More than 400 Canadian travel advisors came from areas in and around Toronto, and as far away as Newfoundland, New Brunswick, and Nova Scotia to attend Travel Market Place East 2023, the largest ever in the history of the conference.
"One thing that really makes Travel Market Place unique is that it is solely focused on education," said moderator Geraldine Ree, an entrepreneur and author. "Our only goal is to help advisors have that moment of truth."
The conference kicked off last night with the Ambassador program, an invitation-only gathering of 60 travel advisors for three hours of small group meetings with suppliers. The first morning of the full two-day conference started with an inspirational fireside chat with Cathy Scott, owner of Departures Travel, and Max and Viktoriia Shkurupii, a couple forced to flee Ukraine with their children. Both Max and Viktoriia worked as travel advisors back in Kiev, and are now rebuilding their lives in Victoria, Canada as travel advisors with Departures Travel.
"It really is a village for us," TMR editor-in-chief Daniel McCarthy said when introducing the three to the audience.
(You can read more about their story in The Harrowing Story of How Two Ukrainian Travel Advisors Escaped to Canada and Rebuilt Their Lives)
Immersive Vacations in High Demand
During a panel of travel host and consortia executives, panelists agreed that Canadian travelers are looking for more meaningful travel these days.
"Immersive seems to be the big word," said Jane Clementino, senior vice president and general manager, Canada for TRAVELSAVERS. "They want to see more culture, they want to experience things, in some cases, off the beaten path. So it's both exploration and customization, not just off the shelf."
"People are packing their passion with them. They want to experience things they're passionate about," echoed Lee Zanello, director of member relations at Ensemble Travel. "We're seeing trends in expedition cruising, culinary tours, and that kind of thing."
Una O'Leary, general manager, Canada for Virtuoso Travel, agreed. According to a survey Virtuoso did, "41% of Canadians said that adventure is something they're looking for. The Virtuoso network is also seeing a "huge uptick" in demand for private jet travel.
The best part about all of these trends is that, O'Leary said, is that "At the end of the day, they need travel advisors. These are all things they may or may not have booked before… They need travel advisors to do these interesting, different trips.
Tips for Busy Advisors
At a time when advisors have never been busier, panelists offered advice to help them become more efficient and make the most of the time they do have.
"The main thing is to make sure you're focused on a niche," said Mike Foster, president of Nexion Travel Group Canada. "Narrow down you focus. You'll be more efficient, you'll know it better, and you'll probably make more sales because you're more knowledgeable."
Another way to make the most of your time is to ensure that you're only working on the business that's best for you.
"I think it's important to qualify your client. Make sure that they're the right client for you," said O'Leary. "It is about your return on investment. How much do you want to invest in the client? It's okay to fire people. It's okay to say no."
Anthony Mormina, senior director, sales and operations for Transat Distribution Canada Inc. echoed O'Leary. "If you can't service the client, it's okay. There are other alternatives."
Additionally, setting some expectations can help. For instance, Clementino said establishing a timeline on when you'll deliver a quote can help stop clients from calling or emailing you to check in day after day.
Talking About Fees
An audience question turned the panel's attention to the hot button topic of charging service fees.
While the advisor who asked the question indicated she hears from new advisors that they don't feel comfortable charging a fee because they don't have enough experience yet, most of the panel members agreed that it was the old-timers who are often the most fearful.
"Old timers are the ones I find are hardest to convince to charge service fees, but new entrants in the industry actually charge a fee more than ever before," Foster said. They understand, he added, that commissions are what advisors get for serving their suppliers. The fees are what they earn for serving their clients.
"Of the people that we've seen come into the industry that are new to the industry, the mindset is very different," O'Leary said. "They are coming in fresh and new and looking at it as a business. 'How do I make money?' And I think that folks that are coming in new are finding it easier to charge that fee because they're right out of the gate."
When it comes to taking the plunge into charging fees, Foster said advisors should start with whatever amount feels comfortable.
"Start charging a fee no matter how small, just get in the habit of charging your fee and your clients need to know that you are charging a fee," he said. "And the good thing is that clients are starting to realize that travel professionals do charge fees and they're now asking agents at the beginning of the call, 'how much do you charge?'"
Zanello agreed. "The changing scope of the clients is that they're expecting the fee. Take your confidence from that."
"You're also an accredited professional," Mormina added. "That has value."
O'Leary recommended that advisors create a script and practice it. Just as importantly, "Know that it's going to be super uncomfortable at first, but you have to work through it."