Perspective – October 2011

Let’s hear it for Avis

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Ian McMahonLet’s hear it for Avis

THIS year the Avis Travel Agent Scholarship of Excellence celebrates its 15 year anniversary.

That’s an incredibly commendable record for a travel industry institution – and it is no exaggeration to say the scholarship has become an institution – that brings no direct commercial benefit to the car rental company that has been its driving force.

The industry is littered with examples of awards for agents initiated by companies anxious to be seen as travel agent friendly but whose altruistic intentions have foundered within a few years on the rocks of economic hard times (although honourable mention should be made of the Travelport Agent of the Future program, still going strong after 10 years).

Avis has persevered through good times and bad, continuing to devote generous company funds and countless hours of executive time to organising the scholarship that “encourages, recognises and rewards” outstanding travel agent customer service.

The idea of the scholarship emerged from the formation in 1995 of the Avis Travel Agents Advisory Board comprising representatives of leading leisure and corporate travel groups.

Former AFTA chief executive Mike Hatton was a board member and he suggested the scholarship in discussions with Avis travel industry manager Russell Butler and so, in 1996, the Avis Travel Agent Scholarship of Excellence was born.

It was Butler’s baby and 15 years later he continues his parental oversight of the strapping teenager that the scholarship has become – although he self-deprecatingly claims other Avis executives Jenny Lourey and Joanne Karagiorgas “actually do all the hard work while I sit back and take the credit”.

As the scholarship has grown in stature so has its value. The inaugural winner, Robin Sinfield, received essentially a trip to New York plus an overnight stay in Los Angeles with various travel-related site visits.

This year’s winner will be rewarded with a package worth more than $40,000 – two Qantas business class return tickets to New York and six nights’ luxury hotel accommodation in the Big Apple; seven-days Avis car rental; a first-year tourism scholarship to study at Southern Cross University’s School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, with financial support of up to $10,000 towards the first year of a three-year Bachelor of Tourism Management course; four cruise training modules from the International Cruise Council Australasia; a Polonious Resources personal profile, feedback session and on-call personal/professional coaching for 12 months; and admission into the TIME (Travel Industry Mentor Experience) mentoring program.

The evolution of the scholarship also reflects the changing nature of the travel agency sector. For example, this year’s finalists include two home-based agents – Claudia Silk (Travel Counsellors) and Daniela Tatonetti (Travel Managers). They and their three fellow finalists will be flown to Sydney on November 8 for the announcement of the winner.

This year there will also be a reunion of the winners over the past 15 years. It is sure to be a night of celebration – and Avis, Butler, Lourey and Karagiorgas should be proud.





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