TMR’s Travel Market Place East conference welcomed more than 400 advisors to the Delta Conference Hotel in Toronto last week, for two days of learning, networking, and more.
After a Day 1 highlighted by a panel of host and consortia executives and a sold-out trade show, Day 2 on Friday featured more panels and breakouts from industry insiders, including a cruise panel led by TMR’s Dori Saltzman.
In the panel, cruise executives all agreed that the industry has a huge task over the next few years, finding enough travelers to fill the additional capacity. All also said that advisors are going to be vital to that mission, but not without challenges. When asked what the greatest challenge advisors are facing, the panel described a range of issues.
“Finding that right balance between communicating regularly with your clients versus over-communicating and under-communicating,” NCL’s Derek Lloyd said.
“Make sure when you’re sending them stuff, it's relevant stuff. The absolute most important thing is to make sure your clients see you as their person. You are their travel agent 100% of the time and it’s not just a matter of being in communication,” he added.
For instance, if a client has mentioned wanting to take a sailing to Australia, don’t send them stuff on Italy and vice-versa. A level of personalization increases the bond and lets clients know you are listening to them.
Explora’s Aimee Price said that she sees a huge challenge in navigating a larger, and more diverse, marketplace.
“There is so much product out there and you are trying to be everything to everyone,” she said. The right approach is to make sure that you can grow your business through specific brands that “you feel a connection with and that are right for your client.”
Having a mix of a mid-market brand, a premium brand, and a luxury brand allows you to see the differences between products that might seem alike, while also being able to offer your client a wide range of experiences.
Virgin’s John Diorio said that he’s hearing a lot about the cost of airfare these days, and client expectations when spending that kind of money on a vacation.
“Everyone has no patience – your customer wants things yesterday. It’s almost how we practice a little more patience in general,” he said. “I think it came out to the pandemic when we had everything at their fingertips.”
For Seabourn’s Shane Buksh, the biggest challenge is re-educating clients, particularly those returning to cruise ships, or even simply traveling in general, post-pandemic.
“Before the pandemic, clients would book early – now it seems to be the complete opposite,” he said. “People are booking last minute to the sale date. I think that if we can start educating the client that they have to book early for this particular reason, it will help the industry as a whole,” Buksh said.
The Caribbean remains one of the largest outbound markets for Canadian travelers, and knowing what’s happening in the region has become paramount for agents.
In a panel led by TMR’s Kelly Fontenelle, representatives from the Caribbean spoke about the biggest trends in the region for Canadian travelers and agents.
“Starting off the top, it depends on which island, but I would say we’re seeing a lot more luxury travelers,” Nancy Drolet, vice president of travel trade at Jesson + Company Communications said. “A lot of travelers are not looking for high-end villa vacations, which also ties into multi-generation travel.”
Aside from higher-end, multi-gen, and villa vacations, Drolet mentioned an increasing desire by travelers to get off resort or hotel or villa, and into the local culture.
“Canadians spend more to my knowledge on excursions off the resorts than some of our American counterparts,” she said.
Angella Bennet, the director of Canada for the Jamaica Tourist Board, added that she was seeing a strong response to the return of festival season.
“A lot of travelers want to visit islands that are having festivals and this is widespread for us in the Caribbean,” she told attendees. “All of the Caribbean serves up different types of carnivals and festivals that draw a lot of travelers.”
Marriott, which was represented on the panel by Michael Rudloff, the director of account sales for the travel industry, is seeing higher spending for those going to the Caribbean. Consumers are upgrading their vacations with higher-end rooms, longer stays, and more luxurious properties.
“If you haven’t, now is the time to start to upsell clients on a suite or higher-end property,” he said. “That is going to be a big selling point for you.”
Rudloff added that Marriott continues to invest heavily in the Caribbean and, even with a significant amount of supply coming online recently, is still seeing 80% to 90% occupancy.
“Marriott has been building more properties, new ones opening up in the Caribbean constantly. It’s amazing we haven’t gone down so much and I think it’s a lot about you the advisors,” he said.
There’s also been a heavy leaning into sustainable travel, not just from suppliers and DMOs in the region, but also from clients visiting and suppliers selling the Caribbean.
Tameka Wharton, the Director of Tourism for Antigua and Barbuda, said that she’s seeing more and more travelers seeking a sustainable experience.
“Those who would have, in the past, been trendsetters and leaders are starting to promote the pristine Caribbean. Things like overfishing are now called out. Trendsetters are starting to realize that the things that create memories need to be saved,” she said.
Speaking onstage during the second day of TMP, the Association of Canadian Travel Agents' (ACTA) Wendy Paradis told attendees that the Association is still zeroed in on priorities that came out of a strategic meeting post-pandemic.
The first is to continue to attract new advisors to the industry. “We have an acute labor shortage that is actually really holding us back,” she said. “Many of you independent travel advisors are so busy you are also looking for help.” The second is diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility.
As far as advocacy goes, ACTA continues to be a voice for the travel agent community in Canada. It is currently focused on travel agency and independent travel agent loan forgiveness and/or delay of CEBA and HASCAP repayment.
“We hear from you every day about these deadlines coming up and the concern around debt loans,” Paradis said.
To help, advisors should keep an eye out for a survey coming from ACTA, designed to give the association enough information on business concerns so that when it goes to talk to the federal government, it can communicate exactly what happens.