The Avis Travel Agent Scholarship, the retail travel industry’s most prestigious award for customer service, celebrated its 19th year in Sydney on Tuesday with the announcement of the 2015 winner and finalists.
Avis Travel Industry Manager Russell Butler told a travel industry audience at Sydney’s Four Seasons Hotel that when the scholarship had started out, he might have considered it would continue for perhaps five years. Instead, the Avis Travel Agent Scholarship has developed into an industry institution – with the big 20-year anniversary coming up next year.
Belinda van Tholen from MTA Travel in Tasmania is the recipient of the 2015 Avis Travel Agent Scholarship, having been chosen as this year’s Scholarship winner by a panel of judges.
The judges met in Sydney to question five Scholarship finalists on their individual approach to delivering outstanding customer service. Each finalist prepared a brief video presentation, and they were shown at Tuesday’s event.
As the 2015 winner, van Tholen receives:
- Two return Qantas Airways Business Class tickets to New York, six nights’ accommodation in Manhattan, seven days’ car rental from Avis and appointments with senior executives at Avis World Headquarters in New Jersey, with site visits to US travel agencies
- A scholarship to study at Southern Cross University with financial support of up to AUD 8000 (subject to the terms and conditions identified by Southern Cross University).
- 12 months’ individual membership of Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA) Australasia and two tickets to attend Cruise3sixty in Sydney, which will be held on 6 May 2016.
- A Polonious Resources personal profile, feedback session and on-call personal/professional coaching for 12 months
- Two tickets to the 2016 NTIA Gala Dinner in Sydney including return flights and overnight accommodation.
Avis Travel Industry Manager Russell Butler said this year’s Scholarship was one of the most closely contested in the award’s 19-year history.
“Each of the finalists demonstrated the essential elements required to provide the highest-quality service, including the ability to identify, understand and anticipate their customers’ needs,” he said.
“They also showed judges that they have the skills and experience required to meet those needs with clever and creative solutions.
“We can be very proud of the calibre of the travel agents we have in Australia.”
Butler said van Tholen – who worked for Flight Centre for eight years before starting her own business 18 months ago as part of the MTA Travel group – particularly impressed judges with her determination to develop an ever more detailed and nuanced appreciation of her customers’ individual needs.
“Belinda creates multiple opportunities to interact with her customers and uses the information she gathers to drill down further into what really makes them tick,” Butler observed.
“Armed with that knowledge and insight, she then tailors experiences that exceed expectations.”
Van Tholen’s fellow finalists this year included:
- Debbie Andrews, MTA Travel (Western Australia)
- Barbara Baron, Southside World Travel (NSW)
- Kim Hall, American Express Global Business Travel (NSW)
- Jill Rimmer, Phil Hoffmann Travel (South Australia)
Each will receive a personal online behavioural profile and consultation session with a Polonious Resources business coach.
Butler thanked every travel agent who took part in this year’s Scholarship program and encouraged them to return next year to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the award.
“Avis would also like to acknowledge the ongoing commitment and generosity of the Avis Travel Agent Scholarship’s major sponsors,” he said.
“Their support is essential to the enduring success of an extraordinary program, which remains as relevant as ever to the Australian travel industry.”
Avis works closely with the travel industry. It set up the Travel Agents Advisory Board in Australia in 1995 to help develop a closer working relationship with travel retailers. Board members, who include representatives of leading leisure and corporate travel groups, provide advice on ways Avis can better serve agency partners.
Written by Peter Needham