with Chris Greene the Director of Network Expansion. Chris was great and really helped me to get my business underway. I worked through educational offerings at Avoya and the rest is history.”

Joanie: We spoke earlier about how much you love to travel. Is your husband a travel lover as well and your family?”

Dana: My husband loves to travel. He gets two weeks off a year so we make the most of that every year. I love to travel with my family. We have a family tradition where each year we do not do Christmas presents but instead we plan a trip as a family. We have a blended family of 6 children, his, mine and ours. They range in age from 11 to 25 years. The older children can not always get away for the trip, so of course they get money as an alternative. It has been a wonderful gift to enjoy as a family to take as many trips together as we can. The experiences are the best gifts for everyone.”

Joanie:What a wonderful tradition! My mother was a travel agency owner and travel was something we enjoyed so much as a family. It is truly the best gift you can give in my opinion.

Have you attended previous Avoya conferences?”

Dana:Yes, we had a wonderful conference on Royal Caribbean a few years ago. However, due to COVID I had not been able to do another one until now. I am loving it so much! I was also able to take part in the Million Dollar Showcase prior to this cruise as well. That too was so informative.”

Joanie: What would you say is the most valuable takeaway(s) from these events?”

Dana:I would have to say number one is the networking with the suppliers. Having so many key suppliers here to spend time with and to get to know their products is invaluable. I really try to make the most of this and connect with as many as I can.

Second would be the networking with the IAs in attendance. Those who have many years of experience and those who are new all offer great insight. I have made so many great contacts and great friendships have become another wonderful gift of these events. I really enjoy being able to connect with some of the newer agents and sharing with them any tips and suggestions to help them on their new journey into selling travel.”

Joanie:If you were to share with our readers some of the tools that Avoya offers that you find the most helpful in your business, what would those be?”

Dana:I think I would have to say Agent Power, but to be more specific it is the supplier resources that I really use all the time. There is so much information and so many tools that allow me to research, price and find the best offering for my clients.”

Joanie:Do you specialize in a particular destination?”

Dana:Of course I will help clients with whatever they need, but I would have to say my specialty is Tahiti. I love it personally and that love of the destination helps me to share my passion with others traveling to the South Pacific. I have really focused on perfecting my knowledge of this destination.”

Joanie: Oh, that is one of my favorite places in the world. I have some of the best memories traveling there on a cruise with my son Andy when he was a teenager.

If you were speaking to a potential new travel advisor and they were asking about the benefits of partnering with Avoya Travel, what insight would you offer them?”

Dana: First of all, they’re like family. Okay. I know it’s cliché but it is really true. If you need help with anything at all there is always someone one willing to help you and they always respond in a very timely manner. They truly care about their IAs and treat us so respectfully.

The Live Leads are also so helpful to someone as they are just getting started. There is truly nothing else like it offered by any other host agency that I have heard about. I would suggest that as a major benefit for someone looking at Avoya.”

Joanie:I know you are a sales ROCKSTAR at Avoya. I have heard it from a number of your peers. How long did it take you to excel to the level of sales you have achieved thus far?“

Dana:My first year I was a Rising Star. I wanted to achieve the goal of reaching the Best of the Best selling a million dollars in travel. I was totally focused on that target and I achieved it in my second year. Then they changed that to two million the following year so of course I had to achieve that and I did.”

Joanie:That is amazing, Dana. I am sure that your success if inspirational to so many other travel advisors. I love your energy and your enthusiasm. It has been an honor and a so fun to speak with you today. Thank you for your time and for sharing your travel story with our readers.”

 

Jesse Morris, Owner – We Book Travel LLC – Richmond, VA

 

Today I had the opportunity to share some time with my friend Jesse Morris owner of We Book Travel LLC and a top producing IA with Avoya Travel. A few years ago I had the chance to interview Jesse about his business and his goals. As I expected Jesse has achieved those sales goals and more. This year Jesse has sold more than a million dollars in sales and his travel business is exploding. I am so honored to learn more about his success today.

 

Joanie: “Can you share how long you’ve been working with our friends at Avoya?”

Jesse: “I have been with Avoya six years. I attended the Avoya Conference in 2017 and I took my first live lead after only two days.”

Joanie: “How did you decide you wanted to start a travel agency?”

Jesse: “I have a real passion for travel and had cruised extensively prior to owning my own agency. I’d been in sales for most of my career at that point. If you’re going sell something, you have to sell something you’re passionate about. That is kind of the number one rule of sales. Especially if you’re gonna go into business for yourself, you really should be passionate about what you’re selling. But honestly, hadn’t even used a travel agent personally prior to starting a travel agent.”

Joanie: “How did you learn about the Avoya Network?”

Jesse: “I did a good deal of research online. I looked at FindaHostTravelAgency.com and read reviews of Avoya there. The information was just what I needed to learn more about the various options out there.

There were franchise models, and lots of different host agencies and I needed to figure out what I wanted for my business when choosing a host partner. I was still working for Apple at that time as a mentor coach. I loved the job and working at Apple was amazing, but I felt like I was getting bored and needed a new change.

Apple is very work/life balanced and I am more of an individual workaholic. I like to work all the time. I like to say if I have two things I need to do I will probably never do either, but if I have fourteen things to do, I will get them all done. I continued my research when I decided that the host agency model was probably the right fit for me.

I narrowed it down to maybe three hosts at that point. And then I started making phone calls to the top performers that I could find, or at least that I figured out were kind of top performers as best you can. Those I contacted from two of the hosts were not helpful at all and then I spoke to someone from Avoya who really helped me to understand what to expect. Such as the good and the bad. They helped me to be aware of some of the challenges I might encounter and none of those things scared me off at all. I then spoke with the folks at Avoya and Chris Greene helped me begin at Avoya.

I sat down with my wife and I said, look, if I’m ever gonna make the decision to kind of strike out on my own and do my own thing, now is kind of the time. Sure enough, it turned out to be an incredibly good decision.”

Joanie: “How many other Avoya Conferences have you attended?”

Jesse: “I think this is my third Avoya Conference. I have been to several other industry events such as GTM, CruiseWorld and a few others.

Joanie: “You mentioned to me that you really get great satisfaction out of sharing what you have learned with other and being a mentor to others. I applaud this Jesse and I know you have spoken at CruiseWorld and simply wowed the audience with your knowledge. Can you share what you feel is the most important takeaway from events such as this conference and other events with your peers and supplier partners?”

Jesse: “Honestly I think relationships is the number one single most important thing. That is really true in any industry. It is all about the relationships. It isn’t just the relationship between yourself and the host agency, it is also about the relationships with your peers and the suppliers.

Some people are just not quite as outgoing as I am and I feel like I can help bridge some of the connections that will really help them with their businesses. I’m all about building relationships. I love to connect buyers and sellers. I love to connect people with each other because it allows you to feel a sense of pride and satisfaction in seeing others succeed.”

Joanie: “Let’s talk a little about Avoya’s tools. If you had to pick just one of the many amazing tools they offer to the IAs, what would that be?”

Jesse: “I had an opportunity to look at a lot of CRMs that are out there. Agent Power is a technological masterpiece. While no system is perfect, Avoya’s CRM if pretty darned close.

Agent Power is the overall CRM and it’s an integration tool that allows you to have access to a lot of facets such as marketing tools, supplier information, pricing, booking and the list just goes on. It is all right there at your fingertips and is very easy to navigate. It is also updated frequently and kept very current with all the information we need to sell travel. The leads system is also integrated into it as well. It really does it all.”

Joanie: “Well, with your past experience working for Apple, I would imagine you are pretty savvy about technology?”

Jesse: “Yes, with my technology background, I think I can say that Avoya has a fantastic program and they are always looking at ways to improve the user interface experience. The new addition of travel insurance is a game changer and I am thrilled to see that.”

Joanie: “If you could share the top three benefits of working with Avoya Travel, what would those be and why?

Jesse: “Technology is number one and for all the reasons I stated earlier. It is light-years ahead of other host agencies in my opinion.

Supplier relationships would be number two. Avoya has very loyal supplier relationships and that is something that is a real benefit to the IAs. When you are a one-person agency, building those relationships can be a challenge and Avoya has already done that for us.

Number three would be the educational offerings and tools. While I have been with them for some time now, I still find myself needing to brush up on my knowledge and that is all available to us at anytime. I like to say, you only know what you don’t know.”

Joanie: “My final question for our time together is about travel. What is on your bucket list for the next travel experience for Jesse?”

Jesse: “Africa without a doubt. I have that in my plans for the future and it is something my wife and I have always wanted to do together. We have had the opportunity to travel to so many countries and continents and I have loved them all. Africa needs to happen for us, sooner rather than later. We also want to visit Cambodia, Vietnam and Egypt. My wife has a dream to do a world cruise too, so we have lots of travel plans on our bucket list.”

Joanie: “Jesse, I appreciated this time with you so very much. I always love our conversations and your friendship means so much to me. Thank you for sharing your successful journey our readers. I know they will find it very enlightening and helpful as they navigate their travel careers.”