Surviving Every Meeting Organizer’s Nightmare: 9 Things We Learned
By Jake Steinman, Founder and CEO, NAJ Group
I want to share our experience from eTourism LABS on March 14-15 in Philadelphia–where over 30 percent of the speakers had flights cancelled due to a late winter blizzard that dumped up to a foot-and-a-half of snow in parts of Pennsylvania, shut schools, cancelled flights and wreaked havoc. We learned several things that you may want to pass along to your convention sales team, hotels or anyone who works with organized meetings.
On Monday, March 13, as I was flying to eTourism LABS conference and logged on to my inflight Wi-Fi, email alerts began popping up every 10 minutes from presenters whose flights had been cancelled. By the time I landed five hours later, it appeared that 17 out of 43 speakers were not going to show. In short, it was every meeting planner’s nightmare. Meanwhile, attendees and the remaining speakers began emailing and calling us to see if the event was even still going to be held.
We contacted our hotel procurement expert to see if it was possible contractually to cancel and she responded that our agreement indeed contained her favorite “f-word” (Force Majeure) so we could cancel at any time since airlines announced that 6,000 flights had been cancelled the day before the storm. Well, I can tell you it wasn’t my favorite f-word! The hotel pick-up manifest showed that most of the attendees had arrived, so we decided to live stream speakers in and hope for the best. It was now 14 hours until show time.
Our team—Sofia Williamsson in San Francisco and Florian Hermann on-site in Philadelphia—immediately moved to upgrade the hotel Wi-Fi to ethernet level and began communicating with speakers about their abilities to make their presentations via Skype. They then worked with the hotel’s AV team—who knew nothing about Skype– to practice toggling between Skype and live presentations.
The next morning we determined that all but six DMO and Attraction attendees somehow found their way to Philadelphia and, by the end of the day, delegates from all three tracks reported no serious Skype delays in the program—though quality of transmission varied depending on the strength of the speaker’s Wi-Fi connection.
We want to help other meeting planners and schedulers with what we learned from our own live streaming experience with eTourism Labs in Philadelphia by sharing the following:
Nine Things We Learned:
- Attendees are very understanding as long as you provide them with a plan of action. We gathered everyone together following breakfast to announce the following: (a) There would be 17 Skype presentations and to expect uneven connectivity; (b) Lunch that day would be on us and DMOs and attraction attendees would receive a $400 credit towards any of our other events, and (c) If it was necessary to terminate Skype presentations due to connectivity programs, attendees would discuss the previous topic until it was time for the next presenter on the schedule.
- Hotel Flexibility. The hotel was in a flexible mood about adjusting F&B and room night minimums.
- Skype Video call technology has advanced a great deal both in features and call quality since it was purchased by Microsoft.
- Upgrade Your Bandwidth. Upgrade to the fastest level of Wi-Fi possible at your hotel to ensure top connectivity on your end. They probably won’t charge you for it.
- Test Presentations. Test the presentation and connection in advance. The Wi-Fi on the remote presenter’s side also needs to be strong. We found that the presenters with the strongest W-Fi connections came across the clearest. You should advise them to test Wi-Fi strength in various locations from which they will be broadcasting.
- Be Your Own IT Support. Don’t expect the hotel AV staff to know anything about Skype or to help in connecting you to presenters. Instead, work with them to quickly toggle presentations between remote and in person.
- Streamline Presentations for Digital Viewing. Two of our remote presenters were able modify their PowerPoints to make them more visible on Skype. By eliminating charts, graphs and tables and including slides containing fewer words, their presentations resulted in greater clarity and effectiveness. Their original presentations would be made available later to anyone completing our post event survey.
- Record Presentations. Though we did not use this function, one can easily record a Skye presentation for future distribution by going to the “More Options” button and choose “Start Recording.”
- Recognize Trade Offs. One drawback: Skype presentations with embedded videos had problems transmitting sound. We had the presenters send us links to videos and had to toggle between the two by minimizing the video and Skype presenter.
Other alternatives to Skype are Google Hangouts, Facebook Live, Periscope and even Apple Facetime, which can all be used if you’re desperate and just need a talking head. (Note that Turkey’s president, Recep Erdoğan, repelled an entire military coup using Facetime.)
Everyone from our team agreed that attendees bonded more with each other as well as with presenters and sponsors, as the sense of shared hardship due to Mother Nature’s elements was outside anyone’s control.
A Multi-Stop, 45-Day Path to Booking Travel
UK, USA and Canada’s Travelers Booking Path Detailed by Expedia: Were the residents of the United Kingdom, the USA and Canada considered a single country, the result would comprise a market of nearly 420 million people. This factor is one of those that made delegates to NAJ’s eTourism Labs last week in Philadelphia take notice as Derek Price, director, North America, Expedia Media Solutions go through a presentation filled with slides containing data that compared the booking path, as well as other behaviors, of travelers from the three countries based on its own research and that of other sources.
In sum, the major points Price made were:one destination.
- Travel content is widely consumed in each country, and all saw double digit growth year-over-year.
- Mobile usage is growing, and in the United States mobile engagement with travel content surpassed desktop.
- Travel is a considered and time consuming purchase, leading travel bookers to make hundreds of visits to travel sites in the week leading up to a purchase.
- Throughout the booking path, OTAs have the highest engagement across travel site categories, accounting for more than 30 percent of total site visits.
- Nearly one-third or more of online travel bookers were influenced by advertising when considering more than one destination.
Following are the tables contained in some of the key slides of Price’s presentation.
For Germany, another Outlook Report and another Sigh
The spirit of bonhomie that generally prevails at tour and travel industry trade shows, as it did the week before last at ITB in Berlin, could not mask the uncomfortable reality created by some of the data released at the same time as the world’s largest travel got under way at the Messe Berlin exhibit halls.
The latest monthly figures released by the Nuremberg-based research firm GfK showed that, for both tour operators and travel agents in Germany, summer holiday bookings in February did not show any growth for the second consecutive month. And January and February are normally the two strongest booking months for summer holidays.
The GfK release came just after the issuance of the German Travel Trade Barometer—its results are based on a survey of tour operators responsible for 80 percent of wholesale USA holiday sales in Germany—which suggested an outlook for travel sales for U.S. product that is, at best, tepid, and predicting a year of no growth.
GfK’s regular monthly report is based on an analysis of sales covering 1,500 German travel agencies. Some of the specifics from its latest report include the following:
- Following disappointing figures for January, bookings remained beneath expectations in February, as travel agents increased sales by just one percent for the month.
- Even this increase was purely generated by late winter bookings that generated a sales increase of 7 percent last month. However, overall sales to date for winter 2016/17 are now 3 percent behind last year.
- The cumulated growth for summer 2017 has now dropped back to 4.5 percent as of the end of February from 5.6 percent as of the end of January, driven by strong early bookings in November and December.
- However, since summer bookings were down by 8 percent at the same time last year, overall summer sales are still running about 3 percent below the high levels of 2015.
- In terms of bookings for individual months in the summer 2017 season, June has a robust 23 percent increase in bookings—due primarily to later spring holidays this year, with May down 9 percent as a result of the same effect.
- For July and September bookings are up by 9 percent, while sales for August, the peak travel month, are flat at last year’s level.
British Operator Shuts Down; Brand Acquired by Another
Arena Travel, a specialty tour operator whose offerings include such esoteric product as an Elvis Week in Memphis package, has acquired The River Cruise Line and Diamond Rail Holidays brands from Diamond Shortbreak Holidays after the company’s failure.
The announcement followed the March 16 confirmation from Abta that Diamond Shortbreak Holidays Ltd had ceased trading due to “financial difficulties.”
Leicestershire-based Diamond Shortbreak Holidays sold city breaks, river cruises, walking holidays and coach and rail trips. An estimated 7,000 bookings affecting as many as 16,000 people were affected by the shutdown of the company.
In a statement that accompanied the announcement of the acquisition, Steve Goodenough, managing director of Arena Travel, which is based in Ipswich, said “Our aim is to provide the same rail or river cruise holiday on the same date and at the same price to as many of the 5,000 who have booked a holiday for the season ahead as possible … Thanks to the financial protection in place, customers will be covered for any loss of money.”
A Photo Sampler from NAJ’s eTourism Labs
A late winter storm last week dumped nearly a foot-and-a-half snow on parts of Pennsylvania and resulted in the cancellation of thousands of flights to and from the northeastern United States. This meant that 17 speakers scheduled to appear at NAJ’s eTourism Labs event at the Hilton Hotel at Penn’s Landing in Philadelphia had to cancel. Even so, nearly two-thirds of those registered to attend were able to make it to the event from all over the USA and see every speaker—in person or via Skype. Following is a sampler of photos of some of those who took part in the program, and from its opening night reception.
At the program:
At the reception, sponsored by Visit Philadelphia:
New Budget Carrier Starts Crossing the Atlantic in June
A new transatlantic low-cost carrier has joined the international travel market. Beginning this June, LEVEL airlines, a new brand in the International Airlines Group (IAG), will fly from Barcelona to Los Angeles, San Francisco (Oakland), Buenos Aires and Punta Cana. With the launch, IAG now has five major carrier brands that also include British Airways, Aer Lingus, Iberia and Vueling.
In a statement issued by IAG, the company noted that Barcelona is Vueling’s home base and the move will allow customers to connect from Vueling’s extensive European network onto LEVEL’s long-haul flights. While Barcelona has been chosen as the first European city for the launch of IAG’s new operation, LEVEL will, however, look to expand its flights from other European cities.
LEVEL’s fares start at 99 euros ($149) one way; tickets began going on sale on March 17 at flylevel.com. Adhering to the budget carrier model, passengers travelling in economy can chose what they want to buy based on a menu of choices. All customers will have access to next-generation in-flight technology with a wide range of on-board entertainment options. High speed internet connectivity will be available with prices starting at €8.99 ($9.66). Checked luggage (in addition to a free cabin bag), meals, seat selection and the latest movie releases will be complimentary for customers flying in premium economy.
The new carrier will fly two new Airbus A330 aircraft branded in its own livery and fitted with 293 economy and 21 premium economy seats
Willie Walsh, IAG chief executive, said: “LEVEL is an exciting new IAG airline brand which will bring a stylish and modern approach to flying at prices that are even more affordable. It will benefit from having the strength of one of the world’s largest airline groups behind it. … It will complement our existing airline portfolio and further diversify our current customer base.”
Commenting on the announcement, Paul Dendle, longtime aviation industry consultant and CEO of the new startup, Loloflights.co.uk Ltd, wrote, “Clever move by Willie Walsh, he is a very able CEO and gives a way to counter balance to any industrial action in the old legacy airlines, by building resilience in the whole structure.”
“Amazon will buy a large operator to conquer the tourism market”
Even though Amazon had a brief fling in 2015 at offering travel packages by using product from U.S. based tour operators before abruptly abandoning the idea after just six months, the head of a French online travel price comparison company believes that the retail behemoth is going to try again.
In an interview with the French travel trade publication, tourmag, Jean-Pierre Nadir, founder and CEO of Paris-headquartered EasyVoyage (www.easyvoyage.com), said that he believes that “Amazon will buy a large operator to conquer the tourism market.”
Without saying so directly, Nadir seems to be implying that Amazon realized that it didn’t have all the components of a travel company together when it quietly launched its Amazon Destinations in early 2015 before abandoning it in October 2015. Amazon Destinations offered product to a limited number of resort destinations. Amazon also gave up on a localized hotel booking service, Amazon Local.
Today the Amazon group has a fleet called Prime Air, and says it has 16 aircraft in service. The group also operates on the ground. Nadir might be speculating that Amazon is building an operation to provide a seamless travel experience, which is what European travel giants, TUI and Thomas Cook do. Both of these companies own and operate airlines, hotels and ground transportation services as well as cruise lines.
Nadir seems serious about what he sees becoming a dominant presence in the travel market, predicting that the distribution chain will change dramatically once Amazon is operating a travel business: “Tourism professionals will no longer go to shows such as the IFTM or to congresses like Selectour but will do Amazon workshops,” he said.
The trade publication tourmag agreed, concluding its interview piece with Nadir by declaring, “If today Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon hold the keys of the web, it is only a matter of time before a next upheaval of the sector.”
New Air Service: Emirates Adds another Gateway Airport to its USA Offerings
- On March 12, the Middle Eastern carrier Emirates began a daily service between and Dubai and New York Newark via Athens. Newark becomes U.S. gateway number 12 for Emirates, and is the second serving the greater New York metropolitan area, complementing its existing four-times-daily flights to New York JFK. The new service will initially face no direct competition, on either sector, although United Airlines operates seasonal service between Athens and Newark (resuming 24 May) and Delta Air Lines also flies summer-only between Athens and New York JFK (resuming 14 April). (Source: anna.aero)
- TAME Airlines (Linea Aerea del Ecuador) began flights from Equador’s capital city, Quito, to New York JFK (JFK) on 1 March. The 4,554-kilometre (2,830 miles) link replaces the carrier’s existing service between Guayaquil and JFK, a route that the airline launched March 18, 2016. No other carrier currently links Quito to JFK, which becomes the sixth U.S. airport to be served direct from Quito, with American Airlines offering a 15 times weekly link to Miami and a six time weekly link to Dallas/Fort Worth. JetBlue Airways provides an eight times weekly connection from Fort Lauderdale, while Delta Air Lines links Quito with Atlanta, also with eight weekly flights. United Airlines also offers eight weekly flights between its Houston Intercontinental hub and Quito. With the JFK connection, it means that Quito currently has 52 weekly flights to the US. (Source: anna.aero)
- Volaris has launched three new links between Mexico and the U.S. On March 1st, it began new service from Mexico City to Houston Intercontinental and New York JFK. Both of these routes are already served by Aeromexico, Interjet and one US carrier. Then, on March 2nd, it began service between Guadalajara and Milwaukee. It is also the only one of the airline’s three new US routes which does not face any direct competition. Volaris has grown its share of the Mexico-USA market to 9.2 percent as measured by seat capacity. This ranks the carrier fifth behind American Airlines (20.1 percent), United Airlines (19.3 percent), Delta Air Lines (14.1 percent) and Aeromexico (10.7 percent), but ahead of Southwest Airlines (6.9 percent) and Interjet (5.6 percent). Source: anna.aero)
- In a sign that the Brazil-USA market is recovering, Azul will increase the number of its flights between Recife and Orlando this summer. The service—which complements school vacation season in both the United States and Brazil—will take place on Mondays and Fridays from July 1 to July 31.. “The high demand on this route shows that our strategy was correct and we will continue investing and adjusting our operations in Recife whenever necessary so that we can offer the best experience to the Customers,” said Azul’s planning director, Daniel Tkacz.
HODGE PODGE: Shifts, Shakeups and Occasional Shaftings in the Tour and Travel Industry
Bruce Okabe has taken over as CEO of Tourism Richmond, British Columbia. He succeeds Tracy Lakeman, who stepped down from the post at the end of 2016 after serving in the position for 13 years. Prior to joining Tourism Richmond, Okabe operated his own consulting firm. Previously, he had served for more than five years as CEO of Travel Alberta.
Jay Smith is the new chair of the NTA board of directors. Smith, owner of Sports Travel and Tours in Hatfield, Massachusetts, was selected for the post after being elected as the organization’s vice chair last year. Smith has headed up his tour operator business for more than 20 years.
In Brazil, Agaxtur has announced the appointment of hiring of account executive Raphael Chrysostomo, who has 16 years of experience in tourism working for several tour operators, including Lux Travel Turismo e Viagens.
Also in Brazil, Grupo Águia has announced the hiring of Alexandre Mesquita as commercial manager of Núcleo Lazer, composed of the operators Interplanet and Planeta Brasil, for international and domestic, respectively. He will be responsible for structuring their sales departments and implementing a product marketing portal. Mesquita is former general manager of Sales of MMTGapnet.