The theme for this year’s conference is “With us…it’s personal” and that very much sums up what we do,
Travel Counsellors were spread over four hotels and we were staying at Premier Inn across the bridge from BT Convention centre, just a couple of minutes walk from regenerated, and nowadays fashionable Albert Docks. Premier Inn shares its site with The Beatles Story which we didn’t have time for unfortunately.
We had a very large room with a lovely view of Albert Docks but it was very dark and also over a bar or disco so it was noisy so request a quiet room. Premier Inn is always good value anywhere in UK and this one is in a prime location and you get a decent breakfast too
BT Convention centre is at the back of the concert venue, behind the big wheel. Unfortunately this does not have free wi-fi access as you might expect being a convention venue owned by BT which is a drawback but otherwise it is a good sized venue for a large conference such as ours. Travel Counsellors is the biggest travel conference in the UK with around 1250 attending and it is also the best supported by 175 sponsors, including 4 headline sponsors, Royal Caribbean/Celebrity/Azamara cruises, The Carnival group (Cunard/P&O/Princess), Emirates Tours and Cox & Kings.
Conference began with a Friday Welcome with a nautical stage set sponsored by Royal Caribbean and which included a 2 course meal and a fairground with dodgems and Kentucky horseracing afterwards as well as a choice of fairground type desserts such as candy floss, doughnuts and ice cream. This year not only were our labels colour coded, but also the lanyards so it was easy to recognise head office staff, Travel Counsellors, gold and others, their partners, sponsors and press even at a distance. This was an excellent idea.
Amanda Lamb once again compered for us and introduced all the acts. I thought this was her best year by far from the last four, as she appeared much more relaxed and welcoming and ad-libbed much more than she has in the past. We waited in anticipation for the comedian and many of us guessed Sarah Millican but we were wrong. He was announced gradually with the help of on-screen clues as Jason Manford.
An early start on Saturday, which was the main day of conference. We each received a lovely notebook, which I will be able to use for business networking throughout the year. This year we encouraged to Tweet and our comments were scrolled on a Twitter feed at the start of each session. Only a handful of us really participated in this so I was labelled Twitter queen by the end of conference. Tweeting regularly helped me to remember the names and details to write this article as accurately as possible.
The Beatles tribute band was a perfect start to the day and I found myself humming along to early Beatles numbers like Love me do.
2012, I think most would agree had the best and most inspiring speakers of all the conferences I have attended since I joined in 2006. The first speaker was Chris Daffy who spoke about using service to create lifelong customer loyalty. “Once a customer, always a customer” was the strapline he used. It is certainly true that our best and most loyal customers are the ones that are not so much price driven but those who trust us to find and recommend the most suitable deals for them.
A couple of prize draws followed in a new format which I thought was brilliant. Rather than simply choosing a name, additionally each of the lucky winners picked a suitcase number from 1-15 and behind each suitcase were 15 wonderful holiday prizes from our generous sponsors ranging from luxury weekends in Europe to exotic worldwide holidays.
Emirates Tours was the first to show us a video of their product. I didn’t realise their product range was so diverse. The rest followed between speakers. Royal Caribbean did theirs as a question and answer session, Cox & Kings did theirs as a very clever crackly black and white film portraying themselves as a crusty stuffed shirt, overly expensive product and then exploded all the perceptions about themselves demonstrating that they are in fact diverse and affordable. Carnival told us about their new developments with Royal Princess
The first two speakers were both very inspiring ladies who both told us about overcoming every possible obstacle to achieve what they have done but they are very different people with very different lives and stories but each with a mission.
We began with Michelle Mone OBE who told us in a frank and honest way, the rise and fall of being a woman entrepreneur with a young family delivered with that down to earth, gritty sense of humour that is unique to Glasgow. She launched Ultimo underwear which was revolutionary and would eventually lead to an OBE and worldwide recognition. Michelle has donated her fee to breast cancer and she got a well deserved standing ovation.
Caroline Casey was the next to speak and hers was an emotional, human story which drove many to tears including Amanda Lamb who was overcome with emotion once Caroline told us about overcoming disability and refusing to accept it as a barrier. Caroline has a rare condition which led to her blindness, but despite that, she rode across India on an elephant and now raises money for charity. The charity is called Kanshi after the elephant she grew so attached to. Caroline also got a standing ovation
We were told of the developments with our website which is soon to receive a complete overhaul, similarly with our paperwork which will have a much fresher and clearer look
In the afternoon our speaker was Anthony Iannarino who used to be a cold calling salesman and he spoke about adding value and not selling ourselves cheap. He also told us about the catalogue of disasters on his honeymoon that could easily have been avoided with a little more thought and care. He also joined in the question and answer session on Sunday with Malcolm Hingley, sales director and three of our top selling Travel Counsellors
After a very emotional and uplifting day we had a couple of hours to get ready for our special Gala Dinner and Awards night. The evening began with Russell Watson – The Voice who has made a very successful comeback after recovering from throat cancer and his own rendition of Nessum Dorma was every bit as powerful as Pavarotti’s. He told us that his wife had arranged a surprise birthday party for him and then found out that he had arranged to perform for us so the time was shifted so that he could get back and celebrate his birthday. He was amazing and certainly the highlight for me of all the entertainment over the weekend.
There were some amazing achievements and staggering sales performances by some of our top Travel Counsellors and they fully deserved the awards and for the second year running an award was given for our best tour operator which was won by Africa Collection. They did a fantastic job for me and my clients’ trip of a lifetime so I can speak from experience to say this was well earned
Most of Sunday was dedicated to Pow Wow. There were 175 sponsors this year so it took a long time to get round them all and absorb all their news, including training programs and new additions to their portfolio. As well as information, brochures and more prize draws, many of them very generously had some free gifts for us as well so most of us were laden with bags to take back
All in all I think this was my best conference ever, certainly for the speakers and the emotions I felt and what I took away from it
We had a lovely weekend in Liverpool, my first visit there and I hope not the last. It is a vibrant city with lots of museums and an interesting maritime history. Liverpool also has excellent shopping. It is a real shame I didn’t get to see more of the city