Organising a three-day event for a 1,000-member delegation is never easy, especially if the attendees themselves are travel agents – people who expect seamless arrangements throughout their overseas trips.
Hosting the Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI) – India’s oldest and largest travel agents’ association – for its annual three-day conference, the staff of Latitude, Laguna Phuket’s versatile new venue, had their work cut out them. The convention took place in September, not long after it opened for business.
The association likes to choose a destination for the event, which members are interested in learning more about, and which also has a lot of potential for outbound tourists who might want to visit India. Phuket satisfied both requirements.
The TAAI’s objective was summed up by its slogan: “Be … the game changer”. The business of travel agents in India, as around the world, has changed beyond recognition. The convention aimed to inspire participants to develop new business strategies that turn them from travel agents into travel consultants, help retain talent and generate new products, says Uv Narayan Murthy, TAAI’s media adviser. “The consultants can now talk (knowledgeably) about niche tourism that spans from ayurveda, spa and adventure sports to slum tourism.”
With nearly 1,000 people needing to be transported, fed and entertained, there were plenty of challenges for the organisers. Choices Entertainment, the Indian business event expert, put together a series of activities for the occasion with aid from local destination management company Oriental Leisure, which contributed 20 to 50 staffmembers to fulfill requirements of the different programmes. World Travel Service helped with the transport and logistics.
For the occasion, Latitude was transformed repeatedly within short time frames, from a conference room to an event space, and from a dance floor to an exhibition venue.
The programme kicked off with a formal keynote ceremony, which required a stage for the speakers and theatre-style seating for about 350 people. This took place in a 500sqm extension of the main venue 1,000sqm marquee, where the gala dinner was held. Later that evening, the floor was cleared for Bollywood entertainers who took over the dance floor and invited guests to show off their footwork and party throughout the night.
“The décor and ambiance created were awesome,” recalls Murthy. “It was the link between the Indian and Thai cultures that bonded people who were present at the convention.”
Other programmes included a U-shaped exhibition featuring the services of 20 participating companies and a theatre-style workshop for 320 people. Lively networking took place during coffee breaks, lunches and
Four of Laguna Phuket’s seven hotels split the responsibility of catering for different events. “Sheraton Grande Laguna catered the coffee breaks and lunches served buffet-style for up to 750 guests, while the Dusit Thani Laguna, Banyan Tree Phuket and Laguna Beach Resort joined forces to cater the lavish Thai, Indian and international buffet dinners for more than 1,000 guests,” says Robin Wilson, director of marketing communications and events, Laguna Phuket.
“An offsite kitchen was set up just for the evening, consisting of a portable, refrigerated shipping container, turbo works, tandoori ovens flown in from India, barbecue grills, stove tops and stock burners.
“Manning the operations were eight Indian chefs, who were brought in to assist with the cuisine following specifications by TAAI.”
Laguna Phuket’s Quest Adventure arranged a team- building session for 250 people, while sightseeing and shopping sorties attracted the rest of the delegates and their spouses.
“The three-day event sounded the bugle for a new beginning in the travel consultants’ life to become modern, IT-savvy promoters, rather than old-fashioned agents,” says Murthy. “No words can express the hospitality that was extended to us. It was the best.”
It was a job well done.
Event: 59th Convention and Exhibition of Travel Agents Association of India (TAAI)
Venue: Latitude Marquee at Laguna Phuket, Thailand
Date: September 24-26, 2010
Number of participants: about 1,000
Event organisers: Choices Entertainment and Oriental Leisure