Before I say anything else, I have to remind everyone how awful my luck can be when traveling. Do you smell a story coming? You should smell two. They’re not as great as the infamousUnderage Alcohol Smuggler of St. Lucia story, but they might make you laugh. There is a catch: you’ll have to truck through all of my descriptive mess for a little bit before I share.
Considering Atlanta’s requirement of “jerk” to even apply for a job on their TSA team, I never thought I’d utter these words: I just met a friendly TSA member. Granted, it’s in the Las Vegas airport, which has significantly happier TSA agents (keep in mind that this doesn’t take much) AND free WiFi. Downside: it also has slot machines that are constantly buzzing and dinging and almost as annoying as those screaming toddlers in my waiting area on the way to LAS. Every few minutes I’m bombarded by the slot machine shouting, “Wheel! Of! Fortune!”.
Anyway, as you can probably guess, I’m updating while waiting on my return flight to Atlanta. I had to leave early to make sure UGA didn’t drop me from my courses and to maintain a halfway decent attendance record. Everyone knows that the first week just doesn’t matter, but it’s hard to tell that to the professors that take attendance. There were a couple of times over the past few days that I was thrilled to be leaving early instead of sitting through two more 424 minute sessions. However, I’ve really grown close to many of the other agents and I’m already regretting my decision to continue my college education.
Going into Travel Mart, I had no idea that I would meet and immediately bond with other agents around my age, who share similar stories and even more similar passions. I honestly didn’t think that there would be other people my age, as I have yet to find young agents anywhere near me. I was expecting a day’s worth of training for the Boot Camp and then a couple of days learning about various suppliers. I had no idea the intricacies and depth to this convention, and how I would walk away with a renewed sense of purpose and a plethora of ideas. I never expected to stay out until the early morning just talking and laughing with new friends. I also never expected to take the term “Boot Camp” literally, but I actually woke up sore almost every morning. That was probably from the heels.
In all seriousness, though, I think that everyone was blown away by how much we benefitted from the NextGen Boot Camp. For the program’s first year, it ran without a hitch, flawlessly inspiring and connecting us in a way that I never dreamed possible. We’re already planning our own fam trips and meeting dates so that we don’t have to wait until next August to see one another again.
Well, enough with the mushiness, you want to know about my last day and how eventful my flight home turned out to be (transitional note: I am now writing from my ATH apartment, not the LAS airport)!
I’m not sure whether it was my anticipation in knowing this was my last day of meetings, or if the vendors were just more interesting, but I really enjoyed the second day’s meetings more than those of the first. To be honest, I think it has to do with the destinations. Monday’s suppliers were from many areas that I’ve recently visited, so I tended to tune out. Not that I know even the slightest bit about the details of every Virtuoso property in Italy, but I was much more on my toes while meeting Tuesday’s vendors, who hail from Dubai, Tahiti, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, Germany, Czech, Jordan, Israel, Egypt, and beyond. The difference is that I enjoy just imagining myself in these places, whereas I don’t have to imagine myself in France or Italy. I think that the dreaming of travel is just as important as the fulfillment of that dream. That critical part of building up a particular destination in one’s mind is thrilling; I take pride in knowing that the transformation of the anticipated into a reality is part of my job description.
Anyway, a few observations: first, I love the Swiss. They bring us chocolate, invite us to their smelly cheese parties, and welcome us to their country with arms wide open. They’re really a fun group to speak with and learn from. Second, I really want to go to the South Pacific, and I really want to go soon. This is why I plan on undergoing training to specialize in Tahiti as soon as I get back. I’m being completely serious. Finally, the Burj Al Arab in Dubai, which is the only 7-star property in the world, will one day be my summer home.
Immediately after the meetings, I head out with those from my agency to party hop. We hit up the Swiss party, which features a “real” Swiss lifeguard (although I’m pretty sure he was just a hired Chippendale) and go to about 4 other cocktail parties.
I find Aleza, one of the NextGen agents that I met on my first day, and we decide to run to my room to drop off my gifts from the Swiss (fuzzy socks!). It’s at this time that I realize I have locked my keys in my room. I call down to reception and they send someone up after about 15 minutes. When the security officer attempts to let us in, we find even worse news: the door is jammed. The security officer then calls whoever it is that fixes doorjambs (his name is Paul, I’m not sure of his title other than “awesome”). Awesome Paul arrives after another 15 minutes and uses what must be the most ghetto, handmade tool I’ve seen (a series of mangled and connected coat hangers), with which he attempts to open the door from the inside. After he brakes two of his coat hanger tools, Awesome Paul announces that he has no other choice but to pry open the door. The real beauty of this is in the photos:
After nearly an hour, we are in! So that’s one of my stories. Stay tuned for the other. I quickly drop off my things, thank our wonderful friends from security, and head off to the Preferred Black Party at Trump with Aleza. This party is super classy – everyone dressed in black, Cirque de Soleil characters, a woman serving cupcakes from the skirt of her dress.
I find Cassie and Luke and we mingle around the party for a bit.
Since everyone has to wake up early, we grab a cab to take us back to Bellagio.It’s probably the funniest cab ride I’ve ever taken, complete with arguments about the South Sea and life stories of the cab driver. Once back, we hit a couple of overly crowded bars before deciding to enjoy the Baccarat, a more mellow piano bar that allows our group of six to get to know each other a little better. It’s here that I go from being nicknamed “Georgia” to “Vanilla”. Quite the smart aleck myself, I like it when a group is confident enough around each other to make fun of everyone by day 3. I know that sounds sarcastic, but it seriously isn’t meant to be.
There are a couple of people here with whom I’ve clicked with so well, it feels as though I’ve known them my whole life (Cassie, Luke – you know who you are 🙂 ).
Not only that, I’ve had a wonderful time with everyone from my agency. Sitting at the meeting tables with Michael and Arnie, rooming with Paula, laughing with Ramona – this conference just bonds you. Michael cracks me up with his “schtick”, which I learned about in St. Lucia. These jokes always seem to get lost in translation at the meeting tables, as the international representative will stare blankly for a few seconds before laughing, more out of confusion than actually getting the joke. I’ve gotten to know Arnie, another outside agent whom I had only met once prior, really well – he looks out for me like a big brother, for which I’m appreciative. Paula is a great roommate and partner in people watching. Ramona, as always, is someone I look to with such respect, whom I always enjoy getting to spend time with, bouncing around ideas and feeling as though I’ve known her far longer than merely a year.
Leaving the Bellagio this morning, I get the sense that I’m walking away too early. I long to stay the extra two nights, even if that means freezing meeting rooms and long days, just to enjoy the company and the passion around me. I’m already looking forward to next year, where I hope to spend the entire week at Travel Mart.
On my plane ride home, I run into my last two stories. This plane is a bit older than my departing flight, so my packed-to-the-brim carry-on will not fit in the overhead bin. Luckily, a kind stewardess (thanks, Delta!) hands me a trash bag to remove some excess clothing, brochures, and the stuffed animals from suppliers. When I later exit the plane, garbage bag in tow, I feel like the airport hobo.
Robert, the Brazilian guy in the seat beside me, helps with my carry-on fiasco. Once we sit down, I realize that he speaks about 10 words of English, approximately 1o more words than I speak of Portuguese, his native tongue. After establishing this, Robert uses two of his words to state the bane of every relationship, “No communication.” Clever as he is, he gets out his Portuguese to English phrase book and points to the questions he wants me to answer, the first of which being, “Single?”.
It’s hilarious, this cultural exchange, and a nice cherry on top from the huge cultural exchange I’ve just experienced. After all is said and done, Travel Mart has been a highlight of my short-but-growing career and I’m so grateful for a network like Virtuoso, one that encourages and fosters the friendships and knowledge attained.