Part II of Avoya Travel Network’s annual Avoya Conference took place last week from November 8 – 13 aboard Celebrity Cruises’ stunning brand-new ship, Celebrity Beyond. As the in-person portion of the company’s first-ever hybrid conference, the event carried on from the Part I virtual component of Avoya’s 2022 Conference, which concluded back on October 21.
This happened to be the first sailing of Celebrity Beyond’s inaugural Caribbean season, setting off directly on the heels of the ship’s official naming ceremony in Fort Lauderdale, which took place on November 7. The ship is the third and largest vessel in the premium cruise line’s ‘Edge Series’ class, joining sister ships Celebrity Apex and Celebrity Edge.
The in-person, networking portion finished out Avoya’s largest event of the year while attendees enjoyed a five-day, Western Caribbean sailing, with stops in Quintana Roo’s Costa Maya (Mahahual) and Cozumel. In attendance were roughly 250 Independent Agencies and Independent Licensed Agents (IAs) of the Avoya Network, as well as preferred suppliers and Avoya staff members representing various departments.
Programming included general sessions—during which Avoya leadership and suppliers’ executives offered insights and updates—educational workshops, roundtables with suppliers, and ample networking time and opportunities to connect with various Avoya teams in one-on-one meetings.
The SaaS vacation platform company refers to itself, in conjunction with its IA affiliates and preferred suppliers, as “The Avoya Family”, and this gathering certainly did feel like a reunion, being the first time participants could convene in the flesh for the event since 2019, before the pandemic struck.
From the first session, a collective enthusiasm was palpable among attendees, who were visibly overjoyed to reconnect with colleagues face-to-face after three years. The assemblage was eagerly attentive and cheered wildly for each presenter, excited to learn about the latest initiatives, new developments and special commission opportunities from both Avoya and its preferred suppliers.
As is characteristic of any Avoya gathering, the mood at each general session was lighthearted and often humorous, and the proceedings were conducted amid a congenial spirit of camaraderie, despite the topics of discussion being centered on serious business. This playful, yet professional, air pervaded every event gathering that I attended, making everyone feel more approachable and the atmosphere that much more welcoming.
During general sessions, Avoya leadership presentations and remarks were made by the company’s Co-CEOs Jeff and Michael Anderson, SVP of Partnerships Ashley Hunter, SVP of Marketing Sam McCully and others. Attendees were shown new insider information, sneak peeks of upcoming initiatives and future product launches, along with fresh earning opportunities for travel advisors,
Suppliers presenting at general sessions included the event host, Celebrity Cruises, as well as several more of the conference’s 29 event sponsors; including Avoya’s new consortium partner Travel Leaders Network, Globus Family of Brands, Norwegian Cruise Line, AmaWaterways, Oceania Cruises, Azamara, Carnival Cruise Line, Seaborne, Princess Cruises and Royal Caribbean International.
Main Presentation Topics
‘Project Eagle’ – Avoya’s newest corporate initiative, ‘Project Eagle’, which was teased during the Part I virtual portion of the conference, is the latest component the company’s ‘Avoya 2025’ five-phase “roadmap to success” plan, which began back in 2018. It’s the first major step towards enabling IAs to sell airfare through Avoya’s industry-leading, comprehensive SaaS platform, since air travel is such a vital component of selling vacation packages.
New Marketing Campaign – A new marketing campaign centered around the tagline “Leave It To The Experts” is due to launch in Q1 of 2023. The campaign concept illustrates the wisdom of consumers turning to a travel advisor for their vacation planning needs by drawing a parallel between that and the need to hire a specialist to handle other delicate tasks. A mock-up video depicted the disastrous results that ensue when ordinary folks attempt to handle such things themselves (e.g., cut their own hair, file their own taxes, fix their own electrical problems, make DIY home renovations, etc.). The poignant new promotional campaign will be professionally produced, heavily digital and omnichannel, Avoya said.
Travel Leaders Network Integration – Avoya also offered some more in-depth revelations about how its new relationship with Travel Leaders Network (TLN) one of the industry’s largest consortia, will benefit IAs. TLN’s systems will work synergistically with Avoya’s existing propriety operating system Agent Power. IAs will gain access to TLN’s industry-leading lead generation tool, Agent Profiler, its wealth of marketing tools, broad distribution channels and exclusive travel product offers, promotions and programs.
“This is a big deal,” Avoya Co-CEO Jeff Anderson asserted. “Other consortiums have programs—nothing is as good as this one.” He continued, “I wouldn’t agree to ‘basic’, right? That’s not exactly my standard, and so I can promise you that what we’re doing with TLN and the Agent Profiler opportunity is going to be very unique, it’s going to be very special. We’ve already got so many good things going for us and I can’t wait for all of you to participate,” he told the audience.
Agent Power Enhancements
— The impending integration of TLN Groups and Cruise Programs (Distinctive Voyages, Amenity Departure Dates, Private Car & Driver, and Culinary Collection) into Avoya’s existing platform, Agent Power, was also overviewed.
— Avoya’s Strategic Leadership Team acknowledged the many inquiries that it has received from IAs regarding when exactly they’ll be able to access TLN’s tools. They explained that all of the complex, behind-the-scenes work and software programming needed to seamlessly integrate the two companies’ vast sets of resources is, as yet, ongoing, but that they will let everyone know as soon as they’re ready to launch.
— Avoya’s Co-CEOs also presented an overview, complete with illustrative slides, of new upgrades that have been made to Agent Power’s user interface, a set of functional improvements made in response to IAs’ feedback and requests that will put even more client details and communication tools right at users’ fingertips.
An Inspiring Experience
We spoke with Cassandra Adams of Charlotte-based Two Chicks Travel, who recently won TravelAge West’s Trendsetter Award for ‘Best Targeted Marketing Idea’ for creating her own niche-market travel social group ‘This Vacation Has Curves’. Though she joined the network in 2018, this was her first time attending an in-person Avoya conference, and she shared how she felt the experience had benefitted her.
“Just being around other agents and really seeing the family unit that Avoya has created has really made me want to do better,” said Adams. “They want us to succeed and they want us to make money and to be leaders in the industry, and they are doing so much behind the scenes…they’re just really supportive of us.”
She continued, “You have some $5-million agencies in Avoya and so—being here—that has inspired me to reorganize and re-do my processes so that I can grow, as well. Because I know that it is here…Coming to this conference has let me know, it’s here, you’ve just got to do the work behind it.”
Work Hard, Play Hard
Of course, there were also opportunities for everyone to let their hair down, with cocktail hours, welcome and farewell parties that included dancing, contests, raffles and other prize giveaways. Onstage remarks made by company leadership expressed admiration and appreciation to all members of the extended Avoya Family for their outstanding efforts during three incredibly challenging pandemic years, as well as excitement about new things to come.
While everyone was clearly dedicated to learning and acquiring new tools during the event to help them grow their businesses, there was also plenty of time to socialize, unwind and enjoy a relaxing experience aboard the incredible, brand-new cruise ship. As an observer, I can confidently say that all and every participant I spoke with was already excited to attend next year’s edition.
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