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Sunday,  June 23, 2024 6:53 AM 

“The year of engagement”: TRAVELSAVERS CANADA talks strategy at T.O. trade show, dinner


“The year of engagement”: TRAVELSAVERS CANADA talks strategy at T.O. trade show, dinner
From left (of TRAVELSAVERS CANADA): Elizabeth Grundon, business analyst, ON & Atlantic Canada; Jane Clementino, SVP & GM; Monique Lalonde, director, strategic partnerships. (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 DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

“I call this the year of engagement,” said Jane Clementino, senior vice-president and general manager of TRAVELSAVERS CANADA. “Because suppliers, that’s what they're looking for. Face time with travel advisors and owners. Especially now, with so many independent contractors that are not in office, and with [fewer] bricks and mortar agencies.”

Face-to-face interaction was on full display Tuesday night (May 30) as the team from TRAVELSAVERS CANADA welcomed roughly 70 travel pros – from advisors, managers and owners to 23 suppliers – at a buffet-style dinner and trade show.

The intimate “Dine & Discover” event, held at Casa Ricca Banquet Hall in Toronto, was held to not only foster relationships, but to also celebrate recovery and success after what has been (arguably) the hardest years the travel industry has ever faced.

“It's not over yet,” Clementino told PAX, noting “hurdles.” “But I think everyone that's made it through is now in the black, making some money. They're doing well, and we're seeing the demand continue.”

 Jane Clementino, senior vice-president and general manager of TRAVELSAVERS CANADA, in Toronto last night. (Pax Global Media)

TRAVELSAVERS – a consortium (not a host agency) that offers customized sales and marketing solutions, using proprietary tools – has been in the Canadian market for 23 years.

It's had strong representation for some time thanks to Elizabeth Grundon, business analyst for Ontario and Atlantic Canada; Monique Lalonde, director of strategic partnerships and supplier relations; Debbie Girard, a business development and analyst for B.C.; Marylene Lupien, director of development for Quebec; and Christine Vincent, business technology director for North America. 

Clementino began her leadership role in September of 2022, taking on business development, sales, and the Canadian operations. She also assumed partnership duties from Cathie Lewis Hardy, who retired.

Travel pros gather in Toronto for “Dine & Discover.

“In market, [TRAVELSAVERS] was doing well. But in order to accelerate, you need to have a larger team and a leader just because it's hard to do everything, especially post pandemic when things are taking off,” Clementino said of the Canadian restructuring.

“The proposition, from where I sit, is quite simple. We're here to be a catalyst to agents and agencies. We do everything in our power to support them.”

“We're immersed in all facets of travel, leading with the agency's brand and their identity first, helping them in any way we can, whether it be through service, sales, or more compensation through preferred suppliers.”

Brian Joseph, BDM, The Inclusive Collection by World of Hyatt (second from left) hangs out with agents at TRAVELSAVERS “Dine & Discover” event. (Pax Global Media)

Members of TRAVELSAVERS do not pay fees. “Our motivation is aligned with their motivation, which is helping the bottom line,” Clementino said.

Clementino also recognizes that travel agencies fall into different niches, and have different views on earning and keeping customers.

For this reason, the approach is not “cookie-cutter," she said. 

“We make sure that it's a quality relationship, rather than a quantity relationship." 

Growth, tools & strategy

Since September 2022, TRAVELSAVERS CANADA has added 80 agencies to its network, bringing the total number of advisors in Canada to 1,500, Clementino shared.

“That’s a big number, and we probably won't replicate that again in 2023 or 2024, but you never know,” she said.

READ MORE: Jane Clementino named SVP & general manager Canada at TRAVELSAVERS

With more members, there are plans to expand the Canada team and promote brand awareness, she said.

Already, Christopher Brothers, earlier this month, was named director of business development to oversee Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta.

As previously reported, TRAVELSAVERS CANADA is forging ahead with new luxury, accommodation and adventure cruise partners, along with upgrades to its Cruise Value Incentive Program.

Travel pros on the scene at TRAVELSAVERS CANADA's

Details were shared with affiliates and managers last month at an Owners’ Retreat the consortium held in Montreal. A Dine & Discover event was also held in Laval, QC, on May 17.

For Clementino, the strategy at TRAVELSAVERS, these days, isn’t entirely about marrying agencies with preferred suppliers.

Rather, the tone is more about conducting so-called health checks to improve efficiencies and processes.

READ MORE: TRAVELSAVERS CANADA forges ahead with new partnerships, tech upgrades

“It’s about asking: what else do you need support with?” Clementino said, citing back-office support as one pain point that’s been ongoing. 

Outsourcing admin work to someone interested in travel, but not a full-fledged agent, is one solution that’s being passed around, she said.

From left (of WestJet Vacations): Grant Lawlor, Michelle Lanoue. (Pax Global Media)

From left (of Air Canada Vacations): Erminia Nigro, Marco Lot. (Pax Global Media)

TRAVELSAVERS also has new tools for agencies that assist with lead generation, digital marketing and search engine optimization for targeted advertising and creating calls to action.

Which means agencies can generate leads that are specific to what they want to sell.

Clementino sees this strategy play out most in the luxury space, which naturally pays more.

“Because everybody's looking for recovery in commission and overall compensation,” she said. “That's the number one thing I hear: how can I get my money faster, and make more of it? Travel advisors have two years they have to recover from, and a lot of them still have debt.”

Maurizio Mazzola, Globus family of brands. (Pax Global Media)

TRAVELSAVERS, last month, revamped its OnLocation DMC program, which exists in 65 countries.

This let agents select a service, in destination, that can help create an experience of a lifetime for their customers.

Mobile-friendly Softvoyage, too, has also helped busy agencies boost their bookings as it has allowed clients to “go on and play,” select brands and travel styles, and present their preferred choices, saving agencies time, Clementino said.

Demand curve “like a hockey stick”

From an overall sales perspective, “everybody on the market has different numbers that they're showing,” Clementino told PAX last night.

“But the reality is, it's obviously way better than 2022. And it’s better than 2019 [between 20 to 30 per cent higher], in almost every category,” she said.

But it all depends on what segments you’re talking about. Escorted touring, for example, is still performing slightly lower than 2019’s levels, Clementino said. And cruise sales vary, depending on the type of ship, and customer, you’re analyzing.

“The mass [cruise] market hasn't rebounded exactly where it was in 2019. But 2024 is looking very strong,” Clementino said.

Everything else is “double digit,” she said, noting a high rate of ITC, luxury and premium bookings.

The market’s demand curve has been “like a hockey stick,” she explained.

“From January to March, it slowed a little, but not much. Agencies are still extremely busy. We think the summer is going to be a little softer, but it will rebound in the fall. And people are making decisions closer in.”

The best news of all? “We don't see any major hurdles or obstacles,” said Clementino. “People are spending money and travelling.”From left: Rares Dumitru, Goway Travel; Patricia Di Benedetto, Explora Journeys; Ernie Balint, Uniworld. (Pax Global Media)

Tackling the labour shortage

One hurdle that remains, however, is the ongoing labour shortage (because so many agents, at the height of COVID, left the biz).

“It’s not like [agencies] don't have enough people coming in the door, it's that they don't have enough staff to support it,” Clementino said.

One approach to tackling this problem is a new training offer called KORE, a digital, multi-module course that’s designed for people who are new to the travel industry.

First released in the U.S. by the American Marketing Group (AMG), the parent company behind TRAVELSAVERS, in 2021, KORE, backed by The Travel Institute, will be released in Canada (and include a French translation for Quebec) this September, Clementino said.

“We created it to help the industry continue to flourish by bringing in new advisors,” she said. “New advisors from all walks of life – looking at travel not as a hobbyist, but as a true professional – can take this course.”

“It's about trying to get people to come back to travel, and getting this industry back to being, vibrant, sexy and fun.”

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