Concluding three days of connection, insights and inspiration, TravelManagers has wrapped its 14th annual National Conference, held this year at Te Pae Convention Centre in Ōtautahi Christchurch, Aotearoa, New Zealand. Karryon’s Matt Leedham was there to report on all the happenings.
Cue the collective excitement and a city seen through wide and fresh eyes. This was TravelManagers first offshore conference in four years and the first time they’d ever held their conference in Aotearoa, New Zealand.
Lifting the curtain on the much-loved annual get-together that was initially scheduled to take place in the South Island’s largest city in March 2019, Loren Heaphy, General Manager of Ōtautahi Christchurch, emphasised the challenges leading up to an event she worried may never happen.
After referencing the numerous hurdles that had been overcome to host the event at Te Pae, Heaphy aptly captured the collective sentiment by exclaiming, “Welcome and also, it’s about bloody time!”
In what was a fitting theme then, Future Fit highlighted the importance of resilience, innovation, and adaptation for its Personal Travel Managers (PTMs) to successfully navigate an environment characterised by an unparalleled and unpredictable rate of change.
READ: All about day one of the event here.
For so many reasons, this year’s event was both a celebration and the advent of a new chapter in its 16-year journey for Australia’s first home-based group that was founded long before remote working was ever a thing.
Coming off the back of consecutive record numbers for the last financial year, which have flowed into the current one, the key takeaway for the group was not to get complacent but rather to foster a sense of curiosity to better understand and embrace the changing opportunities and challenges ahead.
Linking the event proceedings was Melbournian emcee and comedian Jordana Borensztajn, who brought an abundance of laughter, energy and audience participation to the sessions, including getting the entire conference up to dance to Kiwi legend Dave Dobbyn’s classic ‘A Slice of Heaven’ on day one.
How to be future fit
Over the three-day event, 370 delegates from all over Australia, including 200 PTMs, explored the Future Fit concept via a range of insightful workshops and supplier sessions.
Topics included technology, automation, outsourcing and effectively harnessing AI and ChatGPT, researching evolving customer generations, inclusivity and diversity in the booking and travelling experience, defining the products for the future, social responsibility, and maintaining individual wellbeing and a positive mindset.
Bringing real-life travel advisor context to the discussion, five Personal Travel Managers; Cathy Moir, Rose Febo, Karen Whitehead, Louise McCarthy and Chris Ezzy, shared their individual, often hilariously entertaining experiences, expert advice and personal journeys.
Sustainability was also a welcome and prominent agenda constant at this year’s conference. In what was another first for the group, the event was free of single-use plastics and impressively achieved carbon-neutral status through a partnership with The Christchurch Foundation.
As part of the partnership, carbon credits offsetting delegates travel to and from the event were used to plant 1,116 trees, some of which were planted by the TravelManagers team and other suppliers pre-conference at a special event in Christchurch’s red zone hosted by Intrepid Travel.
Delegates were also urged to take Tourism New Zealand’s brilliant Tiaki Promise before arriving as a statement of intent to be better travellers wherever they ventured across the nation.
Late nights and good times
And then, of course, there was the networking and late-night fun. The Travel Corporation hosted a stylish welcome event on Thursday evening at the Christchurch Art Gallery.
On Friday night, delegates headed to Archie Brothers Cirque Electriq, sponsored by Norwegian Cruise Line (NCL) and Globus Family of Brands, for some extended playtime.
Here, amongst the buzzing neon and belly laughs, the travel industry competitive spirit was alive and well, with battle royales happening throughout the venue via ten-pin bowling, multi-player arcade games, Holy Moly golf (featuring plenty of not-so-discreet cheating), and raucous karaoke room marathons.
As to who might be the TravelManagers Australian idol contender? We’ll never know, which is perhaps a good thing, judging by some of the singing.
One of the noteworthy distinctions of the event was the return of the activity afternoon, where delegates could choose from a range of sightseeing experiences generously hosted and funded by Ōtautahi Christchurch.
On a stunning first day of Spring, conference attendees broke into small groups, with precious time to foster industry and personal connections while enjoying the fresh Canterbury air and sampling some of the city’s best experiences first hand.
And we get to call this work? How lucky we are.
The afternoon activities ranged from a city-to-sea e-bike ride followed by a hot pool soak to ziplining at Christchurch Adventure Park, a Waka (Māori canoe) on the Avon and a city walking tour.
Other options included the historic City Tram and Punting Tour, an Amiki Cultural Walking Tour with a tasting session at Riverside Kitchen MasterChef Cook-Off, or a visit to The International Antarctic Centre.
The outcome? Almost four hundred plus enthusiastic new travel influencers for Christchurch and the Canterbury region, with no doubt a continuous stream of bookings to follow.
For a city still on the recovery road to rebuilding and transforming itself post-earthquakes and pandemic, it will be just the tonic and the reason why TravelManagers were so keen to come here in the first place.
Wrapping up and where to next year?
The ultimate session of the conference was an emphatic keynote by 2023 Australian of the Year and body-positive activist Taryn Brumfitt on her belief that resilience, tenacity and polite persistence trump luck every time.
Not surprisingly, a gushing standing ovation followed.
So, were the PTMs feeling Future Fit now? PTM Rose Febo said, “I’m always thinking forward. I think you have to if you’re a business owner. I like to think of myself as a solopreneur, but if I don’t have the resources, I can go to other people that I can connect with and just go deeper.
“I feel that, as an industry, we’re all becoming closer. And that shared knowledge makes everyone better.”
Echoing the sentiment, PTM Emma Lucas said, “Definitely, because I was particularly unaware of some of the systems that are out there. I’m now excited to go home and implement them with my clients.”
Saturday evening played host to the TravelManagers National Awards Gala Dinner at Te Pae Convention Centre, with the highly prized gongs handed out to winning PTMs and the National Partnership Team (NPOs) for their excellence over the last twelve months.
Next year’s TravelManagers National Conference will be held at The Cairns Convention Centre from 12-14 September 2024.
For all the photo galleries from the event, head over to our Karryon Facebook page.
Platinum Sponsors for the conference were Air New Zealand, Tourism New Zealand and Ōtautahi Christchurch.
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