This year’s Consort annual conference, held on board Epic, one of Norwegian Cruise Line’s super liners from 25th – 29th April, was greatly enjoyed by the 68 delegates, who comprised 42 Consort members and spouses and 26 trade suppliers, writes ITTN’s ‘guest reporter’, Doreen McKenzie of Knock Travel.
The conference theme was in keeping with the strapline that the Northern Ireland Tourist Board is campaigning this year to promote tourism in Northern Ireland (Our Time, Our Place), so the conference was entitled: Consort Travel Group: Our Time, Our Place, Our Partnerships.
Belfast International Airport hosted the group in its Business Lounge as most delegates departed from Belfast to Barcelona to board the ship.
The Business Day was held on Friday when the ship was at sea and the conference started with a presentation from Francis Riley, Nick Wilkinson and Martin MacLaren of NCL, who welcomed everyone on board and introduced the Freestyle Cruising product that NCL offers.
NCL has just enjoyed 14 consecutive quarters of growth and will be adding two new ships to its fleet of 11 ships: Breakaway in 2013 and Getaway in 2014. The UK and Irish markets are the largest selling markets for NCL products. The introduction of the Haven brand of a ‘ship within a ship’ – private luxury suites with their own restaurant, pool and bar area – will attract the luxury end of the market who like the privacy but can dip into the wide choice of dining options and entertainment offered elsewhere on board.
There’s a choice of 16 restaurants and 24-hour pizza, plus a full range of entertainment including Blue Man Group, Legends in Concert and Cirque Dreams – which Consort delegates experienced on the first evening on board and left the members talking about it for the rest of the cruise. Everyone had their own opinion on how one of the girl performers managed a split-second change of clothes in front of everyone on at least eight occasions!
The main speaker was Christine Donnelly (ex Falcon Holidays) who reminisced on the ‘good old days’ of high volumes / low margins, how agents were cost effective to the suppliers, and how control of product / stock was high risk. Supply and demand coloured business opinions, but the greatest change was technology that changed costs and balances.
Christine spoke of her journey in the travel industry from her Joe Walsh Tours days to the present and how her partnerships with agents made it easier to get their brand message across to the consumer and helped assist them get the right beds in the right resorts. She commented on one point that hasn’t changed – the travelling public have no understanding of how the travel industry works.
She mentioned the growth in the past 10 years of social media such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, iPhones, etc, which meant that matching supply and demand is no longer in sync. The kingpin of the future is offering wider choice and having access and retention and ownership of the customer. She advised agents to build databases of their customers and to communicate with them regularly – otherwise someone else will! She warned how Google flight search is starting in the USA to take control of customers and that could end up with suppliers having to deal with Google and not agents in the future!
She also commented on a survey that was taken of Northern Ireland travellers and that over 60% of them do their research online, 36% take package holidays, and 38% travel generally. Only 16% said ‘I know my travel agent and they know me’!
Christine had also done a little research on the Consort Group members in preparation of her presentation and revealed the following statistics:
- 100% of members have websites
- 62% are on Facebook
- 31% are on Twitter
- 23% of sites only mention that they are a Consort member
- 0% have a bookable site
In a Google search for ‘cheap packages from Northern Ireland’ Consort did not appear, nor did individual members – but another non-NI agent and large multiple did.
Christine’s final advice to delegates was:
- Take time to challenge your own business
- Put customers at the heart of your business – own them as a priority!
- Draw up four yearly priorities and constantly measure you are on track
- Encourage a competitive mindset among your staff
Sandra Corkin from Oasis Travel then chaired a panel discussion that raised a lot of questions from the members. The panel guests were Nick Wilkinson, NCL; Valerie Ward, Aer Lingus; Ciaran Mulligan, Blue Insurance; Colin Currie, Travel 2; Drew Stewart, Classic Collection; and Doreen McKenzie, Knock Travel.
Members asked a lot of questions and good advice on building closer working partnerships was offered by all the panel guests.
Terry Murphy of Terra Travel and Chairman of Consort Travel Group thanked everyone for their participation and asked everyone to return promptly after lunch to commence the speed dating with suppliers.
The gala dinner on the final night was an opportunity for Consort to thank a number of suppliers who contributed sponsorship that helped to make the conference such a huge success. The sponsors were Thriftway Consol, Amadeus, Travelport, Classic Collection, TravelCube and NCL.
All the suppliers expressed opinions on how they loved attending Consort conferences as they felt they had great one-to-one opportunities to talk to everyone attending – and that Consort members were more than agents, they were friends!