Travel advisors from more than 400 independent agencies in the Avoya Travel network are attending the 12th annual Avoya Conference, which kicked off Sunday, June 2, at the Hyatt Regency Miami.
After a two-day land conference—which included a tradeshow featuring more than 100 suppliers and keynote addresses from top cruise line executives—the event returned to sea for the first time since 2014 onboard the newly renovated Royal Caribbean Navigator of the Seas for a four-night Caribbean sailing, with attendees experiencing the recently opened Perfect Day at CocoCay.
At the conference, Avoya Travel’s leadership team highlighted the company’s success in 2017 and 2018. Last year, sales grew 17 percent for the Avoya Network, to $478 million, while the number of Independent Agencies grew by more than 20 percent, to more than 1,250.
A record number of Independent Agencies achieved $1 million or more in annual sales last year, with Avoya’s top-producing agency growing sales by more than 30 percent, to reach $6.5 million.
The conference marked the first company-wide gathering since Jeff Anderson and Michael Anderson were promoted to co-presidents of Avoya Travel in April. Brad Anderson, former president of Avoya, joined his brother Van Anderson in the role of co-founder. The family-owned company was originally founded by the late Pal and Pat Anderson, parents of Van and Brad, who were honored in a tribute at the conference.
Company executives say Avoya Travel is poised for continued success in 2019. “Our goal is to have the same growth rate that we did last year,” said Steve Hirshan, Senior Vice President of Sales. “We found that to be a comfortable level of assimilation of new agencies, that we can support properly.”
Avoya’s support staff ratio is the “best in the industry,” according to Ashley Hunter, Senior Vice President of Strategic Operations and Partnerships, with one support staff for every eight agencies. About 50 members of the support staff team attended the conference.
To help Avoya agencies continue on the company’s trajectory of double-digit sales growth year over year, Avoya executives outlined several technology and brand enhancements. On its consumer website, avoyatravel.com, Top Picks search results will be fine-tuned to more closely match what the user is likely to be interested in and by what offers the best value.
Customers will be seeing “the sailings that are going to be the most interesting, the most relevant” to them, according to Michael Anderson, Co-President, instead of seeing results sorted chronologically or based on the lowest price.
“It’s a way to direct [the consumer] to cruises that agencies have the best opportunity to sell,” said Daniel Rego, Vice President of business intelligence.
Avoya also continues to invest in advanced marketing capability in its Live Leads program, which sends new clients directly to Independent Agencies. “As we’re growing the network, we need to feed the network with high-quality prospects,” said Sam McCully, Senior Vice President of Marketing.
Live Leads is “what makes Avoya so unique versus others in the industry—the ability to sit down the first day and have your phone ring with a new client,” said Hirshan.
Helping agencies to capitalize on resort and all-inclusive business is another initiative. Since Avoya’s last conference, resort pages on the Avoya website have been redesigned for ease of booking, and the company is launching new land-specific events. The booking window is generally shorter for all-inclusive bookings than for cruises, points out Hunter, so selling resorts is a great opportunity for agencies looking to increase cash flow.
Avoya also unveiled a complete brand and identity refresh, with a refined, modernized logo and new collateral available to agencies, including email templates, customizable flyers and videos and business cards. The Avoya Storefront website also launched, where Independent Agencies can buy Avoya-branded apparel and accessories, some of which can be co-branded with the agency’s name.
The next Avoya Conference will take place in October 2020 onboard the Celebrity Equinox. Attendees at that gathering will likely hear about further enhancements that were inspired by this year’s conference.
“What really drives the innovation is the feedback we all get being at conference and talking to our independent agency owners,” said Hirshan. “Almost every single new enhancement that we release is something they requested, something that they feel is going to improve their opportunity to be successful in business.”