If there was one person who could truly be called an icon of the travel industry, it was Gordon ‘Butch’ Stewart.
TORONTO — In these challenging times, TL Network Canada wants to provide the bridge to the future for its members.
Actually, “challenging times” is a huge understatement, says TL Network VP Christine James.
“There are still more questions than answers,” said James during yesterday’s TL Network – Canada Connect virtual education and networking event, adding “we eagerly await the day when rapid testing will waive the 14-day quarantine.”
The COVID-19 testing project now underway in Alberta is a great first step, she says. “The next step is getting this rolled out across the country.”
Speaking at yesterday’s General Session, James reminded agents to sell based on their client’s comfort level, not their own. James says many agents have told her they’re hesitant to promote travel to their clients right now, for fear of appearing insensitive. “At the end of the day, your clients want to travel. Sell to your client’s mindset, not your own fears.”
James also thanked suppliers who have made protecting agent commission a priority. “Some want to pay you sooner rather than later and we thank them for that,” she said.
She also urged TL Network members to rethink service fees going forward, if they haven’t already. “Take a long, hard look at how you conduct your business,” she said. “More than ever, your clients are seeking your advice.”
Show sponsors Manulife, Sunwing, Globus, Oceania Cruises WestJet Vacations, American Queen Steamboat Company and TAP Portugal had representatives on hand during the General Session for supplier presentations. Here are some of the highlights.
Jennifer Waver, Director National Sales, Travel Industry Distribution for Manulife Financial, told TL Network – Canada Connect attendees that Manulife has closed the majority of the 47,000+ claims in the wake of the pandemic. “And I’m happy to report that all of the claims will have been looked after or managed by the end of this year,” she said.
Manulife’s new COVID-19 Pandemic Travel Plan, launched last month, includes Cdn$5,000,000 in emergency medical coverage not associated with COVID-19, and Cdn$200,000 in emergency medical coverage for COVID-19 and related complications. It also covers quarantine expenses after a positive COVID-19 test result during their trip (up to Cdn$150 per person or Cdn$300 per family per day for 14 days), and up to a combined Cdn$500 per person for return airfare, meals and accommodation if a Level 3 Travel Advisory is upgraded to Level 4 by the Canadian government.
Waver says Manulife plans to increase the emergency medical coverage for COVID-19 and related complications to Cdn$1 million, likely in the first week of December.
The company is also working on streamlining its offerings. “We want to make it less confusing for your clients,” says Waver. “But don’t worry, all the favourites will still be available to purchase.”
Sunwing Travel Group’s Vice President, Retail Sales, Deana Murphy, had a great backdrop for her presentation yesterday, and it wasn’t a Zoom background. It was the gentle rolling waves of the Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. In Cancun for a Sunwing fam, Murphy spoke to TL Network – Canada Connect attendees from the balcony of her Royalton resort.
Sunwing restarted sun destination operations on Nov. 6 and is now offering flights from gateways Toronto and Montreal. Destinations include Cancun, Punta Cana and Jamaica. “We hope to be able to offer additional gateways and destinations soon,” she said.
Murphy said the Cancun fam group is having “a fabulous time at the resort.” The airport experiences for the trip were very pleasant, she said, adding that everyone is doing a great job respecting health and safety protocols. Private transfers have become popular with many clients, she added.
Murphy also thanked TL Network agents amid the pandemic: “Thank you for your incredible support. There are brighter days ahead.”
Globus is seeing a solid start to 2021, and that’s a good reason for optimism, says Stéphanie Bishop, Managing Director for Globus family of brands here in Canada. The company’s goal for 2021 is to reach half of its 2019 sales and it’s already 50% there. If all the remaining travel credits out there were booked for 2021, that figure would increase to 80%.
The number one reason to book clients on a group tour post-pandemic? “It’s easy,” says Bishop. Amid any confusion and hassle that may confront travellers post-COVID-19, a group tour offers peace of mind and strong leadership to take care of all the loose ends.
An image in Bishop’s presentation was titled ‘Seeing is Believing’, and it showed one of the tour leaders on a recent Globus trip sanitizing all the luggage.
Globus pays commission at time of final payment as well as on future travel credits. Bishop also said that Globus is prepared to pay commission on the deposit portion “to get some cash flow going.”
She urged agents to stay optimistic: “A vaccine could be approved by year end. Wouldn’t that be a great Christmas gift.”
Cathy Denroche, Regional Sales Director with Oceania Cruises, says the cruise line’s booking trends for 2021 see the Med at the top of the list, followed by Northern Europe / Baltic, Caribbean, Asia and finally Grand Voyages.
Denroche urged agents to check out oceaniacruises.com/advisor and Oceania University, to learn more about the cruise line, its ships and its destinations.
She also encouraged agents to pick up the phone, whether to get in touch with Oceania, or clients. “You have nothing to lose and everything to gain,” she said.
WestJet Vacations’ Director of Product, Dave Cecco, says WestJet has seen an increase in bookings out of Alberta ever since the start of the COVID-19 testing project at YYC, with WestJet as a partner airline. “We truly do value you and everything you do,” Cecco told agents. “You are an important part of our DNA.”
TAP AIR PORTUGAL
In August and September TAP Air Portugal ramped up its flight schedule to include more North American routes, including Toronto and Montreal. By August the airline was flying some 500 weekly roundtrips on 66 routes, including 20 flights from six destinations in North America. The carrier continues to offer service between Canada and Portugal, even if the aircraft have been sized down, says Liliana Vieira, DSM, TAP Air Portugal.
AMERICAN QUEEN STEAMBOAT COMPANY (AQSC)
Cruise Strategies represents AQSC in the Canadian market. The U.S. river cruise line has four ships: American Queen, American Duchess, American Countess and American Empress. Itineraries run the gamut from the Mississippi to Ohio, Tennessee and Cumberland River cruises, to Columbia and Snake River cruises.
AQSC is great for groups, says Cruise Strategies’ President, Vanessa Lee. And for solo travellers, the cruise line is also a good fit with single traveller pricing for three of the ships. Itineraries and pricing is ready for 2022, for clients looking far ahead. Also of note: for 2021, fares will include all drinks including alcoholic drinks. AQSC also has a flexible cancellation policy.
“Stay optimistic … we will get through this,” Lee told TL Network – Connect Canada attendees. “You as travel agents will be integral, you will be needed more than ever,” when travel restarts in earnest post-pandemic, she added.