The Travel Agent Next Door Picks A Palace For 1st National Meeting

with Bruce Parkinson

TTAND founder Flemming Friisdahl with agents Coreen Doucett, Steph Switzer & Rosanne Sewerynek.

Moon over Moon Palace Cancun

ACV's Christine Faulkner welcomes TTAND members to Bahia Principe Tulum.

Sunset at Bahia Principe Tulum.

Palace Resorts BDMs Sharon Wilson & Peter Tran with TTAND's Penny Martin.

TTAND members Alain & Jerry Goudreault enjoy the farewell dinner at Moon Palace.

Penny Martin was so excited about welcoming guests to The Travel Agent Next Door's 1 st ever National Meeting that she approached every bus arriving at the sprawling, 2,400 room Moon Palace on the Riviera Maya.

“Are you TTAND?" she asked the 1st person off the bus. “Tanned?" replied a pink-faced Brit. “Give us a couple of days, love. We just arrived."

If Martin, TTAND's 1st hire, was excited, you could imagine the anticipation of company founder Flemming Friisdahl. After just 1 year in operation, he did not picture himself hosting a gathering of 60 agents, staff and suppliers at a 5 star Mexican resort.

“We weren't expecting to do our 1st national conference until 2017. But in our 1 st year we have attracted and selected over 150 agents, and companies like Palace Resorts and Air Canada Vacations made this possible because they believe in what we are doing and are willing to invest in our success."

The numbers are impressive. And during one day of the gathering, 4 new agents signed on with TAAND back at home, the company's best day ever. But Friisdahl says those aren't the numbers that matter.

“I'm extremely pleased with how far we've come in a year. We have 12 support staff now – a number we didn't budget for. We have over 150 agents. But now it's not so much about growing member numbers. It's about growing sales. We want to make money when our members sell travel, not from their fees."

Friisdahl says delivering sales to preferred suppliers and giving TTAND members every opportunity to grow their home-based businesses are the key priorities going forward. “What matters to suppliers is the amount of business we give them. The power is in focus. We can't be everything to everyone, but we can be a lot to a few."

Friisdahl's life partner Rhonda Stanley is a 35 yr. industry veteran – 25 years with Sears Travel -- who recently joined the company to create a new agent development program. She says TTAND's focus on carefully screening those who wish to join – whether new agents, existing independent agents or agency owners, is what will lead to success.

“We're not a card mill. If we can't help people be successful we don't want them. First and foremost you have to enjoy sales. And you have to understand that when you work from home there's no start and no stop time."

Stanley points to studies predicting that over the next decade close to 80% of current agents will retire. Combine that startling figure with growing demand among consumers for professional travel advice and Stanley firmly believes that “there's never been a better time to join the industry."

From an observer's perspective, TTAND has attracted an enviable group of members. The group at Moon Palace had a wide range of age and experience, but shared a strong desire to learn and grow their business. They attended all events and there was never a wait for stragglers on trips to site inspections at other Palace resorts or to an ACV-sponsored site inspection and dinner at the massive Bahia Principe complex near Tulum.

They were also enthusiastic about TTAND and the prospects it offers for their professional and financial success.

“The resources Flemming and Penny have given us are amazing," says Toronto's Gerald Mitchell, who moved into travel after a career in banking. “I saw a video on Open Jaw that attracted me to TTAND, and they've done an amazing job of support."

Markham's Coreen Doucett said TTAND's selectiveness is important to her. “I think the difference is that every agent is qualified. They don't accept everybody. As a result we have a group of motivated people who are eager to learn and grow."

Another TTAND agent, Renfre's Bonnie Eady, spoke up during one of the conference sessions to thank her colleagues. “This group is amazing. You are casual, caring, helpful… just great."

For many of the attendees, who travelled from as far east as St. John's and as far west as Gibsons, the gathering marked their 1 st meeting, though there's an active Facebook group where information and assistance is shared. By week's end many were fast friends.

“The camaraderie created by this conference will push the company forward," said Friisdahl. “What a great time we had."

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