Travel Market Place East kicked off last night in Toronto with a gathering of travel advisors invited to the Ambassador program. The invitation-only program brings 60 of the best Canadian East Coast-area advisors together with 14 suppliers for three hours of small group meetings.
Travel Market Report hosted a table during the speed dating-style event. We had the chance to hear how business is doing, what some of their current challenges are, and more.
Here's some of what we learned.
Business is surging: If the story last year was that the Canadian market was lagging behind the United States, the page has most definitely turned. With few exceptions, every advisor we spoke with said business is booming.
We heard several times that some advisors sold more in a single month, than in any full year prior.
While the pace of bookings from earlier in the year, seems to have slowed down – giving advisors a chance to catch up – most report that they're still getting steady volume this month, a time that would normally be much slower.
2. Hold times and wait times for quotes are still absurdly long: We've been hearing about this challenge for nearly two years. One advisor we spoke with waiting seven hours on hold, before getting cut off when the airline's tour division supplier shut down for the day. Others reported wait times of anywhere from 45 minutes to three hours.
If you're lucky enough to get through to someone, much of the time the advisors know more than the call person.
Similarly, advisors told us when they reach out to packaged tour companies for quotes for clients it can take weeks to get a response, something few clients are understanding of.
One advisor told us she doesn't think it's just the lack of employees in Canada that's the problem. For operators that need to work with offices abroad, she said the wait is often because those offices remain understaffed.
3. Clients are ready to book for next year or insist on waiting: We heard two very different stories from the advisors we spoke with. For some, their clients are booking far in advance, even into 2026 when possible. These clients understand that pricing is better farther out and that they can get exactly what they're looking for.
While most of these advisors are grateful for pre-loading their client's travel schedules, we heard from a few advisors that they're still nervous about doing far-out bookings.
"What if things get cancelled again," one advisor said, acknowledging what she calls "COVID PTSD."
Other advisors said, they have clients insisting on waiting for last minute deals, despite being told there aren't any.
"But there have always been deals," was a common refrain advisors reported hearing. These advisors told us they're having to work harder educating their clients.
4. Group business is booming: The demand for group travel appears to be on the rise. Advisors who hadn't done groups before the pandemic are getting requests to do them now. And, those that did groups before are doing even more now.
Without fail, those that are doing groups, emphasized how they have to work ahead because capacity issues – especially with air lift – mean there's no group space to be had for 2023.
5. Clients want experiential travel: Another trend we heard time and again was that clients want to be active these days. Even if they're going to all-inclusive it's not enough to just sit on the beach anymore. They want to Jet Ski or go ATV-ing.
This need for more experiential travel is extending into where they take their trips. More clients are looking to tick off their bucket lists. Several advisors we spoke to said they're selling more bucket list-style trips than they did pre-pandemic.
6. With business booming, advisors are starting to narrow their focus: The vast majority of the advisors we spoke to said they're getting more requests than they can handle. While some are still trying to figure out how to take all the business they can, others have become more intentional about what business they'll take.
Many have stopped doing air-only bookings.
"I tell people if you're willing to pay me $100, I'll do it. If not, you can book it yourself," one advisors said she tells anyone who wants her to only book a flight.
Other advisors told us the practice of trading clients has become more prominent. One advisor we spoke to said if she gets a request for an all-inclusive she immediately passes it on to another advisor she knows who enjoys booking them. In return, that advisor will pass on river cruise or FIT requests that she doesn't want to do.