A USA Day the Kiwi Way

Gate 7 and Air New Zealand collaborated on a training event strategy to provide widespread knowledge of the USA to New Zealand’s travel agent community, a major deliverable for the client, Brand USA.

The result was an immersive and engaging training day like no other, reaching more than 10% of all New Zealand agents and securing 97% positive feedback from attendees.

Approximately 10% of the New Zealand travel agent community was engaged during this training event.

Background and Challenge

Air New Zealand recognised that many local retail agents were selling hard product, such as business class, the 787 Dreamliner, and the Skycouch™, that they themselves had never experienced. The airline wanted to expand agents’ product knowledge through an engaging training day but knew that a destination sponsor would provide an extra drawcard for attendance while fleshing out the content of the training program.

While the airline holds a significant market share of airlift capacity between the United States and New Zealand, historically their trade training for the U.S. had focused mainly on the gateway cities into which they fly. This paved the way for a partnership with Brand USA which was already running annual Travel Trade Expos each February, and still on the hunt for more face-to-face training opportunities with New Zealand Travel Trade.

This combination created a clear opportunity for the two organisations to partner on a day-long co-operative training and B2B marketing event that would help expand agents’ knowledge of the United States while giving Air New Zealand facetime to demo their hard product.

Strategy and Solution

Brand USA was a perfect fit with Air New Zealand, as there was clear alignment between the brands, and U.S.-wide training was attractive to agents. Individual U.S. DMOs had previously conducted training sessions with Air New Zealand, but based on Brand USA’s nation-wide scope and overall authority, the number and breadth of DMOs interested in participating expanded. Agents who had previously attended the Brand USA Travel Trade Expos had a positive perception of the DMO’s engaging and informative trainings, creating an additional drawcard to attendance and setting expectations for the structure and substance of the event.

Air New Zealand promoted the training event to agents through their travel trade media connections and their agent portals, designing and distributing the creative for the event. The registration platform was open to all agents in New Zealand, with Air New Zealand selecting the final list.

After flying the selected agents in from across the country to their events facility at Auckland Airport (Auckland-based agents were given free parking to ensure no agent was out-of-pocket), Brand USA made a presentation to the attendees to inform the day’s events. These included B2B sessions for DMOs and product managers to sit down with retailers and wholesalers, a hanger tour of aircraft flying the NZ-USA routes, and 10-15-minute training sessions conducted by DMOs and travel organisations. A standout component for agents was the Auckland Airport familiarisation tour, where agents followed a customer’s journey from check-in to boarding while experiencing the hard products of the facility.

Prizing for agents was also included, with small, immediate giveaways of experiences in the on-site Boeing 777 flight simulator, as well as one grand prize of a trip to the U.S., including on-ground costs. American-themed food and beverages were served, and the centre was decorated to reflect the United States, yet another layer of authenticity and appeal for attendees.

Results and Learnings

298 agents, around 10% of the roughly 3,000 total kiwi agent population, registered to attend the event, with 115 agents selected for the day. Representing the entirety of the country, 60 agents attended from Auckland, 20 from Wellington and the Central North Island, and 30 from the South Island.

Qualitative feedback from agents applauded both Air New Zealand and their U.S. partners for the attention to detail and the level of engagement involved in the event. 97% of feedback rated the event’s informational sessions “above-average” or better, and specific feedback highlighted the partnership between Air New Zealand and Brand USA.

Air New Zealand also noted the event’s success, and how integral these training sessions are for them to maintain their strong relationship with the trade. The dense concentration of airlift in the market makes an open and created a win-win-win for Brand USA, Air New Zealand, and the travel trade, and Brand USA is looking to expand this type of training beyond the Australia/New Zealand market.

The event is already earmarked to run next year, with only minor adjustments, including incentive-based selection processes for the agents, and streamlining the logistics. Based on the success of this execution, the event has already been earmarked to run again with an expanded line-up of DMOs and other travel organizations lined up to present their information to attendees. Of course, small changes like investigating incentive-based selection criteria and streamlined logistics will help to perfect what was already an almost perfect execution.