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Monday,  May 20, 2024 9:29 AM 

Jacques Gilbert, days before retirement, attends his last conference

Jacques Gilbert, days before retirement, attends his last conference
Manulife's Jacques Gilbert, days before retiring, attended his last travel conference with The Travel Agent Next Door in Costa Mujeres, Mexico. (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.

After nearly 50 years in the travel industry, Jacques Gilbert, associate vice-president of client relationships at Manulife, is retiring this week. His last day is Friday, April 28, to be exact.

But the travel pro, whose career dates back to the 1970s, isn’t sailing into the sunset without saying his goodbyes.

Gilbert, last week, attended his last travel conference – ever – by representing Manulife at The Travel Agent Next Door’s (TTAND’s) national conference in Costa Mujeres, Mexico.

Karen Salviato, Manulife’s national business development manager, typically attends TTAND’s annual event. However, Salviato was unable to make it due to a scheduling conflict related to a top-performers trip she qualified for.

READ MORE: “Leaving this industry is the toughest thing to do”: Jacques Gilbert announces retirement

So Gilbert, who was already in the Cancun area attending Transat Distribution Canada’s (TDC’s) conference earlier in the week, stepped in to cover. In fact, it was the first time he attended TTAND’s conference (as it was never his account).

But if there was a venue for saying goodbyes, it’s TTAND’s yearly gathering, which, this year, attracted 67 suppliers from 42 companies. People from all corners of the biz were there.

From left: Jacques Gilbert, Manulife; Lindsay Pearlman, TL Network; Sevi Anagnostis, WestJet Vacations at TTAND's 2023 conference. (Pax Global Media)

“I’ve known Jacques for close to 40 years and he has been very successful in what he’s done,” TTAND’s Founder Flemming Friisdahl told PAX at the conference, which wrapped up on Sunday (April 23). “He’s such a good-hearted person.”

READ MORE: “Takeaways for everybody”: TTAND's “Breaking Barriers” conference wraps up in Mexico

Knowing that Gilbert was days away from retirement, and that TTAND would be his last conference (one of many that Gilbert has attended during his career), Friisdahl and his team took a moment to pay tribute to their friend and colleague with a special video (full of archival pics) that was presented to conference attendees (including 240 travel advisors) at a superhero-themed dinner hosted by Air Canada Vacations on Friday (April 21) at Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres.

On top of that (and as a surprise), Friisdahl secretly flew down Gilbert’s wife, Marguerite, to join in on the festivities.  

Jacques and his wife Marguerite enjoy TTAND's conference in Costa Mujeres, Mexico. (Pax Global Media)

A tribute video for Jacques was shared at Grand Palladium Costa Mujeres. (Pax Global Media)

A “champion” for travel agents

“When I started TTAND [nine years ago], I talked to Jacques about insurance and how Manulife could support us. He went to bat to get us the best deal that was possible at that time. And he’s continued to support us, whether it’s sponsoring guest speakers at conferences or our education program where agents can get accredited,” Friisdahl said.  

Friisdahl, whose known Gilbert since the early ’90s, described his colleague as a “champion for all travel agents in Canada.”

“There’s been so many areas where he has supported travel agents because he wants to do the right thing and support to the best of his ability,” Friisdahl said. “It’s a loss for the travel industry when he leaves, but I wanted him to know that we care about him and that we love him.”

From left: Jacques Gilbert, associate VP of client relationships, Manulife; Flemming Friisdahl, founder, TTAND. (Pax Global Media)

Gilbert’s entry into travel dates back to 1975 when he was a ticket counter at Quebec Air. A couple of years later, he moved to Newfoundland, where he worked at Eastern Provincial Airways.

This job, he told PAX, first introduced him to the world of travel agents.

Then, in 1981, he moved to Voyager Insurance as a rep for the Quebec market. This position eventually transferred him to Alberta in 1985, where he worked as a director of sales.

In 1989, he moved to Ontario to become vice-president of sales and chief operating officer at Voyager.

The mid-’90s saw Gilbert transition to Transat Holidays, also in Ontario, where he was vice-president of national sales. Then, in 2002, he became a partner at travel insurance broker Pottruff & Smith, which Gilbert described as “an opportunity of a lifetime”

That firm was acquired by Manulife in 2009 and Gilbert has been at the insurance company ever since.

Speaking to PAX in a previous interview, Gilbert noted how on-the-road conferences – though gruelling at times – are one aspect he’ll particularly miss about the industry.

From left: Lindsay Pearlman, TL Network; Cathy Carter, TTAND; Jacques Gilbert, Manulife. (Pax Global Media)

Such events bring together clients, travel advisors, colleagues and “my family” of suppliers, who have “all become good friends,” he said.

“It’s been a lot of work, I’ve missed birthdays. That was the tough part,” he said. “But the good part was the people…my family away from home.”

PAX caught up with Gilbert at TTAND’s conference, and while he and his wife have retirement plans (their son is due to welcome a second children, which will bring their total number of grandchildren to five), it’s still tough saying goodbye to an industry he loves.

“I’m going miss the industry so much,” Gilbert said. “A job’s a job, but it’s the people who make it. This industry is amazing.”

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