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Friday,  July 19, 2024 4:28 PM 

On Location: “An amazing journey”: Awards & trailblazing at Trevello’s conference & 30th anniversary

On Location: “An amazing journey”: Awards & trailblazing at Trevello’s conference & 30th anniversary
From left (of Trevello): Caroline Hay, GM, cruise division; Zeina Gedeon, president & CEO, aboard the Ruby Princess. (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.

“It’s been an amazing journey. If it wasn’t for having the best advisors in the world, we wouldn’t be here today,” said Zeina Gedeon, president and CEO of Trevello Travel Group.

The power of partnerships lit up the royally-appointed Ruby Princess Monday night (May 6) as Trevello’s 2024 “Trailblazing” conference – which doubled as the company’s 30th anniversary – came to an inspiring close.

As the Crown-Class ship operated by Princess Cruises glided off the coast of British Columbia, returning from a week-long voyage in the whale and ice-filled channels of Alaska, some 215 travel advisors, 55 suppliers, and guests celebrated success at an Awards Gala that was held in the vessel’s Princess Theatre, where the host agency’s advisors and top performers were honoured.

Trevello's Chairman's Circle group take the stage on board Ruby Princess. (Pax Global Media)

Addressing the glammed-up delegation (many of whom wore pearls, a traditional 30-year anniversary symbol) on stage, Caroline Hay, general manager, cruise division at Trevello noted how this year’s awards come on the heels of a “blockbuster banner year” as agents, capturing the post-COVID demand for travel in 2023, broke sales records.

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

Success “comes in different shapes and sizes,” said Hay, noting how the evening, regardless of one’s bottom line, was about celebrating “each and everyone one of you.”

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

Awards were delegated to advisors and suppliers (as voted on by Trevello’s network), covering sales achievements in all segments of travel (no physical trophies or plaques were given out, however. Trevello, instead, made donation to Planeterra, a non-profit community tourism organization, in each winner’s name).

See the winner’s list here:

Top Individual InsuranceTerry Coles
Top Team Insurance Dream Vacations
Top Individual Service Fee Angela Landry  
Top Team Service Fee  Northern Allied Nunavut Travel
Top Individual Margin Johnny Ioannou 
Top Team Margin Women's Travel Club -
Top Individual Air Penny Rees  
Top Team AirNorthern Allied Nunavut Travel
Top Individual HotelKim Hartlen 
Top Team HotelTravel Time Agency
Top Individual Guided VacationsShriley Noel
Top Team Guided VacationsLa Dolce Vita
Top Individual Cruise SalesKim Paquette
Top Team Cruise SalesDream Vacations
Top Individual Tour Operator Jeanine Crowell
Top Team Tour Operator Above and Beyond  

As voted by advisors
Best Training ProgramPrincess Cruises
Best AirlineAir Canada   
Best Speciality PartnerVirtuoso
Best Hotel PartnerInclusive Collection
Best  FIT /Consolidator PartnerTourcan Vacations
Best Guided Vacation PartnerG Adventures
Best Ocean or River CruiseAmaWaterways
Best Tour Operator PartnerAir Canada Vacations & Westjet Vacations
Social Media ExcellenceAshley Doell
Trailblazer of CollaborationSheila Henson-Lamirande
Community ChampionCarol Mackay & Jaime Murphy
Rising StarAlison Berk
Outstanding Account ManagerKrista Rothfuchs, Air Canada Vacations

Highest Growth IndividualDeanna Collarile
Highest Growth TeamDream Vacations
Rookie of the Year Karen Gaudet
Team Member of the YearSarah-Dawn Theissen
Best Overall Partner  AmaWaterways
Individual of the YearKristy Perring 
Team of the YearNorthern Allied Nunavut Travel
Trailblazer of Partner Excellence Sandals & Beaches
Trailblazer of DedicationCarl Henderson

The Trailblazer of Dedication award went to Carl Henderson (left); Alison Berk (right) was named Trevello's Rising Star. (Pax Global Media)

Queen Zeina Gedeon, president and CEO of Trevello Travel Group. (Pax Global Media)

30 years of trailblazing

Trevello, previously known as Travel Professionals International (or “TPI”), until it rebranded in 2022, was founded by Morris Chia in 1994 when the travel industry was on the verge of transformation thanks to a then-new concept called the internet.

It was during this time that Chia introduced a new agency model that would anticipate the effects of the internet on the traditional travel advisor.

As Chia told PAX in a feature interview in 2019, his approach involved taking the 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.

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

“We were something new and people didn’t think it would work,” Chia said years back. 

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.

The company’s sales and marketing team realigned in 2018 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.

Victor Tootoo, president and CEO of Northern Allied Nunavut Travel Inc. (left), pours champagne to celebrate Trevello's 30th anniversary. (Pax Global Media)

Chia was unable to attend Trevello’s conference and  anniversary due to illness, but he did express his gratitude in a video message that was played last night for attendees.

“As we celebrate our 30th year together, I’m filled with gratitude for each and every one of you, starting with Queen Zeina, our head office team, our advisors and our supplier partners,” Chia said in his message. “Your dedication, passion, and commitment have been the driving force of our success. I’m confident, together, we will achieve greater height in the years to come.”

Sales are strong

Trevello’s conferences comes as the company sees a rise in business. Last year, sales were up 48 per cent and commissions were up 63 per cent over 2022, Gedeon shared.  

And first quarter trends for 2024 remain positive, with sales up 11 per cent and commissions up by 10 per cent (over 2023).

From left (of Trevello Travel Group): Caroline Hay, GM, cruise division; Zeina Gedeon, president & CEO. (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 are up year over year. But they’re not as significant as the company’s Q1 cruise sales, which are up 46 per cent, Gedeon said.

Celebrating Trailblazers

The “Trailblazing” theme that was chosen for Trevello’s conference aboard the Ruby Princess – which left Vancouver for Alaska on April 30, making stops in mountainous Juneau, Skagway and Ketchikan, returning Tuesday (May 7) – had multiple meanings.

Partnering with Princess Cruises, with Alaska as a feature destination, tied into themes of discovery and entrepreneurship, Hay said.  

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

“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 told agents at last week’s kick-off, which, appropriately, landed on Travel Advisor Day (May 1) “They’re entrepreneurs that had to have the right tools and sustenance.”

Agents, over the past week (and blessed with mostly-pristine weather) followed the trail of Alaska’s gold rush (on the White Pass railway in Skagway, for example).

Cruising the waters of Alaska. (Pax Global Media)

 Exploring Alaska's landscapes on the White Pass railway. (Jonathan Sargeant)

And, faced with an agenda packed with supplier presentations, one-on-ones, workshops and meetings (some 800 were held this week, Hay said), advisors unearthed “golden nuggets” in their business plans, whether it meant finding a perfect customer or nailing down an effective sales strategy.

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

But it all loops back to Trevello’s original trailblazer, Morris Chia, whose model for independent travel advisors wasn’t fully embraced in the early 1990s.

Whales spotted in the waters of Alaska. (Nicole Bursey)

“When Morris started this, people laughed at him,” Gedeon told PAX. “He had to really work to get advisors to join TPI [as it was then known]. Even the ones who joined were skeptical about what he could do. Obviously, we have proven everyone wrong.”

One thing Gedeon, now six years into her leadership role at Trevello, has learned over the years, is that it’s “not about the number of advisors” a host agency has.  

The Trevello team on board the Ruby Princess. (Pax Global Media)

“It’s not about quantity, it’s about quality,” she told PAX. “The advisors we have are really phenomenal.”

She said her biggest accomplishment, over the years, was getting Trevello through the COVID-19 crisis. It's something she shares with her team and the Trevello network. 

“It’s a pat on the back for me, our team and our advisors. Because we survived it,” she said.

“It’s all about relationships”

Trevello’s conferences, which present a balance of fun and learning, are designed so advisors can lock in relationships – both with Trevello’s head office staff and suppliers.

“Our conference is not nine to five every day,” Gedeon said. “The purpose is to get advisors talking to partners. It’s all about relationships, especially for independent contractors. You’re home all day. You want to create those personal connections.”

Advisors also learn from each other through open-mic panel discussions (one of which PAX has recapped here).

From left: Trevello travel advisors Tom O’Connell, Karen Tatum, Erin Novodvorsky and Juanita Martin with panel moderator Susan Lawson, Trevello's director of engagement. (Pax Global Media)

And while there’s a serious component, the conference still cranks up the fun with themed events at night, from a wild ’90s party to a Love Boat and nautical-themed karaoke bash.

The Love Boat came to life at Trevello's conference. (Pax Global Media)

A competitive Duck Hunt challenge (where advisors had to answer clues and seek out rubber ducks that were assigned to suppliers) also unfolded on board. 

This year’s event saw 11 suppliers attend Trevello’s conference for the first time.

(Pax Global Media)

This group included 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. 

There was also some 60 new-to-industry advisors who have joined the travel industry within the past two years.

Trevello’s Launch Pad program, which debuted two years ago, has helped retain new talent with “more hand holding” and targeted training “so they can learn the products,” Gedeon explained.

But there were legacy advisors on board, too. Agents who have been with Trevello for 20 to 25 years. “They are our anchors, our foundation,” Gedeon said.

(Pax Global Media)

(Pax Global Media)

Cooperative, not competitive

The feeling of belonging to a family is what has kept Ontario-based Terry Coles, creator of Life Itself Travel, with Trevello for twenty years.

“The support we get from head office, and the camaraderie between advisors, is spectacular,” said Coles, a cruise specialist. “We could all be competitive, but we're not. We're cooperative. Everybody celebrates everyone's successes, and everyone is willing to share the knowledge they have so you, too, can improve your business.”  

Terry Coles, creator of Life Itself Travel. (Pax Global Media)

Attending conferences to hear from suppliers and peers is “priceless,” said Coles, who has attended “at least ten” of Trevello’s symposiums over the years.

His favourite activity are the advisor panels. “It’s a great experience because it's not someone speaking at us. It's my peers, sharing stories of what works for them,” Coles said. “Sometimes I learn something I've never thought about doing before.”

Finding success in community  

Halifax-based Debbie Ford, of All Your Travel Needs, has been with Trevello for 16 years now. “They're always there for you,” Ford said. “They stay up to date on all the new technology and marketing.”

Ford has attended every Trevello conference (with exception to four) since joining the host agency.

She loves the opportunity to network with her peers. “Which is great,” she said, “because when you’re coast-to-coast, working from home, you don’t always get to know each other.”

It’s a good time to make new connections, and strategize. Ford said 2023 was her busiest year yet. “People are travelling more than once a year, they’re spending money on experiences,” she said.

From left: Travel advisors Shauna Sharp and Debbie Ford. (Pax Global Media)

Alberta-based Shauna Sharp of Rock-It Travel, which specializes in destination weddings and honeymoons, has also noticed a spike in sales coming out of COVID.

The biggest trend she has noticed since travel restarted is the size of destination weddings. “Before COVID, it was 30 people. Now, it’s 80-90 people,” she said.  

Sharp has turned to Trevello’s team for support for 15 years now. “The biggest gift at Trevello is that we are a family,” Sharp said. “We don't compete against each other. We love each other. And that's the biggest reason I stay with them.”

Trevello’s partnership with luxury consortium Virtuoso, which Sharp is a member of, also offers a “gift that no other no other host agency can give you.”

Then there’s new-to-industry advisors like Manitoba-based Sherry Hodge, who joined Trevello less than a year ago after a successful 35-year career in the communications industry.

Sherry Hodge. (Pax Global Media)

Leveraging her sales background, and contacts from her previous job and daughter’s hockey team, Hodge, in her first year as owner of Sherry’s Travel Offers, sold almost $600,000 in travel – mostly by promoting herself on Facebook.

Her “ah ha” moment at the conference was experiencing the Alaskan cruise itself. Hodge said there are 12 seniors in her hometown who are interested in cruise travel, but don’t want to deal with trip logistics, like apps.

“They know basic technology, but it's overwhelming for them, so they’ll go to South Beach or a casino,” Hodge explained. “Versus trying to do something more spectacular.”

This is where Hodge sees an opportunity to flex her muscles as an advisor, saying she intends to promote an Alaskan cruise the moment she gets home (and work on selling some land-based trips with G Adventures and Exoticca).

On “trailblazing,” Hodge sees big opportunities in her small community back home. “When you're from a small town, you kind of blaze that trail,” she said, “because whatever I do, other people follow. It’s interesting.”

Conference 2025 & “something big”

Trevello’s 2025 conference will be held at Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara Rose Hall in Montego Bay, Jamaica from May 4-9 (Playa’s BDM for Western Canada, Freddie Marsh, was on board this week to share the news).

Freddie Marsh, BDM, Western Canada, Playa Hotels & Resorts. (Pax Global Media)

While this year’s gathering celebrated success, it landed two months ahead of “something big” that will be revealed soon, said Gedeon in her opening remarks last week.

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

Meanwhile, Trevello is sticking to its plan to expand into the U.S., a strategy that was first announced in 2022 when the company rebranded.

"We’re still forging ahead,” Gedeon told PAX. “There’s a lot of licensing involved, the contracts for advisors [in the U.S.] are very different. We’re getting this done before we really launch. We don’t want to do something half-assed. It’s a huge market, and we look forward to really growing there.”

To see more pictures from Trevello’s “Trailblazing” conference and 30th anniversary, visit and “like” PAX’s Facebook page here.

Stay tuned for more of PAX’s coverage.

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