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Friday,  May 17, 2024 9:42 PM 

“Access to the world”: TravelBrands Agent Appreciation event unpacks tech, tools & sales tips

“Access to the world”: TravelBrands Agent Appreciation event unpacks tech, tools & sales tips
From left (of TravelBrands): Elvi Cal, sr. VP, product & commercial; Tony Saunders, CFO; Sam Youssef, SVP, marketing & partnerships; Diane Lattavo, chief air commercial officer; Nathalie Tanious, president & CEO; Hideo Hatano, executive officer (H.I.S. Co., Ltd); Mike Miljak, chief information officer. (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.

“Our success has been thanks to your outstanding support,” said Nathalie Tanious, president and CEO of TravelBrands, an H.I.S.-Red Label Vacations company “Through thick and thin, you've been with us, you've supported us, and you've grown with us. We want to ensure we always offer you excellence”

That message set the tone for the Toronto stop of TravelBrands’ Agent Appreciation event series, which welcomed more than 550 travel advisors and 91 suppliers Tuesday night (April 9) at Paramount EventSpace in Vaughan, ON.

The go-go-go gathering – one of two fully-booked events happening this week, the second edition unfolds tonight (April 10) in Montreal – featured a shoulder-to-shoulder trade show, travel giveaways, training opportunities and company updates.

Nathalie Tanious, president and CEO of TravelBrands. (Pax Global Media)

Tying it all together is TravelBrands’ promise to improve customer service for the trade through new technology and tools.

“I love to say that we have all the products in the world, but if we don't offer you the customer service you deserve, [then] we have nothing,” said Tanious, standing on a stage, addressing a ballroom full of travel professionals – some of whom travelled great distances to attend.

READ MORE: “We're in a good place": TravelBrands’ Nathalie Tanious talks tech, trends & smart strategies

Everything TravelBrands is doing (and plans to do) is linked to the overarching theme of giving travel advisors “Access To The World” (those very words appeared on stage last night in glowing letters).

Travel advisors learn about company updates at TravelBrands' Agent Appreciation event at Paramount EventSpace. (Pax Global Media)

TravelBrands sells a range travel options, including flights, hotels, cruises, attractions, rail passes, car rentals and more.

“We know some of you only think of us for air, some of you think of us for cruise or FIT packages, but the reality is, we are that company that can be your one-stop shop,” said Bruce Lidberg, director of sales for Western Canada and Ontario, addressing the room. “No matter what type of client you have, or type of travel they're looking for, we can do it for you.”

Lidberg, alongside Lina Côté, director of sales for Quebec, Atlantic Canada and Ontario, reviewed some of the new services TravelBrands is rolling out – some of which have already been implemented.

Find favourable fares on GiGi

For starters, upgrades have been made to TravelBrands’ air consolidation system, GiGi, which now includes a calculator that agents can use to add up airfare prices and display differences.

In addition to calculating favourable fares for clients, agents can use GiGi to email documents and itineraries. It also assists clients when they need help.

To get the point across, TravelBrands set up a “GiGi room” last night where developers were on hand to walk agents through the system and answer questions.

From left (of TravelOnly): Robert Rizzo , Dashnor Hasku, Shannon Smith, Barb Scrocco, Gregory Luciani & Bujar Zejnullahu. (Pax Global Media)

GiGi aims to simplify an agents’ workflow, so “definitely use it as a selling feature,” Côté told the audience.

“It's peace of mind for you when selling, and for your clients, knowing that it provides assistance all throughout a vacation,” she said.

GiGi, which soft launched last year, is just one item on TravelBrands’ list of tech upgrades.

Last year, the company released a new and improved Access+ platform, which debuted enhancements such as a hotel search widget, dynamic fly and drive packages, the integration of loyalty points, river cruise booking options, and a redesigned dashboard.

Access+ now has a “fly and drive” feature that allows agents to book air and car in one transaction, and TravelBrands is adding vacation rentals – a product that is “gaining in popularity,” Lidberg noted.

To complement its toolbox, TravelBrands is also reintroducing 24/7 service so agents can turn to a team if something in their bookings go awry.

Fraud prevention

Lidberg reviewed a new fraud prevention tool that agents can find on Access+.

A red “Fraud Check” button has been added to the “My Bookings” page that will prompt a screen requesting details (such as credit card and client information) about a particular file.

Bruce Lidberg, director of sales for Western Canada and Ontario at TravelBrands. (Pax Global Media)

The tool will then display a score, outlining the probability of fraud occurring, Lidberg said.

“No tool is foolproof, but this is just something extra to assist you,” he said.

Cruise is “booming”

When it came to time to talk about TravelBrands Encore Cruises, a long-time wholesaler in Canada, Lidberg revealed that cruise sales are up 27 per cent this year.

“If you're not selling cruises, you’ve got to start doing it because it is booming out there,” Lidberg told the audience.

One trend TravelBrands is seeing with its cruise sales is more bookings with air included, which Lidberg credited to the company’s air-sea protection program.

Travel advisors Karen Grant and Lorna Lane on the scene. (Pax Global Media)

This is a guarantee to clients that should they encounter a flight cancellation, delay or disruption, and they can’t get to their cruise, that TravelBrands will step in and get them there (or at least to their next port).  

“The best thing is, there’s no additional fee for that. It’s all included,” Lidberg said.

The company is adding more “cheat sheets,” rate charts and PDFs to its cruise platform to assist agents.

But what’s making a splash at Encore right now, Lidberg shared, are the exclusive offers. “These are what you need to be checking out,” he said.

Every Monday, TravelBrands’ cruise tab is updated with two to three pages of exclusive offers “that you’re only going to get if you book through Encore,” Lidberg said.

More than 90 suppliers set up shop at Paramount EventSpace. (Pax Global Media)

The offers can be anything from discounted fares and onboard credits to upgrades and commission incentives, he said.

Lidberg also spilled a “little secret” – Encore Cruises has added friends and family, and travel agent rates.

“Check it out,” Lidberg told the room. “You’re going to find 50, 60 to 70 per cent in savings. These are all cruises and cabins that we blocked a long, long time ago. If you compare it to pricing in the market right now, you could be saving your clients 50 per cent.”

“Tremendous growth” at Exotik Journeys

Another TravelBrands product that’s succeeding is Exotik Journeys, which designs custom vacation experiences in destinations all over the world.

“We’re seeing tremendous growth nationally, [including] here in Ontario,” Côté said.

Lina Côté, director of sales for Quebec, Atlantic Canada and Ontario, TravelBrands. (Pax Global Media)

The program, which has added a new function for exclusive departures, works directly with travel advisors on itineraries from start to finish, Côté explained.

Still active is Exotik Journeys’ Choose a TRAVEL PERK campaign, which offers travel perks exclusively for consumers booking select Exotik products through their travel agency of choice.

On now until April 30, 2024, the campaign allows travellers to enhance their trip with freebies, such as Premium Lounge passes, room upgrades, and even cooking classes in select destinations.

The race is on

Capping off the night was the launch of TravelBrands’ “Amazing Agent Race" promo, an incentive aimed at recognizing and rewarding top performers.

The company says its top-selling agent during the month of April (until April 26, 2024) will win a grand prize of one million Loyalty Rewards points (which has a value of $10,000, Côté shared).

The second-place winner will secure roundtrip airfare with Air Canada, while the third-place winner will receive a $500 future travel voucher.

The winners will be announced on May 1, 2024, in celebration of Travel Agent Day. 

From left (of TravelBrands): Elvi Cal, sr. VP, product & commercial; Tony Saunders, CFO; Sam Youssef, SVP, marketing & partnerships; Diane Lattavo, chief air commercial officer; Nathalie Tanious, president & CEO; Hideo Hatano, executive officer (H.I.S. Co., Ltd); Mike Miljak, chief information officer. (Pax Global Media)

“We believe that this initiative will not only incentivize excellence but also foster a sense of excitement and celebration within the travel agent community,” said Tanious previously.

“Launching 'The Amazing Agent Race' during our Agent Appreciation Events was a strategic decision aimed at harnessing the newfound momentum among attendees, further solidifying our commitment to their success."

TravelBrands’ second Agent Appreciation Event takes place tonight (April 10) in Montreal at Plaza Centre-Ville.

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