TORONTO — It was a prize extravaganza yesterday at ‘Future of Travel: Agent Appreciation,’ Travelweek’s latest installment of its hugely successful online conference series.
Taking place May 31, the online event, launched in celebration of Travel Agent Month, featured 100 prize giveaways that included everything from airline tickets and hotel nights, to gift cards and exclusive gifts.
To watch the event in its entirety, click here.
“Today, Travelweek and all of our partners want to say a big thank you and give a big pat on the back to all the travel agents out there who have been working tirelessly and serving their clients, sending people to amazing laces around the world,” said Devin Kinasz, publisher of Travelweek. “As many of you know, this month was Travel Agent Month so we’re piggybacking on that. We have many exciting guests so today is going to be both informative and fun.”
Viewers were able to mingle, ask questions and claim prizes via a chat box. Wendy Whitbeck said the event was a “fantastic session” while Arlene Gibbons said it was a “great two hours of learning.” Barry Pickard also said the event was “fun and informative” and Terri Lynn Day considered presentations to be “outstanding training.”
Here are some key updates from yesterday’s keynote speakers:
Jamie Milton, President, Uniglobe Carefree Travel, the founding travel agency of Travel Agent Day
When asked what inspired the very first Travel Agent Day back in 2011, Milton said she and her colleague, Colleen Lorenzen, had always felt that travel agents deserved their own day to be recognized, much like their staff on Admin Assistance Day. And now, more than a decade later, Travel Agent Day has taken off across Canada and in various parts of the world, with a vast number of suppliers offering booking incentives, rewards, prizes and words of appreciation every year. But what Milton really hopes to see from suppliers is competitive commissions and commission protection.
“I think we all deserve fair pay for the work that’s being done. And I think that’s something that came to light throughout this past winter as being very important to travel agencies,” she said.
Milton also noted that agent resources are another way suppliers can show their appreciation for agents. “Allow us to be more self-serve, to get back to clients more quickly, to take the call wait times away from suppliers. It enables us to be a lot more efficient at our jobs, so the more tools they can give us, the better it is for everybody.”
Guy Young, Chief Engagement Officer, The Travel Corporation
Being largely a European operator, The Travel Corporation, which comprises several brands including Trafalgar, Insight Vacations, Luxury Gold, Contiki, Uniworld and many more, is seeing major recovery across the board heading into the summer season.
“We are extremely pleased with the way bookings are trending from Canada,” said Young. “In five of the last six months, the number of bookings we’ve taken for each of those months has exceeded what we did in 2019.”
Adding that there’s still some capacity available for summer departures, from the May through September peak season, Young noted that The Travel Corporation, along with most touring brands, have the advantage of pre-contracts in place for the majority of their space.
“I’m hearing from travel advisors that it’s very difficult to find space in the summer in Europe, and if they can find space, it’s very expensive. So we have this great advantage where we’ve pre-booked all our space. I would certainly encourage advisors, if their clients are looking to travel to Europe in the summer, to reach out to one of our brands because we do have some space left.”
Lorine Charles-St. Jules, CEO, Saint Lucia Tourism Authority
The island of Saint Lucia is experiencing a strong rebound, as St. Jules noted yesterday. Since the destination reopened to international visitors, and coupled with Canada’s elimination of all COVID-19 travel requirements, “we’ve seen a slew of Canadians coming in, particularly this quarter,” said St. Jules.
Travel agents can take advantage of several key resources from the Saint Lucia Tourism Authority, including its popular Saint Lucia Expert (SLEx) program available at https://www.stlucia.org/en/, its YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/saintlucianow, an annual travel agent incentive program called Saint Lucia Agent Months (SLAM) during which agents can run their own fams between June and November, as well as an array of digital assets and monthly incentives.
“We appreciate all the business that travel agents bring to us. We have a team here who is in daily contact with them – no question, no query is too small for us. We’ll respond to you daily to let you know how to better sell Saint Lucia,” said St. Jules.
Armando Mendonca, President, AMpm Canada / Trade Liaison, Canada for the Vienna Tourist Board, and Elka Bachner, B2B Relations, Vienna Tourist Board
The pandemic didn’t stop the city of Vienna from growing and developing new offerings, as Mendonca noted yesterday.
“Vienna kept on building within the protocol guidelines and developed a virtual showcase series highlighting the August 2020 reopening of the Freud museum after extensive renovations, in addition to the Albertina Modern museum in March 2021,” he said. “Last August, after a three-year hiatus, I visited the city and the vibe and aesthetic have been enhanced with more hotel options and culinary delights. Our hoteliers boast an increase in Canadian arrivals, now sitting at 60% from 2019, and we’ll undoubtedly exceed these statistics with the summer lift just around the corner.”
Air Canada launched nonstop service between Toronto and Vienna in 2019 and currently offers daily flights from May 23 to Oct. 23, which will reduce to 5x weekly for the winter season. Austrian Airlines also launched in tandem with Air Canada nonstop service from Montreal to Vienna, flying 5x/weekly and reducing to 3/weekly during the winter.
Bachner made sure to thank travel agents for their continued support throughout the pandemic and invited them all to sign up for the Vienna Experts Club International Program, “a fabulous program that offers current and up-to-date information on Vienna and exclusive discounts.” Go to https://experts.wien.info/welcome-en for details.
Amanda Morris, Director of Sales, Canada, Playa Resorts
Celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, Playa Resorts has plenty for travel agents to be excited about, said Morris, from new resorts like Seadust Cancun and Hyatt Zilara Riviera Maya, to agent resources and programs, including its newly revamped AgentCash+ platform featuring handy property fact sheets, consumer-friendly webinars and more. Morris also encouraged agents to check out Playa’s Media Library where they can download photos and videos to use on social media or to print pull-up banners and other marketing materials, and sign up for fams to view Playa’s properties.
“We have each of our BDMs typically doing 3-4 fams every year to each of our destinations, giving agents an opportunity to come down and experience the properties for themselves,” said Morris. “We are growing quickly and constantly adding to our portfolio. We’re celebrating our 10th birthday this year and there’s been a lot of rapid growth within those 10 years.”
Casey Canevari, Senior Manager, Global Trade, Brand USA
In light of the United States finally dropping its COVID-19 vaccine mandate for air travellers on May 12, 2023, Canevari said he’s expecting the relaxed rules to ramp up flights and visitation into the U.S. heading into the summer months.
Citing data from the Conference Board of Canada, he noted that in January/February of this year, 4.76 million Canadians returned home from an out-of-country overnight trip. Of that, 3.1 million came from the United States.
“That’s 90% of what was recorded in 2019, which is just absolutely fantastic and shows that with the borders open, people are coming across and they’re coming in strong,” said Canevari. “I have been traversing all over Canada these past two weeks, working on one of our films and speaking to a lot of travel agents. They’re saying that now that the border has reopened and all flight restrictions have been removed, those numbers are projected to go up and up, which is fantastic for us here at Brand USA.”
Kristin Karst, Co-Owner and Executive Vice-President, AmaWaterways
Everyone is excited about AmaWaterways’ river cruises in Colombia, the industry’s first to set sail on the Magdalena River. Starting in December 2023, there will be two seven-night itineraries with pre- and post-cruise land programs to choose from, sailing between Cartagena and Barranquilla onboard the AmaMagdalena and AmaMelodia.
Noting how the ships’ architect is actually from Medellin, Colombia, Karst said the feedback she has received from travel agents about Colombia has been extraordinary and that demand has been very high.
“Group space is already filling up on both ships. We are so pleased with the reaction from our guests and our travel advisors – they are as excited as we are to explore this magical destination,” said Karst. “We are considered pioneers, as we open up new opportunities for our advisors and guests.”
To watch ‘Future of Travel: Agent Appreciation,” click here.