Last week, I attended MLT Vacations’ MLT University 2014 in Minneapolis. If you did not get a chance to read about the conference, you can catch up on the event here. Finding some free time away from the many informative destination and marketing courses at the conference, I was able to sit and chat with MLT’s president, John Caldwell; Tina Iglio, senior v.p. of marketing; and Elizabeth Moriarty, v.p. of product management. Here are important takeaways from that interview.
Deserae del Campo (DC): MLT University is coming to a close, and agents are walking away with a ton of information they can use to better their businesses. What have you learned?
John Caldwell (JC): I think every year reaffirms the need for a comprehensive training program for the industry. Home-based agents, agents who don’t have a lot of resources to get training, are looking for a comprehensive training curriculum where they can council their clients who want to know where they should stay, what they should do, and what tour they should take; and [agents] just don’t have the resources to fly all over the world—that’s what we do for them.
People who are calling the travel agents, and willing to pay service fees and do business with the travel agent, are looking for advice and [agents] are relying on MLT when they work with our technology, WorldAgent Direct, or they call our reservations center, or come to MLTU, they need that back-up and they need that destination expertise, and we provide that through MLTU.
Elizabeth Moriarty (EM): I think the other takeaway is that our agency partners really appreciate the fact that it is a one-stop shop. They can learn so much, but it’s very condensed; it’s over three days and what we’re finding is more of our agency partners are coming for more than one day, so we’re very focused on ensuring that we can give those agency partners a good selection of educational seminars.
The other piece is that we recognize that there has to be continuity and on-going training; it’s not just MLTU, this is one element of our training. We continue to have training through webinars, product updates, and for us, it’s also very critical to make sure our business development managers are aware of what’s new and what we’re continuing to develop and launch from a product perspective.
DC: The buzz is MLT’s new Marketing Hub. How important was it to develop this program and why now?
JC: From my perspective, it was very clear that travel agents really needed an efficient, effective way to get our promotions and our marketing out to their clients with their message attached to it. Before, the process worked, but it wasn’t efficient for them or for us—you have to approve logos, you have to approve placements, and all of these things tended to be a manual effort—so [agents] told us in our survey that they needed help in marketing their business, and using our materials, and they were in need of something that worked better than the current process, as we were, too, so we went out and sourced the best possible technology for them.
Tina Iglio (TI): Some agencies are more sophisticated than others and a lot of them don’t really have the resources, so this actually frees up their resources to be selling more and to be more relevant, so they can quickly get offers that are out in the marketplace. We’ll get partner offers and it will be ‘buy three nights, get one free,’ for example. When we create those promotions and they are going on sale, we want to make sure they can sell them straight away, so that helps them so they don’t have to spend the time to get things approved and put their logo in. They just put their call-to-action in, they put their logo in, they can put it up via Facebook, Twitter; and they can do it by e-mail. We think it’s going to be really great for them and a much better process.
DC: What message do you have for agents who have not partnered with MLT or not attended MLTU?
JC: There is a lot of great competition for the wholesale space and there are a lot of great companies that are vying for agency business. What makes MLT different is that we clearly got the message from surveying our customers in the last two years, that our service and support are the differentiator for doing business with MLT.
Also, we are connected with Delta Air Lines. We’re able to do things for our clients that other providers can’t do. For instance, we offer bonus miles for the client so when a travel agency is engaging a customer, and they are trying to win the sale, and they want to go on Delta, well, if you come through us you are able to get bonus miles and you’re also going to have those miles qualify for your Medallion status. No one else can offer that.
Another thing is our technology. When a travel agent wants to book online or research the information online, we have heard that our technology, WorldAgent Direct, works for them. They love it. We tell the travel agent to just come and try WorldAgent Direct. You might be connected with some other technology, and you’re used to it, and we understand that, and making a change is tough, but if you just give it a try, you’ll find that the way we allow you to make a booking with us, and how intuitive it is, we hear loud and clear that our technology is simple and easy to use.
EM: The other piece too is that we offer nearly 300 destinations worldwide, so for a travel agent that has multiple clients who might not necessarily want to go to one specific destination, we have got a tremendous amount of scope and breathe of destination and product offerings.
DC: New courses were introduced this year like the LGBT Vacations class, which seemed to be liked among agents. Why do you think this year was a good time to introduce the course at MLTU?
EM: This is a product that we have been offering for the LGBT market, it’s just that we haven’t really been very proactive in sharing that with our agency partners, and we recognize that there is a lot of money to made. What we felt was the travel agent partners need to recognize that this could be a very lucrative market. It was just really more of an awareness letting our agency partners know that we have had an LGBT program for probably five years.
TI: There is so much to tell agents and how do we get the message out of what we’ve got on our site, which has hotel properties and various kinds of things. But how do you package that up? I think it took us a bit of time to figure out how to package it and this was the first step, but clearly it was incredibly well received and popular, and people want more, so now we have to figure out how we can bring that into other forms of marketing and communications for them.
EM: Also, any hotel that we offer as part of the LGBT program, we have given very defined criteria. They have to be either part of TAG (Travel Alternatives Group) or IGLTA (International Gay & Lesbian Travel Association), and the hotels actually have to sign an agreement that they are LGBT-friendly.
For more information about MLT Vacations, visit mltvacations.com.