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Sunday,  July 21, 2024 9:03 AM 

“This is exactly what agencies need to succeed”: Louise Fecteau on TDC’s new partnership with Virtuoso

“This is exactly what agencies need to succeed”: Louise Fecteau on TDC’s new partnership with Virtuoso
Louise Fecteau, general manager, Transat Distribution Canada (TDC). (File photo/supplied)
Michael Pihach

Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

Advancing its commitment to equip travel professionals with cutting-edge tools that will help grow their business in the luxury market, Transat Distribution Canada (TDC) has signed an agreement with global luxury travel group Virtuoso.

“This is the most important company in luxury tourism,” Louise Fecteau, general manager of TDC, told PAX in an interview on Tuesday (March 15).

Fecteau called the news “the beginning of a beautiful partnership.”

Virtuoso, working with some 1,800 suppliers and 20,000 travel pros worldwide, comprises top leisure agencies in North America, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, Asia Pacific, Africa and the Middle East.

The new partnership aligns with TDC’s LuxeXpert certification program, a detailed training course, launched last year, that has allowed agents to perfect their knowledge in how to sell luxury travel and effectively explore the market.  

TDC’s alliance with Virtuoso (which was announced internally last month) has been in development for a while, Fecteau said, noting that discussions began before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

It builds on a key travel trend TDC identified at its last in-person conference in 2019 – that luxury travel is a rapidly growing (and highly lucrative) segment that all agents should take a closer look at.

Virtuoso is "the most important company in luxury tourism,” says Louise Fecteau, general manager of TDC. (Supplied)

The news also comes at a good time – the market’s interest in luxury travel has blossomed after two years of pandemic-related travel restrictions, border closures and lockdowns.

The idea that consumers are taking “revenge” on their inability to travel during COVID, spending more on bigger, longer, more lavish trips (either because they feel they deserve it or because they’re sitting on a pile of saved-up cash) is a real-life phenomenon.

Fecteau says TDC is seeing this trend play out in its own sales, and she doesn’t expect the market to cool down anytime soon.

“The majority of our customers saved a lot of money [during the pandemic], and because they didn’t have the opportunity to travel, they really think they deserve the trip of a lifetime,” Fecteau said. “Presently, they’re booking beautiful trips. The invoices are high, they’re spending a lot. And they’re ready to spend more.”

TDC jumped feet first into this topic last June when it hosted its first-ever luxury trade event, “LuxeXpo,” which welcomed 600 TDC consultants and 50 suppliers, including new partners.

“It was a great success,” Fecteau said of the virtual event, which featured top hoteliers, cruise lines, tour operators specializing in FIT, as well as destination management companies.

“Exactly what agencies need”

As part of the new agreement, TDC travel consultants must be LuxeXpert-certified, first, before they can take advantage of Virtuoso’s programs.

While this may involve investing some extra time, it’s worth the effort, Fecteau emphasized. 

“This is exactly what agencies need to succeed and improve their revenue,” she said.

Fecteau outlined several benefits to becoming a Virtuoso member.

Firstly, for agents looking to build their business, “it’s the best training they can get” in the luxury travel sector, she said.

Virtuoso also pays “the best commissions in the industry" and the group provides advisors with advanced marketing materials and strategies, she added.

Selected LuxeXpert travel pros also have access to a host of exclusive travel experiences, deals and advantages for their clients.

For example: a customer that books a cruise through a Virtuoso agency could receive a handful of excursions, free of charge, or an invitation to a welcome cocktail.

Virtuoso agents can secure complimentary room upgrades, airport transfers, or even tables at the best restaurants for their clients to create an unforgettable VIP experience.

The perks involve no extra fees for the customer or travel consultant, and “it’s like that with every single Virtuoso supplier,” Fecteau said.

Benefits from Virtuoso’s hotel program alone are worth more than $500 USD per stay, allowing agencies to provide real value to their clients, TDC says.

Furthermore, LuxeXperts don’t necessarily have to reveal Virtuoso’s involvement either.

“They could say, ‘If you book with me, this is what I can provide to you,’” Fecteau said. “We’ll let people decide.”

Beyond the monetary value, Virtuoso grants LuxeXperts access to the world’s finest hotels, resorts, spas, cruise lines and tour operators, as well as insider knowledge and insights into trends and destinations.

According to Fecteau, luxury is more than just a price. “For me, the word is experience,” she said.

Of course, five-star hotels are luxurious products. But luxury can also mean staying in a three-star hotel, in the middle of an African jungle, surrounded by incredible animals.

“If you have a beautiful experience, something you’ve never done before, or never thought was possible to do, it could be considered luxury. It’s not just about five-star hotels,” Fecteau said.

The cruise comeback

Within TDC’s network, one product that’s leading the charge in luxury sales is cruise.

Despite the sector’s challenged history during the pandemic, cruises are selling at a never-before-seen pace, signalling a strong comeback, Fecteau said.

“Cruise companies did a very good job at promoting [voyages] for 2023 and 2024. We saw a big increase in sales during the pandemic,” she said. “At the beginning of the pandemic, a ship was the worst place to be in the world. Now, the majority of ships have established safe [protocols]. It will be the fastest market segment to restart.”

TDC, just recently, inked an agreement with luxury cruise line Seabourn for the first time, “and the feedback we have received from agencies has been amazing,” Fecteau said.

TDC recently partnered with Seabourn Cruise Line. (File photo/Seabourn)

As for other market activity, such as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Fecteau said it’s “really sad” to see the event unfold, not just in terms of how the conflict could impact tourism, but moreso in the way citizens have had to cope with the devastating impacts of war.

“I hope it will be fixed very soon,” she said, noting that TDC has not yet seen a major slump in summer sales for Europe.

"One of the most important assets we’ve added"

In a release issued Tuesday, Úna O’Leary, Virtuoso’s general manager for Canada, said the group was “delighted” to expand its presence in Canada via TDC’s LuxeXpert network.

“Their commitment to meeting the demands and expectations of the luxury consumer mirrors our own, and we look forward to helping LuxeXperts further develop this side of their business through our partnership programs, marketing vehicles and professional development,” O’Leary stated.

For TDC-branded agencies, such as Transat Travel/Voyages Transat, Marlin Travel and Club Voyages (in Quebec), the Virtuoso add-on will be included in their fees. Whereas TDC affiliates, such as TravelPlus and Voyages en Liberté brands, will be required to pay a fee to join.

“Virtuoso is one of the most important assets we’ve added to TDC in terms of value,” Fecteau said. “At the end of the day, [travel advisors] want to make money. Yes, they’ll provide good advice to customers, but they’ll also gain and retain new ones through luxury.”

“Any customer who travels with a luxury-slash-Virtuoso supplier will come back. For sure.”

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