…And breathe – the AITO Agents’ Domestic Conference (10-11 January) is done and dusted for this year – and I finally got my first decent night’s sleep of 2015 at the weekend!
For me, the period leading up to the conference was an absolute whirlwind of planning, organising and activity. Although there were a couple of days that made me want to tear my hair out, it really was worth it in the end, to see the final result.
And what a result it was! Lots of delegates are already feeding back that this year’s event was fun, enjoyable and beneficial to their businesses, which is of course the ultimate aim of AITO & AITO Agents. On the flip side, we are also receiving many ideas and suggestions we can use to improve the conference next year, too – keep them coming everyone, as all ideas are good ideas and we appreciate every one of them!
This year’s conference certainly was developed off the feedback from the 2014 event; the AITO Agents panel chose to make big changes this year to the programme, introducing a longer market place with a new format, replacing the usual Saturday afternoon speed-networking with pre-bookable training workshops and forgoing the traditional key notes speaker. All of these changes were made in response to our members’ feedback, and as well as organising all the logistics of the conference itself, I was tasked with communicating these changes to the delegates before the event took place.
This proved one of the trickiest parts of organising the conference for me, particularly in reference to the marketplace. The new format this year completely reversed the format of previous years, by having travel agents seated in one spot for the duration of the event, and with tour operators visiting them, each in turn, at the toll of a bell every five minutes.
Myself and the conference committee panel members knew exactly what we were aiming to achieve as the overall marketplace effect – however, it was tricky explaining this via email to all our delegates, not to mention arranging it logistically. We firstly had to consider the potential downsides to the new format (tour operators: ‘I can’t carry all my brochures’, and travel agents: ‘I don’t have time for a break or for lunch’). We then had to devise solutions to these, which came in the form of a brochure drop system for the Saturday afternoon, where those operators who wished to, could deposit their brochures into the relevant boxes. To overcome the lunch issue for our hardworking agents, it was all hands on deck to ensure that they were fed and watered at their tables. A table plan had to be devised, which had to be adapted every time a new delegate booked or cancelled, and then this table plan had to be communicated with everyone attending – personalised with the relevant information for them.
Delegates were also provided with their own personal Little Black Book for the market place – a small pocket-sized book with the company profile and contact details for each delegate attending the conference – a total of 180 delegates, from 91 different companies. Collecting each company’s Little Black Book profile information, and then designing and making the books, proved to be a time-consuming and lengthy task. It was made all the trickier as it fell over the Christmas period, which meant we had strict deadlines from Carrier Direct, our affiliate member who printed them for us.
Then of course, there was the highlight of the weekend for many; the All Stars Awards ceremony – where the top selling agencies, both regionally and nationally are awarded and honoured, along with the ‘most improved agency’, the ‘best newcomers’ and ‘shining star’. The figures which are collected throughout the year to determine these winners are only finalised a matter of days before the conference, to allow for the full year’s figures to be reported. This meant I really did have to work against the clock to obtain all the relevant figures and formulate them to have the names of the winning agencies in plenty of time. I also needed to have enough time to design and order their trophies, prepare their certificates and liaise with the tour operators who were kind enough to sponsor the prize – not to mention pass the winners’ names over to Gemma Antrobus and Sarah Archer for inclusion in their fantastic presentation!
All in all, organising this conference has been a real learning curve for me, and at times, incredibly stressful – balancing all of the above with the more day-to-day tasks of event organising such as taking bookings, creating the programme, making name badges, advertising sponsorship and liaising with the hotel staff. However, the experience has also been hugely rewarding – to see the results of the whole team’s hard work first hand, but also to have assisted in creating a platform for many of our members to come together, celebrate their past successes and build relationships to aid their future ones. As a passionate employee of the travel industry, I am proud to say that I may have had a hand in the growth of these independent and quality businesses for 2015.
And - on a more personal note - it was great to have the chance meet those of you who I never met before and to catch up with some more familiar faces. If any of you are down in St Margarets, please do pop into the AITO office for a cup of tea, a catch up, and for the news of what’s next on the AITO Agents agenda – if the start of this year is anything to go by, there will always be something!