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Saturday,  July 13, 2024 1:32 PM 

“Incredibly inspiring”: What agents are saying about TravelBrands’ SeaU conference

“Incredibly inspiring”: What agents are saying about TravelBrands’ SeaU conference
From left: Melissa Doucet, The Travel Agent Next Door; Terry Declare, TravelOnly; Jennifer Chambers, Travel Dreams (Trevello). (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.

TravelBrands Encore Cruises’ seventh SeaU conference on board Celebrity Beyond is in the homestretch.

The seven-night Western Caribbean voyage has brought together some 250 Canadian travel advisors for a week of fun and learning – on board one glamourous cruise ship, no less.

The focus of the conference, which wraps up this weekend, has been to give travel pros the tools they need to make the best cruise sale through intense workshops and training sessions, led by multiple cruise lines.

Participants have also had time to explore the ultra-luxe amenities of Celebrity Beyond, a chic ship that debuted in North America late last year.

From left: Brenda Lynne Yeomans, key account manager, Canada, Celebrity; Dondra Ritzenthaler, SVP, sales & trade support & services, Celebrity; Frank DeMarinis, president & CEO, TravelBrands; Nathalie Tanious, COO, TravelBrands; Allan Brooks, national director, market sales, Canada, Celebrity. TravelBrands was named Celebrity's Tour Operator of the Year. (Supplied)

SeaU is all about “connecting, learning and having a great time with the industry’s leading members,” Nathalie Tanious, chief operating officer at TravelBrands, told PAX earlier this week.

READ MORE:Attitude is everything”: Energy “off the charts” at TravelBrands’ SeaU on board Celebrity Beyond

For the travel advisors on board, the conference has sparked a renewed sense of motivation and inspiration.

Parkland County, AB-based Jennifer Chambers of Travel Dreams, an affiliate of Trevello Travel Group, said TravelBrands has done “an amazing job” at rallying suppliers and educating travel advisors.

Top-bottom, L-R: Tanya States, TravelBrands; Laura Di Nardo; Celebrity, Marc-Antoine Kamel, NCL, Shirley Lindahl, Trevello; Jennifer Chambers, Trevello; Jennipher Santa-Cruz, TravelBrands; Chris Posada, NCL. (Supplied)

She’s attending the conference with her Aunty Shirley Lindahl, and for both, it’s their first SeaU.

“It’s been incredibly inspiring to learn about other products that I haven't sold before,” Chambers told PAX. “TravelBrands also organized French and English sessions, allowing both languages to dive deep, without barriers.”

One highlight for Chambers has been connecting with BDMs and “getting to know everything about them.”

“Taking these learning moments and creating relationships is incredibly valuable,” Chambers said. “I have met so many advisors and have become fast friends with so many great people. We are learning from each other.”

Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity’s senior-vice president of sales and trade support and services. (Supplied)

One moment that particularly stuck with Chambers was hearing Dondra Ritzenthaler, Celebrity’s senior-vice president of sales and trade support and services, speak at SeaU’s kick-off event last weekend.

“Dondra's motto is ‘attitude is everything,’ how we are all super fantastic, and that we should present ourselves that way,” Chambers shared. “She encouraged us to stay positive, no matter what the circumstance. If we remain positive, we can get through anything. Dondra is an amazing woman and I truly felt honoured to be in her presence.”

At that opening ceremony, which unfolded in Celebrity Beyond’s high-tech theatre, agents were given a taste of Beyond’s futuristic “Elements” show.

They were also greeted by the team at Celebrity Cruises Canada, who were dressed in Top Gun-themed attire.

From left: Jennifer Chambers, Trevello; Chris Posada, NCL, Shirley Lindahl, Trevello; Jeff Carpenter, TravelBrands; Laura Di Nardo, Celebrity; Marc-Antoine Kamel, NCL. (Supplied)

The message? “It's not the plane, it's the pilot!” Chambers shared. “We as travel agents are in charge of qualifying our clients correctly and pairing them with their dream vacation.”  

When Chambers gets home, her plan is to open more group space and secure more options for her clients “across these great brands.”

“Every brand has its own flavour, and now that I am educated in what they each represent, I will be able to pair my clients with the flavour they are looking for,” Chambers said.

Celebrity Beyond, which is longer and taller than its predecessors Celebrity Edge and Apex, and with reimagined spaces, has also “blown my mind,” Chambers noted.

“It's not the plane, it's the pilot!” The Celebrity Cruises team in Top Gun attire. (Supplied)

From left: Eric St-Pierre, RCI; Jennifer Chambers, Trevello; Leanne Hill, RCI; Shirley Lindahl, Trevello; Nate Allen, RCI. (Supplied)

Turning negatives into positives

Ottawa, ON-based Terry Declare of TravelOnly agrees that attitude is everything when it comes to running a travel business, and that success is about “turning negatives into positives.”

“If you portray a positive, confident attitude, clients will feel that and be comfortable with trusting you with their vacation plans,” said Declare, sharing his number one takeaway from SeaU.

He, too, spent time at the conference building relationships with suppliers, getting to know them on a business and personal level, to find ways of “how we can work together,” he said.

Terry Declare of TravelOnly at SeaU on board Celebrity Beyond. (Supplied)

One stand-out moment for Declare was his first night on the ship when he dined with Brenda Lynne Yeomans, key account manager at Celebrity Cruises Canada, at Eden, a multi-level concept café, restaurant and performance space on Beyond with leafy art installations and soaring panoramic windows.

“The atmosphere, food presentations and flavours were amongst the best I have had at sea!” Declare told PAX.

His plan, coming out of SeaU, is to start checking TravelBrands “at least weekly” to make sure he is providing his clients with the best value, especially for air/cruise bookings.

Brenda Lynne Yeomans, key account manager at Celebrity Cruises Canada (left, second from front) dines with agents on board Beyond at SeaU. (Supplied)

He has also reached out to Tanya States, his TravelBrands BDM, to have her provide more training for his team.

“I would highly recommend SeaU for travel advisors looking to get into the cruise business or looking to expand their business with one-stop shopping!” Declare said.

Knowledge is power 

For Nova Scotia-based Melissa Doucet, a travel consultant with The Travel Agent Next Door, it was her third time attending SeaU – “and I've loved them all!” she said.

She, too, was inspired by Ritzenthaler’s motto that attitude is everything. “It goes a long way in the travel industry,” said Doucet, who also enjoyed dining at Eden with Yeomans.

Melissa Doucet poses in front of Celebrity Beyond. (Supplied)

“I felt so fortunate to meet other amazing agents that love Celebrity as much as I do,” Doucet said. “I loved seeing so many familiar faces from past SeaU cruises.”

When Doucet gets home, her action plan is to review the products she sells. 

“Coming back as an agent after a two-year ‘COVID break’ had me wanting simpler bookings,” she said. “I currently only book all-inclusive packages and cruises. With some great training by TravelBrands, I'm going to look at expanding my products to different packages around the world.”

SAY CHEESE! The 2023 SeaU delegation poses for a group pic. (Supplied)

She also plans to expand her knowledge of other cruise lines. 

“I tend to have my ‘favourites,’ but I now realize that there are a lot more cruise lines out there that can cater to my clients,” she said.

Allan Brooks, national director, market sales – Canada at Celebrity, called SeaU an “incredible and very unique experience.”

“It is always great to connect with our travel partners, but to be able to do it on board this amazing ship is extra special,” he told PAX.

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