The Association Making a Difference for Host Agencies
Written By: Joanie Ogg, CTC, MCC
On Wednesday, August 30th I had the pleasure of representing Travel Professional News and FindaHostTravelAgency.com at the PATH 2017 Symposium right here in my beautiful home city of San Diego. The event followed the 2017 ASTA Global Convention and took place at the Sheraton Marina San Diego Hotel & Marina.
Attending this event was especially enlightening as I was one of the initial attendees at an advisory meeting back in 2007 when the concept of creating PATH (The Professional Association of Travel Hosts) had only just begun. The industry needed an association that would represent the top Host Agencies here in the United States and since PATH’s beginning in 2007 it has grown and flourished into a strong and empowering group over the years. They have a strong Code of Ethics for their Host Agency Members with strict operating standards. In December of 2016 we featured PATH in our Association Issue of Travel Professional News and here is a link to that for more detailed information on the association and their mission and goals PATH 2016 Travel Professional News Article.
The PATH Symposium is a one & a half day event and first day attendees are the Host Agency representatives and members of the travel supplier community. Day two is only for the Host Agency PATH members. The day began with an informal buffet breakfast where attendees were able to say hello to colleagues and meet new friends. The meeting room was set up informally in rounds of ten and we all settled in to begin our day of sharing and learning from one another.
Anita Pagliasso, the President of PATH and owner of A Ticket 2 Travel, kicked off the day with a warm welcome and overview of what the first day would bring. This was followed by an update from Peter Lobasso, ASTA’s General Counsel where he discussed many of the ASTA initiatives they are currently working on and shared current information on seller of travel regulatory situations. He went into depth about California’s Seller of Travel law and changes that are in the works. Ann Chamberlin, NACTA President and ASTA’s SVP of Membership and Strategic Partnerships followed with an overview on the integration of NACTA and ASTA’s two organizations. She shared that the goal of bringing the two more closely together is to maximize resources. She also went into depth discussing the current Chapter system for both associations.
Members of PATH’s Board of Directors Jackie Friedman, President of Nexion and Drew Daly, GM, Network Engagement & Performance with Dream Vacations, CruiseOne and Cruises Inc. shared with the group some insight on both business relationships and complexities between the supplier community and host agencies. Each group at the roundtables consisted of supplier and host agency representatives. Everyone discussed in depth topics of vital importance to both the supplier and agent community therefore bringing together some great minds in an attempt to create better communication and increased growth for both the supplier and agents. Topics of discussion were the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats as they relate to both suppliers and hosts and the ongoing support to the home based agent community. Thoughts at each table were compiled and placed on a board for the entire room to discuss as a group.
One of the key insights that I found to be of extreme importance was that of the focus the supplier companies have made to find better ways to bridge communications between themselves and host agencies. At least 15 suppliers stood up when asked if they now have dedication to this specific business channel in terms of both internal and external support. Richard Launder, President of TTC USA which represents over 11 supplier brands shared their commitment to this channel by sharing with the group how these companies are continually adding sales and support positions to directly focus on building business and supporting the independent travel professionals and their host partners. Cheryl Hudak, Regional Director in the West for Host Accounts and Lisa Doss her counterpart in the East were both there representing Mark Travel and shared Mark Travel’s commitment to this sector.
This is an amazing turn of events and a credit to PATH for providing a conduit to help make this a reality. Ten years ago you would not have seen this type of commitment on the part of the suppliers toward this distribution channel of hosted agents. When I was the President of NACTA from 2000 to 2008, I worked hard diligently to educate the supplier community on the value of the home based travel professional and to see the acceptance and commitment to this channel make me so happy and proud to have had a place in what is taking place today.
We broke for a delicious buffet lunch and started up the afternoon session. Rotation 1 and 2 of continuing collaboration amongst the group was the afternoon agenda with each table being provided a topic to discuss and report back to the group at the end of each discovery phase. Everyone was highly engaged in the conversations and we all shared and learned a great deal. Some of the topics discussed were:
- What opportunities do you see on educating consumers on the value of a travel agent?
- What type of content should suppliers be presenting when addressing 1st time & recurrent training opportunities by hosts for their agents?
- What are opportunities to reward agents selling a brand in a more personal & rewarding way?
- What are the best ways for suppliers to be able to know who is selling their products and communicate to the end agents to ensure they get the same information as brick/mortar agents?
- What opportunities do you see for home-based agents to connect with customers and keep them engaged and excited about upcoming vacations to decrease the likelihood of cancellations?
This eight-hour day simply flew by and I wished we had more time to keep on sharing! The environment of open communication between the suppliers and the hosts was simply awe-inspiring. Open discussion and learning from one another was the focus of this event and it did not disappoint. Here are just a few of the comments and feedback I gathered.
“Once again, I have taken 3 pages of notes while attending the supplier – agent day of the 8th annual PATH Symposium. Always time well spent.” Kelly Bergin, President of Oasis Travel Network and PATH Board Member and Treasurer.
Ron Gulaskey, Associate VP, North America National Accounts & Trade Associations with Celebrity Cruises was thrilled with the day and shared “This was my first PATH Symposium and I was blown away with how honest and supportive everyone was with each other! Suppliers shared what works/doesn’t and the PATH members do the same – absolutely amazing! I left the PATH Symposium meeting with excellent ideas. I know Celebrity Cruises can do starting tomorrow to even better serve the amazing Host/Home based channel.”
“The 8th Annual PATH Symposium was the best yet. This is the one of the only events I go to that we can measure positive change from year to year.” Betsy Geiser, VP Uniglobe Travel Center and PATH Board Member and Vice President.
The meeting portion of our day ended about 5:00pm. The group met for dinner at at Fiesta de Reyes in Old Towne Historic Park just a short ways from the Sheraton. Unfortunately, I was not able to join the group for drinks and dinner, however I was able to see some Facebook posts and pictures of the celebration and I was so sorry to have had to miss it. I would have like to raise a glass to toast Anita, the PATH Board of Directors, PATH Host Members and Suppliers to thank them all for a enlightening and invaluable day of learning. Cheers to PATH. I hope to see you all at next year’s PATH Symposium so we can update our readers on this growing association.