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Friday,  May 17, 2024 9:13 PM 

PAX presents the 10 Most Fascinating Travel Advisors of 2024

PAX presents the 10 Most Fascinating Travel Advisors of 2024
PAX presents the 10 Most Fascinating Travel Advisors of 2024.
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.

Sales produce awards, but fascination drives a good story. 

That is what led PAX, last year, to launch its inaugural “Most Fascinating” list to celebrate Travel Advisor Day. 

That first feature, published as travel broke free from the pandemic, highlighted the industry’s hustlers, movers, shakers and rule-breakers. Creative individuals who overcame all odds, who shared with us their personal journeys of entrepreneurship and success.

It’s been a jam-packed year of recovery as travel advisors continue to innovate and evolve with new ideas and business strategies. We meet a lot of fascinating agents while on assignments. So many, that we had to bring our “Most Fascinating” list back. 

And so, without further ado – and in celebration of Global Travel Advisor Day (and Month) – PAX presents its 10 Most Fascinating Travel Advisors of 2024

All travel professionals deserve recognition. But here, in no particular order, are ten individuals (and duos!) that have caught our attention. 

Darci Murray (Hooked). The Full-Sensory Traveller.

What do Iceland, Nashville, Alaska, Sayulita (Mexico), Morocco, Tanzania and Las Vegas have in common?

They’re all destinations that can be explored, to the fullest, without drinking alcohol.

At least that’s how Darci Murray sees it. The B.C.-based travel advisor is the creator of Hooked Alcohol-Free Travel, which offers adventures for people who don't want to (or just can't) spend their vacations drinking alcohol.

Murray, who quit drinking six years ago, launched her idea in 2022 with a dry trip to Iceland, involving three close friends. What started as an option for people in recovery has since evolved into larger (but still intimate) trips, attracting various types of clientele.

“It’s a great time to not drink,” Murray tells PAX. “The whole mentality has switched, and the mocktail world has exploded with a vengeance.”  

Darci Murray is the creator of Hooked Alcohol-Free Travel. (Supplied)

Murray admits she was initially nervous about launching her concept, which operates as a wholesale entity under the umbrella of Personal Travel Management.

"I had a lot of shame attached to why I wasn’t drinking,” she says.

But the meaning behind it all soon took shape as Murray, and the market, unlocked a desire for what she calls “full-sensory travel.”

“It’s when you’re not numbing yourself [with alcohol] and being fully present to your senses,” she explains.  

People who eliminate booze from their trips tend to “see more,” Murray says. And they come with different needs. “They start their days earlier, they finish earlier,” she says.

This is what makes a Hooked tour very immersive, and “very high energy.”

But there’s still an emphasis on supporting people who are recovering from alcoholism. Travel can be full of landmines, and it’s Murray’s mandate to ensure that everyone, regardless of their past, feels supported.

“Recovery is all about second chances,” she says, “and travel is a perfect second chance to recreate yourself.”  

There’s a community aspect that develops on her tours, which can range from five to 16 travellers. A “strength in numbers” bond that lends to a safe and welcoming environment, she says.  

Hooked, which has an actiive Instagram page, is in the process of making changes for upcoming seasons as it works to meet the demand for alcohol-free travel, Murray says.

And new adventures are being developed, including dry trips for high school graduates and even an alcohol-free wine tour.  

“We have to go to Germany for that,” Murray says. “They’re the only people doing alcohol-free wine properly.”

Cindy & Rick Gaudet (Fareconnect). The Community Builders. 

Cindy and Rick Gaudet run their travel business like a military operation – a 24/7 enterprise, where no task or request is too big or too small. 

After all, it’s the military where the Winnipeg-based duo – the faces of Fareconnect, a full-service travel agency and host agency – learned the meaning of hard work.    

Prior to entering the travel industry full-time, the pair served in the Canadian Armed Forces – Cindy, at one point, was deployed in places like Egypt and Afghanistan, while Rick, as a member of the Air Force, took on missions in Bosnia and Haiti. 

Cindy and Rick Gaudet of Fareconnect. (Supplied)

“I think that’s what makes us different from other host agencies – our background,” says Rick, Fareconnect’s CEO. “The military teaches you a great work ethic. We’re used to working 24 hours a day. If an agent calls at night, it doesn’t bother us. That’s what makes us unique.”

In recent years, Cindy and Rick’s hands-on approach, and investment in training, has been Fareconnect’s biggest asset in the host agency space. 

While the pandemic shutdown saw a wave of travel advisors retire, or change careers, the duo (who took full ownership of Fareconnect in 2013) focused on recruitment, growing their network of independent contractors by 60 per cent in a short period of time.

Attracting mostly industry newcomers, Cindy and Rick’s roster of agents ballooned from 165 (in pre-pandemic times) to 435, today’s number. 

Rick and Cindy Gaudet. (Supplied)

The expectation is that their network, which includes agents all over Canada, will soon hit 500. For an industry that continues to face labour shortages, it’s an eye-popping accomplishment, and one that was recognized at Ensemble’s conference, in 2023, when Fareconnect received the Outstanding Contribution to the Community Award.

“During the pause, we focused on making our business better,” says Cindy, Fareconnect’s COO, who got her start as a home-based travel advisor. “We do recruitment twice a week, we’re training new-to-industry people from scratch.”

Personalized training has been their secret sauce – “so agents can get into the business quicker and earn an income,” as Cindy puts it.

“That’s our main goal – for [newcomers] to understand the business. I was a home-based agent. I know what it’s like to work alone and train yourself. Our community is quite strong,” she says.

It’s a family-like network, with an open-door policy. “We’re the face of the company, we’re heavily involved. I think what’s why people come to us,” says Rick.

But with a commitment to maintain relationships, how big is too big? That is a question host agencies have to ask themselves often.

Rick has a number in his head (for him, it’s 500), but with proper staffing, Fareconnect could grow to 600, if the demand is there.

“We’re in the business of new-to-industry agents,” Rick says. “As long as we don’t lose our values, then we’ll be fine.”

Wendy Davis (Zebrano Travel). The Ultra-Luxe Trailblazer. 

These days, all travel is luxury, it seems. So, when you meet someone who has mastered the art of selling ultra-luxe travel – private, custom-made experiences for high net-worth clients who have millionaire (or even billionaire) status – they stand out.

Enter Ontario-based Wendy Davis, owner of Zebrano Travel, whose career could be worthy of a Netflix reality show.

As one who connects CEOs, affluent families and bold-faced names to some of the world’s most wow-worthy hotels and tours, Davis opened her agency in 2000 after sensing a need for a concierge-style agency that focused exclusively on luxury travel (in the truest sense of the words).

Davis curates what she calls “epic trips.” Her VIP clients seek the ultimate in accommodation, and they want personalized services in every aspect of their journey.

Wendy Davis, owner of Zebrano Travel. (Supplied)

“It’s a completely different mindset,” Davis tells PAX, explaining her world. “It’s not a transaction, it’s relationship oriented. When you get a client, it’s very loyal and long-term. It’s not price driven at all. It’s about the service.”

It’s also about establishing trust. High net-worth clients seek responsive service, well-researched itineraries that reflect their interests, organized documents and contingency plans if, for whatever reason, a trip needs to abruptly end (like if a CEO has to suddenly drop everything and fly home).  

“You have to anticipate their needs and be one step ahead,” Davis says. “That’s how you establish trust, and once you have that, you’ll have loyal, long-term clients. And you’ll know them extremely well. It’s very fulfilling.”

“You need to ‘get them.’ Their dining style, what spas they like…all of our trips are customized. It’s always designed exactly for them.”

It’s a process, however, that takes time. Davis and her team check the small print of every trip with a fine-tooth comb, ensuring that every form, transfer, credit card, and spelling of names is correct, to ensure their trips run smoothly.

The team charges for their expertise and time – $125 per hour. “If a client has two names, we make sure every form has two names,” Davis says. “We don’t cut corners – that’s not what clients pay us for. They’re paying us for an epic trip, which means you have to carefully go through everything.”

The team also relies on the expertise of others, such as tour operators and hotels in destinations, where they’ve “locked down solid relationships.” With every hotel booking, the team will email the property’s general manager in advance, and provide a bio about their client(s), so the team is prepared. 

This is, perhaps, why Zebrano Travel has never had a problem with hotel rooms. “We’ve never had a client say they weren’t happy,” says Davis, who has chaired Virtuoso’s Hotels and Resorts Committee for the past seven years, in addition to serving as a regional advisory board member for the consortium.

Of all the “epic” itineraries Davis has created, a Grandparents-Grandson trip to the French Open stands out. 

Wendy Davis, owner of Zebrano Travel, creates personalized travel experiences. (Supplied)

“The Grandson got to pick where he wanted to go with his Grandparents,” she says. “He loved tennis and wanted to go and watch his favourite players. To present the trip to their Grandson, we created a poster of the French Open, with an illustration of the Grandson, drawn from a photo of him playing tennis. It looked like the Grandson was playing in the French Open. We had the poster framed and wrapped, for a special family dinner, where the trip was gifted to their Grandson. We planned their Paris stay and sourced VIP Tickets to the tennis matches. The poster proudly hangs in their Grandson’s bedroom. It’s a daily reminder of his ‘epic’ travel experience with his Grandparents”

Davis travels often to ensure she knows the destinations and luxury hotels she’s selling. During a recent trip to California, she visited and stayed in 10 luxury properties from Napa to Los Angeles. She’ll cover similar ground on an upcoming trip to Dubai. 

“Our job is to get clients anchored down early so we have time to do our magic,” Davis says, noting that she will start planning trips for clients three to five years in advance.

It’s this attention to detail that has earned Davis several awards and recognitions over the years, including a spot on Conde Nast’s Traveller Specialist list, the Ruby of Siam award (a global recognition at Virtuoso) and this year’s inaugural Northern Lights award through Virtuoso Canada.

“Wendy Davis is a dedicated, passionate, and knowledgeable travel professional,” said Úna O’Leary, general manager of Virtuoso Canada. “She embodies commitment, humility, and the spirit of human connection within the Virtuoso network and is an example of what matters most to members, partners, and travellers.”

Sandra Pappas (ClickTheMouse Travel). The Magic Maker. 

"If you can dream it, you can do it,” the late, great Walt Disney once said.

It’s those words that inspired Sandra Pappas to create a specialized Disney vacation planning company, ClickTheMouse Travel, ten years ago.

A former producer at MuchMusic, Pappas has always had a close connection with the House of Mouse. Growing up in Toronto, her mom used to take her to the Willow Theatre, where she would watch Disney movies, sparking her love for the brand.

But a drive to Florida in the 1970s, when Walt Disney World in Florida opened, “was it for me,” Pappas tells PAX. “I couldn’t believe this place was real, and I was hooked,” she says.  

Sandra Pappas, owner of ClickTheMouse Travel. (Supplied)

Promoting and selling Disney experiences was never in the cards. At least in those early days. “I honestly didn’t even know [that career] existed!” Pappas says.

Then one time, Pappas’ neighbour asked her to help his agency as a Disney expert “because I travelled there so often.” That’s when she realized she could make money from talking about her favourite characters, movies and theme parks, and opened her own Disney-focused travel agency, ClickTheMouse Travel.

"My goal in life is always find what you love and try and make a living doing it,” she says.

What is it about Disney that she loves?

“There is something about the way it makes you feel,” Pappas says. “Disney does an amazing job at bringing your emotions out, whether it’s the nostalgia of watching the movies when you were a kid, or the place where you can ride attractions with both your parents and your children.”

"They have something for everyone, but it’s also the energy you feel. Happiness or magic – whatever you want to call it, it’s palpable with Disney.”

It’s hard work, keeping tabs on one of the most identifiable theme parks in the world. So much so, Pappas purchased a home near Walt Disney World in Florida, nine years ago, “so that I could watch the evening fireworks at the Magic Kingdom every night from my backyard.”

She also visits Disney World “at least 30 times each winter,’ cruises with Disney Cruise Line two to three times a year, and visits Disneyland in California at least once a year.

“My newest yearly expedition is an Adventures by Disney land tour. Last year it was Italy and this year it’s Japan!” she says.

The hard work has paid off. This year, ClickTheMouse Travel achieved Platinum Earmarked-level status in Disney vacation planning – one of two Canadian agencies to do so – marking the first time, ever, the designation has been awarded in Canada.

Pappas’ agency is also Platinum U-Preferred with Universal Orlando for 2023 and 2024 and is in the President’s Circle with TL Network for the second year.

“The job is not easy,”  Pappas says. “There are so many elements to planning a Disney vacation that a specialist really knows, which makes us the key to making a trip go from overwhelming to amazing. Our knowledge and guidance can truly transform a visit.”

Wendy Weir (Farmstead Tours & Travel). The Agro Advisor.

Wendy Weir found a way to marry her two loves: agriculture and travel.

Growing up on a farm near Collingwood, ON, Weir got involved with her local agricultural community at an early age. She was a member of youth organizations, where she’d exhibit animals at local fairs.

Then, one day, an opportunity to do an international work exchange came along – and that’s when travel entered her world. Weir soon found herself on her first-ever plane ride, flying to Amsterdam, and then to Denmark, where she worked on a dairy farm for three months before returning to Canada to attend Ontario Agricultural College.

Wendy Weir of Farmstead Tours & Travel. (Supplied)

Her path eventually led to owning a successful agricultural marketing business. But she still had another plan in mind: to travel, and spend at least half her time in Europe.

“I didn't want to just travel around. I wanted to be able to work in this environment,” Weir tells PAX.  

In 2018, Weir joined The Travel Agent Next Door and embarked on a journey to becoming a travel advisor, as a tour planner and host, with a specialization in agricultural tourism.

After all, the majority of her clients lived on farms and in rural areas.

“Many people ask me where I find my guests,” Weir says. “Coming from an agricultural community, and having worked both nationally and internationally, I am fortunate to have a wide circle of contacts. I have attended every livestock and farm show, and have socialized at every after-party.”

Her "Farms & Charms" tours, for example, have been very successful. This includes two sold-out groups to Ireland, an upcoming sold-out Scotland group, and a recent dairy tour in Italy.

 But one of her most udderly-unique adventures, you could say, was hosting a group of Canadian Jersey breeders (keepers of small dairy cattle) to the Island of Jersey (in the Channel Islands). “It was a pilgrimage of the sorts,” Weir says. “I was lucky enough to have a co-host, who is one of the world's foremost Jersey historians!”

“Creating custom experiences, and keeping the needs of your guests in the forefront, is key,

When she’s not showing farmers the world, Weir plans girl-group itineraries and river cruises.

With the pandemic in the rear-view mirror, Weir recently sold her marketing business and is now pursuing travel full time. “I have been practicing for this gig all my life!” says Weir, who resides in Feversham, a small village in Grey County, ON.

Being a good tour host isn’t just about knowing your destination and itinerary, she says.

“You need to be a strong leader, a babysitter, a psychologist, a therapist, a mind-reader and have the ability to think fast and not show your group how panicked you are when something goes wrong (because something will),” she says.

What drives her is seeing the look on her guests’ faces when they experience a destination for the first time.

Still, hosting tours is “not for the faint of heart,” she admits.

“But if you can get that first one under your belt, and your first group of guests go back and rave about it, the rest will follow,” she says. “Creating custom experiences, and keeping the needs of your guests in the forefront, is key.”

Her advice to others looking to carve out a niche and host groups? 

“Start with what you’re interested in,” Weir says. “Are you a gardener? Are you a nurse? Are you a teacher? Gather like-minded individuals, start within your own circle – however small it may be. Know your audience, know what they want and know your product.”

“Be excited and passionate about what you are offering, and your groups will grow!”

Jamie Milton (Uniglobe Carefree Travel Ltd). The Advocate. 

The pandemic, and its hold on the travel industry, highlighted the need for advocacy at all levels government.

Trade associations like ACTA, and grassroots groups, like the team at ACITA, led the charge on many hot-button issues that were impacting travel advisors during those devastating years, from commission recalls to the need for sector-specific support.

But rooted in Saskatoon, SK, was another name that refused to see an industry she loved fall apart. While the travel industry fought for its survival, Jamie Milton, president of Uniglobe Carefree Travel Ltd., used her voice in media interviews to share the cold hard truth about the pandemic’s impact on travel in her province.

 Jamie Milton, president of Uniglobe Carefree Travel Ltd. (Supplied)

Milton was a voice for travel advisors when many felt they didn’t have a voice. She was among the first travel pros to publicly call out Sunwing for pulling out of Saskatchewan during the peak 2022-23 winter season, and highlight the lack of compensation that was available to agents at that time.

She continues to talk about travel on TV, whether it’s discussing Saskatoon’s rocky road to air recovery on Global News, or sharing travel tips in a weekly segment on Global’s Morning Show in her province.

“We always advocate for using a travel agent and for purchasing travel insurance,” Milton noted.

For her efforts, Milton received ACTA Advocacy Award last year. “I am driven by the people in this industry and those I am lucky enough to work with every day,” says Milton, who entered the travel industry when she was just 18.

Milton’s career is a great story. In her first year, she attended her first supplier show, and ordered a beer, causing her boss at the time to wag his finger “because he knew I wasn’t old enough to drink. (The legal age is 19 in Saskatchewan).

From there, Milton worked her way from junior corporate travel advisor to a full-time leisure travel advisor. After three years, she became a supervisor at a new location and “I thrived on mentoring and helping others.”

“I knew that leadership would be in my future,” she tells PAX.

Fast-forward another nine or 10 years, and Milton was a newly-single mother, had recently returned to Saskatchewan, and was looking for gainful employment.

Her original boss (the one who wagged his finger), Ed Buchholz, eventually came to her with a proposition to buy into Uniglobe as a partner, giving Milton a new sense of purpose.

“Uniglobe had always felt like the best fit for me and most of the staff were the people I had worked with in the beginning. It felt like family, like coming home. I haven’t looked back since!” Milton says.

“This industry is addictive. It’s never the same thing day after day,” Milton says. (Supplied)

For 15 years now, Milton and her colleagues have supported each other through the tough times, while celebrating the good times.

“In 15 years, we have grown from 15 employees and $10 million in sales, to 55 employees and ICs and nearly $60 million in sales,” Milton says. “This includes the expansion we undertook in 2021 with the purchase of a travel agency on Vancouver Island and the home-based network that went with it. I also grew my family, remarrying and adding twins to our mix.”

Her business has also earned nearly a dozen awards, including Uniglobe Travel Western Canada Agency Owner of the Year, Best of Saskatoon for Best Travel Agency and, for the past seven years, Air Canada’s Circle of Excellence award.

“This industry is addictive. It’s never the same thing day after day,” Milton says. “We get to solve problems, make dreams come true, make a difference, all while having fun and exploring the world as a career. I feel lucky that this was my chosen career path and I can’t imagine doing anything else.”

What kept her going during those challenging COVID years?

“The number one reason I stuck it out, and didn’t decide to throw in the towel, was my staff. What would happen to them, to their jobs, to their livelihood,” Milton says. “As a business owner, we have a responsibility to maintain a profitable, thriving business, not only for ourselves, but for the financial security of those who depend on us.”

Pat Probert & Mary de Almeida (Bob Family Travel Team). The Mentors. 

If the travel industry had a Coach’s Corner, it’d be manned by Pat Probert and Mary de Almeida.

The duo behind the Bob Family Travel Team, a successful affiliate of TravelOnly, are leaders in peer-mentoring, often seen on the sidelines at conferences, supporting travel advisors with valuable business tips.

(The Coach’s Corner reference, though, ultimately goes to Probert, whose directness and flamboyant fashion choices at parties often mirror the tone and style and tone of hockey commentator Don Cherry, the former host of TV’s now-defunct Coach’s Corner). 

Whether it’s tips on how to charter a ship, or advice on charging fees, Probert and de Almeida will be the first to spill a trade secret.

Pat and Mary in South Africa. (Supplied)

“For many years, we have given back to all agents regardless of if they are with TravelOnly or with another agency,” Probert says.

The pair will also travel with other agents who sell into their groups. One recent example was inviting 15 TravelOnly agents in on an upscale group booking with Regent Seven Seas in Tahiti.  

“As I came from humble beginnings in Nova Scotia, I am rewarded every time I give back to agents or those who are in need in the community,” Probert says. “Mary and I do not believe that any other travel advisor is a competitor. This is why we continue to help all advisors who sometimes call from other agencies with questions or even requests to help them sell their own group space.”

It’s a philosophy that has guided Probert ever since he started Bob Family Travel in 1977. “Bob Family” refers to Jim Bob from the Walton’s TV show.

“Whatever your name was, ‘Bob’ would be added to it, and all the group members would then become ‘Bobs.’ I became Pat ‘Bob,’ and if your name was John, you would be known as John ‘Bob,’ and so on,’” Probert says.

In 2000, as Probert’s company grew, he began directing bookings to Mary de Almeida (then, a manager of a Toronto-based travel branch). By 2009, Probert was a member of the TravelOnly family, with de Almeida joining the Bob Family two years later.

The rest, as they say, is history. Today, the duo work alongside (and travel with) a team of six agents, who oversee big-budget group bookings.

The “Pat and Mary” machine is a well-oiled one, too – de Almeida is the glue that holds the team together, overseeing invoices, pricing and ticketing. Probert, meanwhile, is the front person who “digs up deals” and works with suppliers to make sure trips are a win for clients, suppliers, TravelOnly “and for us.”

Then there’s the awards – and Bob Family Travel has earned plenty. Probert and team have made TravelOnly’s President’s Club ever since joining the host agency. They’re routinely named top performers among suppliers – by Celebrity, Norwegian, Regent and Uniworld, this year alone. They’re also recognized by Manulife, annually, for their insurance sales.

Pat Probert of Bob Family Travel. (Supplied)

Some could keep all that knowledge to themselves, but that isn’t how the Bob Family rolls.

“Our goal is to help others be the best they can be and help them create a better experience for their clients, and at the same time, have them make a reasonable living for themselves and their family in travel,” Probert says.

This is one reason why Probert, last year, was awarded the Patrick Luciani Award (named after TravelOnly’s late founder).

“The award acknowledges a great leader and visionary who approached life without prejudice, embraced and accepted people for who they were and created a welcoming and inclusive environment,” Probert says. “Sadly, we unexpectedly lost Patrick four years ago, but he will forever live on in our hearts and minds as he looks down upon us all in the travel business and guides us as we continue to move forward.”

McKenzie McMillan (The Travel Group). The Media Maven.  

McKenzie McMillan is a man about town – at events, on television, and online – with something to say.  

As a regularly-booked guest on BC Today on CBC Vancouver, as well as CBC Vancouver News, CBC’s The National and CTV News Channel, the Vancouver-based travel pro (who’s also an avid TikToker) uses every platform at his disposal to educate the masses about travel industry issues.

McKenzie McMillan, luxury consultant & supplier relations manager, The Travel Group. (Supplied)

Media outlets (including PAX) turn to McMillan for his fresh takes on hot topics, whether it’s the collapse of budget airlines or the rising cost of flying or the latest booking trends. And with expertise, wit and pure honesty, McMillan delivers, amplifying the voice of the travel advisor on a national scale.

It’s no wonder McMillan was the recipient of ACTA’s 2023 “Travel Leader of Tomorrow Award.”

“I honestly can’t think of another industry that’s as diverse as this and always evolving,” McMillan tells PAX. “Every day is something new, and no matter how much experience I have, or how long I’ve worked in the industry, I’m always learning something new – whether it’s a new up-and-coming destination, or a new system for booking flights (I’ll try to stay positive on NDCs).”

Between TV appearances (and working around the clock as a luxury travel consultant), McMillan also invests time in his community, co-founding Millennials in Travel’s first Canadian chapter, MIT Vancouver, where he currently serves as officer of development.

McKenzie McMillan, seen here at Machu Picchu (Supplied)

Sure, the travel industry has faced (and will continue to face) challenges. “But through every bump in the road (big and small), we’ve always come out no just surviving, but thriving,” McMillan says.

The people in travel, McMillan says, are the “very heart of what ensures the longevity of this industry.” 

“It’s a wild ride,” he says, “and I can’t wait to see what the next 20 years have in store!”

And we can’t wait to hear what he has to say about it.

Chanell Facey & Liana Rowan (TripCo Travel & Love At First Site). The Techies. 

Chanell Facey and Liana Rowan were at their wit’s end when it came to communicating with their group bookings. Regardless of how organized they were, their travelling clients were bound to get tangled in a web of miscommunication.

So, the Ontario-based travel advisors, owners of TripCo Travel and Love At First Site, took matters into their own hands, creating a tool that fits in their hands – an app.

“Grouped,” which launched last year, helps agents manage their groups with streamlined processes and time-saving tools. The platform has everyday things like group messaging and a photo gallery, as well as user-friendly dashboard, where agents can share important items with their clients, such as flight and hotel details, or final payment reminders. Grouped also utilizes push notifications (pop-up alerts), so when an urgent update is posted, clients will see it.

Travel professionals Chanell Facey (left) and Liana Rowan are the creators of Grouped, an app that manages group bookings. (Supplied)

A tool made by travel advisors, for travel advisors. Considering Facey and Rowan had no previous tech experience, it’s an eye-popping achievement.

“It is important agents know that we made this with them in mind,” Facey told PAX previously.

Developing an app is no small feat, and the duo are constantly upgrading their product with new features that reflect the real-life experiences of travel professionals. 

“The feedback has been really positive,” Rowan tells PAX. “One travel advisor messaged us, saying that our app was the best thing to happen to the travel industry since e-documents. That was really nice to hear.”

The tech-saavy twosome, now, is focused on training, hosting onboarding sessions for any agents that sign up for Grouped.

“We love that we’re able to help agents in a way that we would like to be helped,” Facey says. “We’re so grateful for the support.”

(To learn more about Grouped, click here).

Travis & Paula Stewart (Stewart Travel Group). The Rockstars. 

Travis and Paula Stewart are rockstars in the truest sense of the word.  

The co-owners of Stewart Travel Group, based in Charlottetown, P.E.I, started their company ten years ago after working in the travel industry for many years.

With a focus on providing excellent customer service, and with the help of their team, they carved out a niche in hosted tours – river cruising, especially. Their favourite travel style.

Over the past decade, they’ve hosted all kinds of river cruises in Europe and Asia, in addition to small-group yacht tours in Croatia, and land tours in destinations like Italy, Greece, Scotland and Ireland.

Travis Stewart, Paula Stewart, and Frances Gertsch of Stewart Travel Group in Prague. (Supplied)

That’s what has made Travis and Paula Stewart successful. What makes them rockstars, though, is their ability to sometimes involve iconic musicians (who really get their ships a-rocking).

Singer Jim Cuddy, his Blue Rodeo bandmates (and others), have performed on river ships in Europe chartered by Stewart Travel Group multiple times. The Stewarts have Cuddy booked again this fall on an AmaWaterways voyage from Dijon to Arles. As well, singer Colin James, and his Blues Trio, are headlining an Ama cruise on the Rhône and Saône rivers later this year.

What makes musicians on river cruises a winning formula?

“I think it's the intimacy,” Travis says. “River cruises are already an intimate travel experience with small ships, luxury service, and excellent food. Add on the exclusive opportunity to travel with a favourite artist, to interact with them day-to-day, and to enjoy concerts with a small audience, and it's hard to beat.”

From left: Anne Lindsay, Jim Cuddy, Sam Polley and Devin Cuddy perform on board Avalon View. (Supplied)

Their trips attract like-minded people “who already have something in common,” he says, “so it's easy to make new friends while exploring incredible destinations.”

The musicians they’ve partnered with are also big fans of travel and river cruising, and “have such awesome fans,” Travis adds.

It’s just one winning strategy from the Stewart Travel Group playbook. For several years, the company has been crowned TTAND’s top revenue agency, and has earned awards from suppliers, and the Greater Charlottetown Chamber of Commerce.

At the same time, the Stewarts have used travel for good, raising more than $85K for Stars for Life Foundation for Autism in PEI in 2022 and 2023. (The Stewarts’ son, Kobe, has autism and has been supported by Stars for Life).

Their 2024 cruises are raising funds for Hospice PEI (Paula's been a volunteer for over 25 years). They continue to host an annual summer barbeque to support PEI Ground Search and Rescue (where one of their team members, Frances, has been a volunteer for 10 years). They also contribute to TTAND's fundraising efforts for Pencils for Kids.

Their advice to others? Focus on something you want to make happen, have integrity (the “most importance value in our business,” Travis says), work hard at relationships, ensure what you’re selling has good value, and be honest.

“And invest in yourself,” says Travis. “Take the word ‘learn’ and drop the ‘L.’ What do you get? Earn. Learning is fundamental to earning. Always be learning.”

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