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Reaching travelers where they plan

Bell bottoms. Betty White. Zima.

And now, travel agents.

All have made comebacks. Sure, some in their industry insist that travel agents didn’t need to make a comeback. They forget that not long ago, thanks to online booking, predictions were that travel agents were going to go the way of the milkman.

Not so fast.

“Research shows, surprisingly, that people are returning to travel agents,” said Joni Allen, the tourism industry sales specialist for Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing. “And millennials – those born from 1977 to 1994 – are leading the way.”

According to research, while millennials are intrigued by travel, they rely on agents to provide itineraries.

“They enjoy getting expert advice,” said Allen. “And that’s what a travel agent is.”

Thus, Allen, whose job it is to reach those who influence travelers’ decisions, takes to the road to share her knowledge of Polk County.

“When we hold our seminars, I’m reaching not only veteran agents, but the rookies as well,” she said. “And so are many of the other destinations in Florida. So if we aren’t there, they are – and the agents won’t even think of us.”

Working a circuit from the Northeast – namely New York and Massachusetts – to Pennsylvania, Michigan and Illinois, Allen joins with other destinations around the state to hold educational seminars on the Sunshine State while also sponsoring meetings and attending trade shows – sometimes in excess of 20 shows a year.

“You try to maximize how many people you can get in front of,” she said. “At the same point, it isn’t quantity, its quality. Still, we can reach anywhere from 125 to more than 200 agents in a night, sometimes.”

In-between working meals and trade shows, Allen makes sales calls.

“Especially to AAA offices,” she said. “Those remain the travel agents most sought after by travelers.”

Allen says that for the majority of agents, the questions isn’t if their client is traveling to Florida, its where.

“The agents always say that clients are already coming down this way, whether it is to Orlando or the beaches. My job is to plant a seed in their head so when someone says Florida, they remember us,” she said. “So many already come here to visit the theme parks and don’t even realize they are in Polk County.”

But when it comes to experiences, millennials and baby boomers share much in common.

“After they see the theme parks, people are looking for authentic experiences, like picking an orange at Ridge Island Groves, seeing a bald eagle or going to Bok Tower Gardens,” said Allen. “Polk County has all this in droves, and more. We’re as authentic Florida as you could get.”