Any time a country or region imposes any sort of visa stipulation - even if it’s a waiver - the travel industry sighs a collective groan, knowing the obstacles and headaches to come.
BRAMPTON — In case you didn’t attend Transat’s Product Showcase in Toronto last night, here’s what you missed: over 60 suppliers, close to 500 travel agents in attendance, and a lone wolf.
That’s right, the mascot of Toronto’s Wolfpack was there to support one of the rugby team’s biggest sponsors – Transat – and was just one of the night’s many highlights.
Speaking with Travelweek, Dan Prior, Sales Manager, Ontario & Atlantic Canada at Transat, said that the format for this year’s showcase was rejigged following agent feedback. After many years of hosting a sit-down dinner with a podium presentation, the company decided to make this year’s event more casual and interactive, with an eat-as-you-go buffet meal, a bustling trade show, and several talks and breakout sessions led by nine of its key sponsor suppliers.
“That was something we really listened to and decided to change and so far, so good,” he said. “The feedback’s been really good, with agents telling us they’re learning so much from our suppliers.”
Transat is at the tail end of its cross-country Product Showcase tour, with previous stops already made in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Halifax and Quebec. Its Toronto stop, which took place at the Pearson Convention Centre, is one of its biggest showings this year (along with Montreal), with over 450 agents on hand to learn about Transat’s 2018-2019 Sun Product.
The program is jam-packed, to say the least, with 27 destinations this winter and running from Nov. 1 to April 29. Hotspots like Cuba, Jamaica, Mexico and the D.R. are back, as are St. Maarten and San Juan, both of which were cut short last year due to the hurricanes.
“We’re really excited to bring those destinations back,” said Prior. “We feel really strongly that they’ll perform well this year.”
Prior called out two destinations in particular – Cuba and Mexico – for their value and extensive product offering. “There’s so much good product there,” he said, “and we’re really happy with Cuba especially. I’ve personally experienced the level of service in Cuba nowadays – the food and service there have been upped, and you can’t beat the prices.”
Winter bookings are already doing well, added Prior, thanks to Transat’s Early Booking Promotion in May and, more recently, its newly launched September promotion, Book Now, Beach Later.
Winter Europe is shaping up to have a very good season, led by Spain and Portugal, both of which are gaining in popularity as long-stay destinations.
“Over the past 10-15 years in Florida, with a solid exchange rate and a hot real estate market, people were buying property. Now, they’re actually selling them and looking at places in Spain and Portugal,” said Prior. “In the last three years, we’ve been seeing an incremental increase every year to these destinations.”
Prior also added that with Spain and Portugal on the rise, Transat rebranded its ‘South’ program as ‘Sun’. “We’re putting the emphasis on the fact that it’s not just about going South for the winter, we’ve got a lot to offer in Europe as well.”
Of course, Transat’s Europe program will also get a boost from new direct flights to Dublin, as well as easy connectors in Montreal from where a number of destinations into France are available.
As for Transat’s cruise program, Prior said the company is seeing good numbers ever since changing its cruise strategy last year to offer cruise packages. Now, when clients book a cruise through Transat, they also book the air component and transfers with it.
According to Prior, the change in strategy came about to “ensure that we had a bum in every one of our seats on the aircraft”. And it’s working.
“It’s about being profitable with any product that you offer,” he said. “We have to continue operating as an airline, therefore we need to get the person in that seat. Working with the partners who want to work with us on the cruise lines side, it’s going really well. We’re seeing profitability.”
Prior, however, knows that the cruise packages aren’t for everyone. “We understand that, but what we’re trying to educate travel professionals on is that with first-time clients who’ve never done a cruise before, you can now present them with a cruise package. They may already know Transat for our all-inclusive-type packages, now here’s a cruise package that’s kind of like an all-inclusive, selling at $2,300 all in, with tax. The prices are unbelievable!”
Transat’s Product Showcase will next head to Hamilton (Sept. 18) and London, ON (Sept. 19), where it will help educate more agents, or as Prior prefers to call them, travel professionals.
“I always use the term ‘travel professional’ instead of travel agent because they really are true professionals,” he said. “They’re in this industry trying to support us day in and day out, and they do a hard job. They’re our #1 distribution channel and we wouldn’t be doing what we’re doing without them.”