Host ship: The Norwegian Breakaway will visit Bermuda with hundreds of travel agents. *File photo
Host ship: The Norwegian Breakaway will visit Bermuda with hundreds of travel agents. *File photo

Hundreds of travel agents will descend on the island next year to provide a massive boost to the tourism industry.

Around 800 agents are expected to visit Bermuda on board the Norwegian Breakaway in September for the American Society of Travel Agent’s (ASTA) Global Convention.

It will be the first time that this huge conference, which attracts the biggest players in the industry, is held at sea.

And it will see travel agents from across the US come to Bermuda on board the new mega-ship and spend more than two days travelling around the island soaking up the sights and sounds.

Chair designate of the Tourism Authority David Dodwell told the Sun the move was a ‘huge opportunity’ for Bermuda.

He added: “ASTA is a very credible organization and this would present a great opportunity for the country.

“It would give these travel agents that are on board the ship an excellent chance to really see Bermuda.

“To have the ability to showcase Bermuda in this way to that many people in one place and at one time is phenomenal.

“It is so important that they get the opportunity to touch and feel Bermuda and find out what the island is all about for themselves so that they can take it back to their customers.”

A spokesperson for Norwegian Cruise Lines added: “We are thrilled to host the first ever ASTA Global Convention at sea on Norwegian Breakaway next September as they will experience all the ship and Bermuda has to offer.”

The announcement was made on Wednesday at this year’s ASTA Global Convention in Miami and it will provide a much-needed injection to the island’s tourism sector.

Travel agent Gary Kent-Smith from Worldwide Travel told the Sun: “This is a great thing for Bermuda — it’s an absolute
bonus.

“Not only are 800 or so travel agents coming to the island, but most of the agents that belong to ASTA and go on these conventions are the real high producers in the industry.

“Travel agents have quite a big influence on where their customers go on vacation.

“So if these hundreds of agents get a good impression they will no doubt promote the island to their customers, so we should get more people coming in.

“It’s a win-win, but we will have to be on our A+ game as these agents will be shaping the decisions of hundreds of would-be visitors.

“We have got the ball, now we have to grab it and run with it decently and properly.”

News of the plans to move the convention onto the Breakaway for 2014 was broken by reporter James Shillinglaw from the website Travel Pulse.

Mr Shillinglaw’s report states: “ASTA President and CEO Zane Kerby, speaking at the second general session of the ASTA Global Convention in Miami on Sept 18, unveiled plans for the first ASTA Global Convention at sea. 

“The conference will take place on a seven-day cruise on Norwegian Cruise Line’s Norwegian Breakaway, sailing out of New York City to Bermuda on a Sept. 14-21, 2014.

“Other agency groups have previously held conferences at sea, such as Vacation.com, which held its annual event on Oasis of the Seas in June 2012, with attendance over 1,000. 

“Norwegian Cruise Line executives said they are expecting roughly 800 travel agents, suppliers and other participants on the sailing.

“ASTA officials said the individual cost for the event would bundle the cruise fare and registration fee, but did not have a final price.

“But they are taking names of agents and suppliers interested at attending at the Miami convention. “

ASTA is the world’s largest association of travel professionals.

Its members include travel agents and the companies whose products they sell such as tours, cruises and hotels.

The Bermuda Sun contacted ASTA for comment, but none was provided by the time we went to press.

ASTA is expected to release an official statement next week. n