TravelBrands SickKids Golf Classic 2023

An interview with TravelBrands CEO Nathalie Tanious as annual golf classic plays out under sunny skies

TORONTO — The eighth annual TravelBrands Annual Golf Classic played out yesterday under a beautiful sunny September sky, with a who’s who in attendance as TravelBrands’ new CEO, Nathalie Tanious, and her team treated the industry to a memorable day at Eagles Nest Golf Club in Maple, ON.

Spirits were high even before the game began, thanks to TravelBrands’ incredible fundraising efforts.

Last month TravelBrands brought back its annual SickKids Day, with a pledge to donate 1% of all sales made on Aug. 16, 2023 to Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children. “It’s amazing how we see a pickup in numbers, the spike, because people do love the cause, and we love the cause, and it’s one that’s very near and dear to us as an organization,” said Tanious.

As Tanious told Travelweek: “We started [the golf tournament] in 2014 with the DeMarinis family and we continue to go strong today.”

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Nathalie Tanious

In the first year, the event raised over $114,000.

This year TravelBrands presented a cheque to SickKids Foundation for a record-breaking $300,000.

Travelweek caught up with Tanious for an extensive interview, to find out more about her new role at TravelBrands, plans for the company and more.

Tanious took over the reins at TravelBrands earlier this summer, in the wake of the retirement of long-time TravelBrands, Red Label Vacations and Merit Travel executive, and industry leader and entrepreneur, Frank DeMarinis.

Travelweek: How is the new role going?

 Tanious: “Excellent. I’ve had such tremendous support internally and externally that has made the transition quite easy. And simple. I’m still in the honeymoon phase and I’m loving it. I’m hoping it’s going to be a very long marriage.”


Travelweek: How do you envision your leadership being different than Frank’s?

Tanious: “You know what, Frank and I are two different people, yet we had so many similarities. And I was very blessed to have Frank mentor me throughout the years and show me the ropes, as did other bosses before him.

“Throughout my career I’ve been very blessed to have met individuals who have believed in me, and who taught me a lot of great things. And now it’s up to me now to see how I’m going to do all this.

“It’s very different today to manage a team than it was 20 years ago, 10 years ago, even five years ago. People have changed. If COVID taught us anything, it’s all about people feeling that they’re part of a team. You manage from the top down, but you want everyone to have a say, because you want to make the right decisions, and then someone has to make that decision.”


Travelweek: What are the short-term plans for TravelBrands?

Tanious: “It’s always about the technology for travel agents. That for us is the focus and what drives us. We have great products, we continue to grow the product lines, but if we don’t have the right technology for the travel agents, we won’t succeed.

“We launched Access+ a few months back, we also launched TravelGenie for air. And those are two platforms that drive all our business.

“The Access+ platform is incredibly simple and intuitive. It’s very easy. You basically don’t need a course to be able to use that platform, whether you’re booking a car, a hotel, dynamic packaging, cruises. And with the TravelGenie platform on top of Access+, it’s extremely simple for the travel agent. We tried to make the platform very user friendly, so it doesn’t have to be cumbersome to make a booking. Because time is money, as cliche as that is.”


Travelweek: What advice would you give travel agents right now?

Tanious: “Never be afraid to upsell. Never be afraid to have a bigger shopping cart. Never be afraid to offer that product.

“It may be a little bit more expensive, [but] if we learned anything in the last 18 months, it’s that people want to travel, they want to spoil themselves. We were cooped up for so long that now you know what they will pay that extra few $100 and even that extra few $1,000 to get that trip they’ve always wanted to have.

“Everything’s popular right now. All-inclusive vacations remain extremely strong for Canadians, and cruises. But you also have a lot of exotic destinations. A lot of international destinations. We’re seeing that as a huge emerging trend within the industry.”


Travelweek: What’s well above 2019 in terms of bookings, and what’s still lagging behind a bit?

Tanious: “Right now nothing is lagging behind. Pretty much all markets have reopened including the Asia market. A lot of the cruise lines have repositioned some of their ships late into 2024 and 2025. Some of those Asian itineraries include Japan, which obviously we’re very proud of, because our mother company is in Tokyo. So there’s a lot more of that in the market today. And longer durations too. So the seven-day is popular for that all-inclusive vacation, but then there’s all the rest, those 10, 12, 14, 16, 18, 20 days and longer vacation stays that we’re seeing.”


Travelweek: With your mother company being in Japan (H.I.S. Co.), does that open up the region more with more product to offer?

Tanious: “It really, really does. We’re working very closely because we’re all putting up obviously Japan, as well as with H.I.S. we have multiple offices around the world, which act as DMCs for us.

“This allows us to really offer any type of product. In addition to that, there’s Jonview that is part of the H.I.S. family, for inbound into Canada. So whatever a travel agent is looking for, we’ve got it.”


Travelweek: Does TravelBrands operate as its own entity or are you integrated heavily with Japan?

Tanious:H.I.S. is our mother company, they’re the owners of Red Label Vacations and we report into Tokyo.”


Travelweek: What are some of the top destinations right now? Besides perennial favourites like Italy, England, what are the fun little off-the-beaten-track ones?

 Tanious: “We feel like the whole world went to Italy, to Greece, we feel like the whole world the last two summers have been and that continues to grow.

“But then you have destinations like Turkey, like Egypt, like Portugal, that are quickly gaining market share. Dubai continues to be strong. Saudi Arabia is opening up. That’s just to name a few. And of course, we Canadians love Jamaica, the D.R., Mexico, Aruba, Antigua, Saint Lucia and so on. So really, there’s something for everyone. And what we’re seeing a lot of is people will take that one week to relax and that one week to explore. We’re seeing a lot more of that.”


Travelweek: Are bookings further in advance or is it still more of a last minute market like it was during COVID? 

Tanious: “It’s a mixed bag, depending on the destination. You’d be surprised: requests for a far destination for within the next two weeks. It’s still a little bit all over the place to properly pinpoint a trend.”


Travelweek: Agents obviously worked very hard during the pandemic. Is there anything you want to say to them?

Tanious: “[We want to say] thank you. Thank you for your patience. We know that it was not always easy.

“We continue to have a lot of changes. We know that the market has changed tremendously. During COVID travel agents had to work multiple times on the same file but only were paid, if they were lucky, commission once.

“And what we’re trying to do today is to make sure through TravelBrands that we remunerate for every single product that they book with us. And that’s why we have very interesting commissions, incentives and products and a very huge portfolio, to help them get to where they need to get to.”


Travelweek: Any final words of inspiration to the travel agents?

Tanious: “Keep doing what you’re doing. Stay strong, and I’ll tell you, our business, everything we lost in two years, we’re quickly gaining it all back.

“And what’s important is that as an industry we stay together. As cliche as it sounds. Very few people outside of the industry understand what we went through and to how important it is that it’s an ecosystem with multiple components, and we must all work in the same direction.”

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