Agents enthused to connect with Asia

Bangkok Airways, Links Travel and Tours, Minor Hotels, Thai Airways, Travel Pack, Visit Okinawa Japan and Wendy Wu Tours were present at the Selling Travel Connect: Asia event held in London and Manchester in June

Asia was the focus of the latest edition of Selling Travel’s popular two-city Connect event.

Over two nights – in London and Manchester – agents met with destinations and suppliers and received invaluable updates on Korea, Malaysia, Hong Kong, and the Japanese regions of Okinawa and Shizouka.

And sharing the current news on airlines servicing the region were Thai Airways and Bangkok Airways, while the latest operator offerings were provided by Travelpack, Wendy Wu Tours, Links Travel and Tours, Cox & Kings and Abercrombie & Kent.

On hand to offer hotel options were the Anand Collection and Minor Hotels.

“Impressed by quality agents”

Among those suppliers who enjoyed the London event at the Caledonian Club was Danielle Porter of the Malaysia Tourism Promotion Board who said: “I was impressed by the quality of the agents. They seemed really interested in Malaysia.

“A lot of them have visited the country but they wanted to know about new properties and new tourism attractions. A few of them asked about experiential trips, not just your normal beach destinations. That is why Sabah and Sarawak are selling well for them at the moment.”

“Also, I met an agent who only that day had just done a £23,000 booking to Malaysia, which was great to hear!”

Like Malaysia, Korea was one of the later destinations to get back to normal (after Covid) but is now using events such as the Connect evening to reengage with travel agents.

“It was great to meet so many different agents. Many I met were very new to Korea and came with a lot of questions about the destination, so it was a great opportunity to educate them,” said Ruby James of Korea Tourism Organisation.

“Korea is an up-and-coming destination and we have some great initiatives in place as a tourism board to make it as easy as possible to visit.”

Korea is currently promoting its Visit Korea Year 2023-24, a government campaign, which aims to build on global, interest in the “Korean Wave” of popular culture from music (K-Pop) to films, food and fashion.

Agents arrived in London with plenty of questions about Hong Kong, said Hong Kong Tourism Board’s Bettina Walsh.

“Keen to learn”

“In terms of those who knew something about Hong Kong and those who didn’t, I would say it was roughly half and half. And those who had been to Hong Kong were very keen to learn about new attractions to tell their clients.”

Sandra Kwan of Hume Whitehead showcased two different destinations in Japan. In London, wearing her Tourism Shizuoka hat, she shared facts such as “hidden gem” Shizuoka is the home of Mt Fuji, which can be reached in just an hour from Tokyo on the Bullet Train.

In Manchester, she showcased how Okinawa, with its stunning beaches, makes a great addition to any multi-destination trip Japan trip.

“Okinawa’s cuisine is completely delicious because it’s very fresh due the climate. They grow lots of fresh produce, and surrounded by ocean, they catch lots of great seafood. The cuisine is really special,” Sandra added.

“The agents at both events were very engaged, they asked some great questions and everyone seemed very enthusiastic,” she said.

Japan is currently in demand for Wendy Wu Tours, said Chris Woon Yuen, the company’s Business Development Manager.

“It is probably our biggest seller at the moment. For agents, Japan offers great commissions because it is a high-tariff destination.”

Up in the air

On the airline side, Sunanta Trai-Ukos, Commercial Manager UK & Ireland at Thai Airways, said the evenings presented the opportunity to “let agents know that Thai Airways is back on the market”, while Sarah Gilmore, UK Trade and Sales Support Executive at Bangkok Airways, said a key message she conveyed was that the airline’s lounges in Bangkok, Phuket and Chiang Mai are available to all classes of passenger.

“We’re a full-service airline, so we have food on all of our flights. We’re based in Bangkok and purely domestic and regional. We rely on 20 codeshare partners to get all our passengers into Thailand, mostly through Bangkok, and then send them on their merry way to the beaches and the mountains,” she said.

Brian Langford, of Links Travel and Tours, said he agreed with agents in Manchester who told him “clients are trying to find something a little bit different”.

He said: “We can come up with those options for them and generally turn our quotations around in about 48 hours – our itineraries can be anything up to 15 or 20 pages long.”

Abercrombie & Kent’s Craig Liddle said agents were interested in the “synergy” between the two companies he represents: Cox & Kings and Abercrombie & Kent.

“The agents were keen to learn the point of difference between the two brands and how each could be tailored to their client request,” he said.

Darren Martin, Sales and Business Development Manager at Travelpack, said on both evenings the company showcased its tailor-made products.

“We focused on some out-of-the-norm bits for agents, for them to get an idea of what we can do alongside the normal, everyday stuff,” he said.

“For example, we told them about Elephant Hills in Thailand, which has fully sustainable elephant conservation sites where guests can spend three to four days getting up close and personal with the animals.”

Karen Davidson, Global Director of Sales at Minor Hotels, enthused that the Manchester event was “fantastic”.

She said: “I informed agents that in Asia we have about 20 hotels, but in the group worldwide we have more than 500. Our hotels, resorts and spas include the Anantara and Avani chains.”

In it to win it

The companies at both events offered a number of fabulous prizes. In Manchester, winners included Ken Garrity of Ken Garrity Travel, Lauren Paxton from Kuoni Travel, Alan Wright from Failsworth Travel, Isla Stenning of Hays Travel, Lisa Mousley from Chic Boutique Travel and Karen Moore from Travel Counsellors.

Among the winners in London was Emily Jarvis of Freedom Destinations, who won six nights at properties in Thailand represented on the night by Anand Collection.

“I can’t believe I won that! I haven’t been to Thailand since 2019 so get the chance to go back is amazing. I am very pleased and as soon as I get home will speak to my partner about when we will go out there,” she said.

“The Selling Travel Connect events are a really good introduction for suppliers and agents and the contacts made are invaluable – to meet over 50 agents on a night like this is great, and I will follow up with all of them,” said Jas Anand, owner of the Anand Collection, whose properties include the Vijitt Resort in Phuket and Devasom Resort Khao Lak.

Another agent who was impressed by the London event was Travel Counsellor, Clare McInnis, who said: “I really enjoyed the evening. I have been dealing with a lot of clients who are interested in Japan so it was really good meeting up with Sandra Kwan to learn all about Shizuoka and Okinawa. My conversation Travelpack was also very useful as I had not dealt with them before.”