On the Road…Again

While few people enjoyed the pandemic lockdown conditions of the past year, Joni Allen wasn’t among them. So you can imagine her delight when travel expo opportunities resumed.

“It’s glorious,” said Allen.

Allen, Polk County’s Tourism Industry Sales Specialist, and Al Snow, Polk County’s Conventions, Meetings and Events Specialist, have both returned to the literal road now truly less travelled. Snow recently attended the Religious Conference Managers Association in Charlotte and the Independent Planner Education Conference in Louisville.

“And I have three more in a row coming up,” he said. “Planners are booking. Appointments at conferences have been good.”

Snow feels that while independent planners may lead the way, association planners will follow.

“Associations are held back by their own Risk Management departments,” said Snow. “When they see that successful conferences are being held safely, they’ll get on board.”

But he does see some changes to the industry are coming.

“I think we’ll see less big conferences,” said Snow. “We’ll see more of the smaller, regional conferences all happening at the same time with, say, a keynote speaker who would telecommute amongst them all.”

But that doesn’t mean the future of conferences won’t have its problems.

“It goes back to pent-up demand,” he said. “Once everyone feels comfortable, the problem will be finding open dates and locations.”

Joni Allen recently returned from New Rochelle, New York, where she attended the trade show for the Alliance of Westchester Travel Agency, a regional trade association comprised of owners or managers of retail travel agencies from just outside New York City.

“This was my first trade show since COVID hit,” said Allen. “And everyone is ready to get out and go.”

While few realize it, when it comes to travelers to Florida, New York City is the number-one market in the nation.

“Families, adults, couples, it doesn’t matter,” said Allen. “We’re on the top of the list for people from New York City to visit.”

After a quick trip to the Peninsula Travel Trade Shows, she’ll work a circuit from Atlanta to Greenville, S.C., to Charlotte and Greensboro, N.C.

“Each event will have 30 to 80 agents at it,” she said. “And their business is booming.”

According to Allen, agent usage is up. A recent New York Times article said travel agent usage may be up as much as 35 percent.

“A lot of folks had nightmares after COVID shut down their travel plans,” said Allen. “Now they’ve learned what I’ve known for years – travel agents don’t cost the consumer anything and they deal with all the hassles. And the agents love Polk County, because of all our vacation homes and their commission structures.”