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Friday,  May 17, 2024 8:26 PM 

On Location: Amid “booming” cruise sales, Trevello, celebrating 30 years, sets sail for Alaska

On Location: Amid “booming” cruise sales, Trevello, celebrating 30 years, sets sail for Alaska
From left (of Trevello): Amy Losics, dr. of operations; Susan Lawson, dr. of engagement; Antony Cury, marketing; Zeina Gedeon, president/CEO; Caroline Hay, GM, cruise; Sheila Lamirande, sr. manager inside sales; Cathy Redekopp, pro. development manager, West; Heidi Schnitker, pro. development manager, East. (Pax Global Media)
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.

You gotta hand it to Trevello Travel Group. The host agency has certainly found a sweet spot on the calendar for hosting its annual conference.

Like previous years, the company’s 2024 symposium appropriately landed on Travel Advisor Day yesterday (May 1), a global recognition event, celebrated on the first Wednesday of May, that extends throughout the entire month.

The company’s conference at sea aboard the Crown-class Ruby Princess, which left Vancouver, BC on Tuesday (April 30), and will arrive in Alaska today (May 2), has welcomed more than 215 travel advisors (from all over Canada), 55 suppliers (including 11 who have never attended a Trevello conference), and guests, bringing the entire delegation to 400-something.

Agents and suppliers attending Trevello's 2024 conference on board the Ruby Princess. (Pax Global Media)

Cheering suppliers, blowing whistles and shaking purple pom-poms and red blow-up party props, greeted agents yesterday morning in the ship’s Princess Theatre, where a Broadway-level dance troupe performed a slick and sassy opening number. (As far as Travel Advisor Day parties go, it was one for the books).

Suppliers celebrate travel advisors on Travel Advisor Day aboard Ruby Princess. (Pax Global Media)

Suppliers show love for agents on board Ruby Princess. (Pax Global Media)

This year’s conference, which doubles as a celebration to mark Trevello’s 30th anniversary, follows a “Trailblazing” theme – with an emphasis on connection and collaboration.

“A trailblazer is a person that sets themselves apart and does things a little differently,” said Caroline Hay, general manager, cruise division at Trevello, addressing attendees on a stage. “And that is indeed what Morris Chia set out to accomplish 30 years ago, in 1994, when he saw an opportunity to introduce the chance for people, just like yourself, to turn their passion into a business.”

Caroline Hay, general manager, cruise division at Trevello, welcomes delegates. (Pax Global Media)

“People didn’t think it would work”

For context, Morris Chia is the man who started Trevello (previously called Travel Professionals International, or “TPI”) 30 years ago when the travel industry was in a different place.

The sector was on the verge of transformation, thanks to a then-new concept called the internet, which was about to take off.

It was during this time that Chia, who previously worked in the fur industry, introduced a new agency model that would anticipate the effects of the internet on the traditional travel advisor.

Fun fact: Trevello (or TPI) started in an old fur storage facility, as Chia told PAX in an interview back in 2019, when he appeared on the cover of Pax Magazine, a print version of PAX that was discontinued during the pandemic.

Morris Chia, photographed for Pax Magazine, back in 2019. (Pax Global Media/file photo)

“The previous business I was involved in had a small travel element – we moved a team from city to city and ended up spending $500,000. But my wife and I also have a passion for travel, which is the typical comment from folks like us getting involved in the industry because we love it!” Chia told us at the time.

He thought maybe travel was something interesting that he could get involved in – despite not having any experience.

Chia’s approach involved taking office duties off the shoulders of travel advisors so that they could focus on selling, subsequently introducing the concept of the independent agent to the Canadian market (a model that wasn’t entirely embraced back then).

“We were something new and people didn’t think it would work,” Chia told PAX.

But he proved the naysayers wrong. Winnipeg, Manitoba and Saskatchewan were the network’s first key markets until expanding in 1997 to Ontario with the establishment of a Toronto office. Since then, growth has continued from coast to coast.

From left: Zeina Gedeon, CEO of Trevello, and founder Morris Chia, photographed in 2019. (Pax Global Media/file photo)

The company’s sales and marketing team realigned in 2017 with the onboarding of industry veteran Zeina Gedeon as CEO, who brought years of industry experience from TravelBrands and Air Canada Vacations to the table.

In 2022, Travel Professionals International rebranded as Trevello Travel Group as part of a long-term strategy that will see the company expand into the United States.

Cruise sales "booming"

Gedeon, with a tell-it-like-it-is approach to business, took to the stage yesterday to share updates on where Trevello stands in 2024.

The numbers are looking good. Sales from 2023 were up 48 per cent and commissions were up 63 per cent, according to a slide that was shared with attendees.

First quarter trends for 2024 are also positive, with sales up 11 per cent and commissions up by 10 per cent (over 2023).

From left: Coco Toth, ACVs Krista Rothfuchs, Iren Monge. (Pax Global Media)

First quarter insurance sales, however, are down, while agent service fees, which gained steam during the pandemic, have flattened.

Trevello’s tours and air sales, meanwhile, are up year over year. But they’re not as significant as the company’s cruise sales are for Q1, which are up 46 per cent, Gedeon revealed, generating cheers from the audience.

Why is cruise so strong? Gedeon has a theory.

Celebrity's Brenda Yeomans (second from right) greets advisors at Trevello's conference. (Pax Global Media)

“When the world stopped, cruise was the only one that offered amazing deals for credits after,” she said. “People are not concerned. That’s why [agents] book it. They know their customers are taken care of, versus others.” 

It’s a segment that Trevello continues to invest heavily in. Speaking with PAX earlier in the week, Caroline Hay said cruise sales are “booming,” adding that the sector, overall, “has grown across the board. “

“We’re experiencing our piece of that pie,” Hay said.

Caroline Hay, general manager, cruise division at Trevello. (Pax Global Media)

It’s for this reason Trevello has taken their cruise backend to the next level with upgraded technology, a new groups program (set to come out later this year), revamped contracts, and dedicated marketing resources.

There has also been “unbelievable growth” in advisors who brand themselves as cruise sellers, Hay said.

“We have just over 400 advisors that have self-identified either as new to cruise, comfortable with cruising (but want to learn more), and cruise gurus,” Hay said. “It’s an exciting space that we will continue to grow.” 

Seabourn's Maxine Gundermann (left) spotted on the scene with agents at Trevello's conference. (Pax Global Media)

Cruise CEO, a cruise-focused host agency that Trevello, under Hay’s leadership, launched in 2021, remains an active brand (although, it has since been integrated into the greater Trevello network, Hay said).

As for Trevello’s year-end forecast, sales are expected to spike by 11 per cent over 2023, said Gedeon, who also shared trending destinations, ranked by year-over-year growth (not the number of bookings).

Zeina Gedeon, CEO, Trevello; Sophie Raymond, sales director, Canada, Velas Resorts. (Pax Global Media)

From left: Hilary Arsenault, G Adventures; Rares Dumitru, Goway; Zeina Gedeon, Trevello; Sabrina Greca, 5Continents. (Pax Global Media)

In this category, the United Kingdom took the top position, while Saudi Arabia came in second, with Turkey third.

The CEO reviewed other Trevello updates regarding mental health services, training, new air and cruise tools, AI platforms, and a social media “Connect” campaign, which gives advisors the ability to create custom content and drive traffic to their website.

Gedeon also dropped a hint that “something big is happening,” but stopped there.

“I can’t tell you what it is,” she said, leaving the audience in suspense. “But it’s big. Give it a couple of months.”

The Trevello team welcomes conference attendees aboard the Ruby Princess. (Pax Global Media)

Finding that golden nugget

Trevello’s “Trailblazing” conference is a gathering with multiple meanings. As Hay explained, choosing Princess Cruises, and Alaska as a feature destination, all ties into themes of entrepreneurship.

“The trailblazers in the area we’re in, [Alaska], the prospectors in the 1800s, who trailblazed in search of gold – they’re not unlike yourselves,” Hay said, addressing the audience. “They’re entrepreneurs that had to have the right tools and sustenance.” 

Changing landscapes on the way to Alaska aboard the Ruby Princess. (Pax Global Media)

Agents, this week, will follow the trail of Alaska’s gold rush on the White Pass in Skagway, for example. It’s a poignant itinerary as advisors continue to “look for that golden nugget” in their business, whether that be a perfect customer or moment when a strategy works, Hay said.

Princess Cruises, meanwhile, has been “trailblazing” in Alaska with landscape and wildlife-rich itineraries for more than 55 years now. 

To tie the message together, Mona Michell, founding partner and CEO of ACHIEVEBLUE, addressed the audience as Trevello’s keynote speaker, sharing her strategies on succeeding as an entrepreneur.

Mona Michell, founding partner and CEO of ACHIEVEBLUE, was this year's keynote speaker. (Pax Global Media)

Newcomers galore

Hay told PAX that there’s 11 suppliers attending Trevello’s conference for the first time this year – a trend reflective of the market’s ever-changing desires and demands.

This group includes 5Continents, Club Med, CIE Tours, Exodus, Lindblad, Ponant, RateHawk, Swan Hellenic (which is hosting Trevello’s Chairman’s trip later this year), Tauck, Windstar Cruises and Velas Resorts. 

She also noted the spike in new-to-industry individuals who have joined Trevello, and the travel industry, in recent years.

“We’re seeing a whole new crop of advisors,” Hay said, revealing that this year’s conference has 60 people who have joined the industry within the last two years.

Suppliers hit the pool deck on Ruby Princess. (Pax Global Media)

“It’s unbelievable,” Hay said. “Every day we’re seeing new advisors. It’s a younger demographic. The average age is changing.”

But Hay also acknowledged Trevello’s legacy advisors – individuals who have been with the host agency for decades. Trevello has a lifetime membership club for those who have been with the company for twenty-plus years – some of whom are on board the Ruby Princess this week.

“We built our company with the help of those advisors. They’re very special,” Hay said. “We appreciate all the work they’ve done in helping us become who we are today.”

To see more pictures from Trevello's conference, visit and "like" PAX's Facebook page here.

Stay tuned for more of PAX’s on location coverage from Trevello’s 2024 “Trailblazing” conference and 30th anniversary aboard the Ruby Princess.

With files from Blake Wolfe.

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