Last week, over 500 travel professionals gathered at ACTA’s Toronto Summit. During this event, attendees received updates about ACTA's name change and the extension of loan repayment dates for pandemic-related federal government loans.
The summit's second session featured a panel of travel industry leaders who delved into the theme "Maximizing ROE (Return on Effort) in the Canadian Travel Industry: Trends and Strategies for 2024."
The panel was led by Mary Jane Hiebert, chair of the ACTA Board, and included Michael Johnson, president of Ensemble; Joe Adamo, chief sales & marketing officer and president TDC at Transat; Zeina Gedeon, president and CEO of Trevello Travel Group; and Lisa Pierce, vice president global sales, Air Canada Vacations
“The purpose of this panel is to delve into the concept of our return on effort. We're well aware that times are changing, and there's ample opportunity with changing trends. We often hear the advice to work smarter, not harder,” Hiebert said.
Strategies and trends to grow your business
Look for opportunities out there, said Air Canada's Lisa Pearce. European and international travel is booming. Newer Immigrant population and students are traveling to visit their family abroad from Canada. There is also a vast population growth happening - according to the government of Canada, as of June 16, 2023, Canada's population reached 40 million. This provides the industry with a huge opportunity to grow business.
Zeina Gedeon, president and CEO of Trevello added, "We've seen the biggest growth, actually, in our company's history. That's fantastic news. It has put a lot of pressure on our business. It has put a lot of pressure on advisors and our support staff. We can't hire fast enough".
Speaking of trends, Gedeon mentioned that travelers are still booking last-minute trips except in the case of cruises.
After a year of talk about an impending recession, one that has been pushed because of high household savings, Joe Adamo, chief sales & marketing officer at Transat, believes the travel industry would actually fare better than most industries if there were a downturn.
The demand is there, Adamo mentioned; Transat's forward bookings are strong from both a retailer and supplier point of view. Transat has had a banner year. Boomer travel is one niche that needs more attention; wealth will trickle down over the next decade, from grandparents and parents to children. That bodes well for discretionary spending in the future.
Ensemble's Michael Johnson has been highly encouraged by the results thus far. Cruise lines have opening season earlier because of an unprecedented demand. Clients are looking for more value and investment in their travel plans; this is where the advisor has to step up to the opportunities presented.
Focus on boomers and millennials
"One of the things we see in 2023 is the return of the Baby Boomers. They will be on the sidelines for 2021 and 2022. But they've come roaring back in 2023," Adamo said.
Adamo also stated that Millennials aged 25 to 40 have become one of the most significant travelers. They don't spend as much as boomers.
"My advice would be to learn to work with boomers, learn to work with millennials because they really are different. They have different behaviors, different attitudes, and different values. Pick a lane and go hard at one or the other. It may not be realistic to focus on both." Adamo stated.
Gedeon mentioned that some of her travel advisors specialize in just one destination, such as Italy or Hawaii. One aspect of the company that requires further attention is sustainable travel. "Our company needs to take more proactive steps to assist agencies in identifying opportunities and improving their capabilities in this regard."
Fall and winter travel
As travel ramps up, so too do issues with flight cancellations and over-capacity on Airlines.
Pierce said we build our flight schedules very far out, typically around six to nine months. This allows us to carefully consider our operations, processes, and systems to ensure a smooth scheduling process and address potential issues.
“People are eager to plan their family trips during peak seasons, especially during holidays and vacations. That's why we put in a lot of effort to ensure our schedule accommodates as many passengers as possible,” she said.
“We have faced challenges in the past and are continuously working to improve and become more secure in our scheduling. We know that the shortage of pilots and the challenges involved in pilot recruitment are industry-wide issues and impact scheduling.”
Adamo mentioned that the past couple of years have been quite volatile, which can sometimes lead to scheduling delays in Transat's case. Transat has taken on new aircraft; Things are on a more stable track, especially for the upcoming winter season.
"Scheduling hiccups are inevitable in our industry," he said. "Advisors need to accept this fact and consider the track records of individual suppliers when assessing an airline for bookings.
"Whether a company is a reliable operator or a reputable expert can make a big difference. Matching these factors with the client's risk profile and tolerance is key to good advisory practice".
Johnson added "We all know that unexpected stuff can happen, like climate disasters or political uncertainties in certain countries. That's why getting travel insurance is a must. It gives you that peace of mind you need".
"Good travel advisors go beyond just handling your worries and problems. They can assist with after-sales support and help resolve problems during travel".
‘If you’re not charging fees, shame on you'
At a Travel Industry Leader's Panel, all the leaders agreed that travel advisors should implement service fees without hesitation.
Adamo suggested not to settle for minimal amounts like $15, $20, or $25 but also consider adding cancellation fees. He believes it's a missed opportunity if travel advisors are not charging service fees, and clients who hesitate over paying a small service fee may not be committed to the advisor's services.
Johnson echoed similar sentiments and emphasized that providing free services undervalues a travel advisor's expertise. Charging for their time is crucial to establish their worth. According to him, service fees are at the core of a travel advisor's value proposition.