Great ITAA Conference and Venue, But Only 33 Agencies

Great ITAA Conference and Venue, But Only 33 Agencies

The 2015 ITAA Conference, Embracing The Future, was held last weekend in Jerez, Cádiz Province in Spain, and proved to be a great event, conference venue, and destination, but only 33 Irish travel agencies were represented – and that included the ITAA President’s and those of two speakers.

The event attracted much attention from Spanish media, who were addressed at a press conference by (pictured above) Gonzalo Ceballos, Director, Spanish Tourism Office, Dublin; María Dolores Varo, Tourism Counsellor, Diputada de Turismo, Andalucia; Francisco Javier Fernández, Minister for Tourism & Sports, Andalucia; Mamen Sanchez, Jerez Town Mayor; Martin Skelly, ITAA President; and Pat Dawson, ITAA Chief Executive.

ITAA President Martin Skelly welcomes the delegates

Welcoming the delegates to the conference on behalf of the ITAA Board, Martin Skelly, President, thanked Gonzalo Ceballos, Spanish Tourism Office, and Antonio Martin-Machuca, Andalucia Tourist Board, for their support in organising the conference and asserted: “We have to be relevant to our members, who have come through enormous challenges, and we have to be relevant to our customers. There has been a high attrition rate, but those here have sailed through the storm and adapted to survive – and a lot has been achieved.

“Our suppliers and our customers do not owe us anything. We have to ‘Embrace The Future’ by ourselves and make ourselves relevant. The ITAA has 100 members with 160 shops and we place a great emphasis on staff training. We probably have the most professional and most skilled workforce in Ireland, but our members need to continue to draw down on the training skills offered. Legal work and advice is another important support mechanism that the ITAA provides.”

Mamen Sanchez, Town Mayor, also welcomed the delegates to Jerez and said: “Cadiz Province offers a 365-days-a-year destination with great hospitality. We are a city of open doors, so please be welcome here and enjoy our historic attractions and conference venues, our sherry and wine routes, our horses and our flamenco!”

Gonzalo Ceballos, Director, Spanish Tourism Office – Dublin, welcomes the audience to Spain, Andalucia, Cádiz Province and Jerez

Strategic Thought and Change

Stephen McKenna, Chief Executive, Atlas Travel Group and, addressed the subject of ‘Strategic Thought and Change’ and reminded his audience that: “If you change nothing, nothing will change” and urged them to have a clearly defined vision, mission and values. (GoHop’s own mission is: Enhance every customer experience.)

“Communication within the company was our own biggest challenge so we introduced ‘town hall’, monthly and weekly meetings, as well as stand-ups and one-to-ones. In addition, in order to help remove ‘inter-company silos’ a-day-in-the-life role reversals give staff experiences in other departments.

“We also introduced staff well being initiatives such as head-and-neck massages and yoga, because it’s the little things that matter.

“Ask yourself ‘Why do we do that?’ about everything – and align today’s realities with your future ambitions.”

Technology, Marketing and Validating Your Next Idea

Juan Cullen, Amigo Media, spoke on ‘Technology, Marketing and Validating Your Next Idea’ or, as he re-phrased it, ‘#Winning with Tech & Trends’. Explaining the cloud, he said that it reduces costs, increases efficiency, works from anywhere, increases competitiveness – and facilitates home workers.

Travel consumer trends include:

  • Personalisation – decline of the package holiday
  • Commoditisation – 80% of flights were booked direct
  • Affordable Luxury – growth in expectations
  • Globalisation – homogenisation of high standards
  • Experiences – 70% would spend money on experience rather than goods

While the bad news is that commoditised products are easily accessible via the Internet, the good news is the growth in demand for experiential, long haul and niche holidays – and even better news is that travel agents can provide value in this area, with higher commissions on sales. Almost as many river cruises, for example, are now being booked as package holidays.

“A value proposition is the compelling reason(s) why someone should use your service as opposed to an alternative,” said Juan. “It has to benefit and/or solve a problem, and it should be a differentiator.”

Aer Lingus

Following a presention by professional trainer Sheila O’Malley on how to achieve work-life balance, John Keogh, European Sales Manager, Aer Lingus, outlined the many route and service developments recently introduced and planned, including the new website that was launched in beta test mode in August under A full launch and a new mobile app, along with the much-guessed new US destinations, will be announced in the coming weeks.

Aer Lingus provided a direct Dublin – Jerez charter for the ITAA conference, charging €50 per person per sector (as well as for onboard catering).


Speaker Liam Lonergan, Club Travel, prepares to address the issue of Protecting Your Margin

Protecting Your Margin

Liam Lonergan, Managing Director, Club Travel, spoke on ‘Protecting Your Margin’ and covered much of the ground in his interview with Irish Travel Trade News last February (see

“Turnover is useless unless you get the margin – and if you are getting 2% you are lucky, because it can so easily go to -1% or -2%,” he asserted. “I am really in the technology business because since 1999 Club Travel has employed a dozen programmers just working on connectivity between suppliers and our financials.

“Staff are still 70% of a travel agency’s costs, so staff efficiency and productivity are key. There is no point in getting 2% extra through a consortium if it all goes out through inefficiencies. Travel consultants should be selling, not administrating and yet they spend 70%-80% of their time administrating!

“Collectively removing back office functions from sales staff would make life much simpler and would buy time for agencies facing the competition from major online companies. I have offered such a solution to the ITAA and consortia for the past two years, but is there a receptive audience for such a solution? It would probably need at least 50 agencies to work together – much as they did in the mid-1980s when they formed TIMAS, which served a purpose for some 15 years.”

Succession Management

Alan O’Neill, Retail Change Consultant, addressed the issue of ‘Succession Management’ by focusing on the importance of developing the value of the business, for which there is a direct correlation with sales.

“How do you differentiate in a business that has become commoditised?” he asked. “Customer service is increasing exponentially in importance – and does anyone count how many sales come from recommendations?

“You need to constantly pay attention to the three legs of your competitive stool: People, Product, and Place.”

Conference delegates enjoy some local sherry before dinner at the Royal Andalucian School of Equestrian Art

Gearoid Mannion, Tom Mannion Travel, takes a relaxed view on the walking tour of Jerez

Social Programme

The conference weekend included an excellent social programme that included walking tours of Jerez and Cadiz, a visit (and impromptu disco dance!) on a Croisi Europe river cruiser, go-karting, a horse show and dinner at the Royal Andalucian School of Equestrian Art, and a Gala Dinner at the Claustros de Santo Domingo, complete with an excellent presentation of flamenco.

All in all, it was a great conference, social programme and destination. What a shame that only 30 travel agencies were represented by the more than 100 delegates!

Jean Maxwell and Pat Dawson, ITAA Chief Executive, ensure that everything is ready for the Gala Dinner at the Claustros de Santo Domingo

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NEIL STEEDMAN has been a trade journalist, copywriter, editor and proofreader for 52 years, and News & Features Editor for ‘Irish Travel Trade News’ for the past 42 years.

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