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Sunday,  May 26, 2024 11:31 PM 

VIDEO: Brand USA’s first Canadian MegaFam – interview with Casey Canevari & Jackie Ennis

VIDEO: Brand USA’s first Canadian MegaFam – interview with Casey Canevari & Jackie Ennis
From left: Michael Pihach, managing editor,; Casey Canevari, sr. manager, global trade development, Brand USA; Jackie Ennis, VP, global trade development, Brand USA. (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.

Brand USA’s first-ever MegaFam for Canadian travel advisors concluded in Texas last Thursday (April 18) with a round of show and tell.

The week-long experience divided 55 agents into six groups, who participated in six unique itineraries across the United States. But for the grand finale, everyone piled into planes and met up in Houston for a wrap party and dinner, where representatives from each group got up on stage to share what they learned about their experience.

“Oh my god. We had such a fabulous time,” said Lynda Tomilin of Independent Flight Centre (soon to be Envoyage), speaking to PAX at the music-filled event, which unfolded at Houston’s Downtown Aquarium.

The teams from Brand USA, Visit Houston, Air Canada and United Airlines gather at the Downtown Aquarium in Houston. (Pax Global Media)

Tomilin participated in an itinerary called “As Seen On Screen,” which took her and nearly ten other agents on a California adventure through the theme parks of Burbank and Anaheim, and to sunny San Diego.

From left: Air Canada's Tim Liu, Brand USA's Jackie Ennis; Air Canada's Audrey Tanguay Beaudette & Ana Paula De Souza. (Pax Global Media)

Beyond rubbing shoulders with Disney’s bold-faced names – from Mickey Mouse to Donald Duck to Goofy – what Tomilin loved most about her itinerary was rediscovering San Diego – and seeing the city through a whole new lens.

READ MORE: On Location -“It’s brilliant”: Canadian agents gather in Houston, Texas for Brand USA’s MegaFam finale

“I got a totally different perspective,” said Tomilin, who, growing up in Western Canada, had some previous knowledge of America’s Pacific Coast. “It’s so beautiful. The beaches, the people…I would not hesitate sending anyone there.”

Agents experience Jurassic World at Universal Studios Hollywood. (Supplied)

America – more than you think you know

Canadians have long visited popular U.S. cities like New York City, Miami, San Francisco or Los Angeles, or have moved to warm climate states like Arizona and Florida as seasonal snowbirds.

But that only covers a fraction of what America, as a tourist destination, has to offer, says the team at Brand USA. 

This is where the MegaFam for the travel trade comes into play.

READ MORE: On Location - “I’m blown away”: Brand USA kicks off first Canadian MegaFam with six itineraries

“There’s a lot more to see and do than what people think they know,” said Casey Canevari, senior manager, global trade development at Brand USA, which is the official destination marketing organization for the U.S.

Casey Canevari, senior manager, global trade development at Brand USA. (Pax Global Media)

The six itineraries offered on this year’s MegaFam (which agents had to apply and qualify for) were “Western Wonders: Peaks and Plains” (Denver, Fort Collins, CO and Cheyenne, WY); “Cityscapes and Coastlines” (Washington, D.C., Annapolis, MD and Philadelphia, PA); “Route 66, Landmarks and Bourbon” (Chicago, Springfield, St. Louis, IL and Louisville, KY); “Secret Trails – Backroads, Bayous and Beaches” (New Orleans, Lafayette, Lake Charles, LA and Galveston, TX); “Sands and Sunsets” (Phoenix and Flagstaff, AZ and Las Vegas, NV); and the aforementioned California itinerary.

Each adventure was packed with known (and not-so-known) activities that connected agents with local life in an authentic way.

Agents experience Texan hospitality at Goode Company Armadillo Palace in Houston. (Pax Global Media)

“It’s experiential storytelling,” as Canevari put it. “It’s taking people, boots on the ground, and showing them what there is to see and do all throughout the United States – because there is so much to see. You cross one border, and it’s like being in a new country.”

The biggest misconception about the United States is that “you think you know it,” Canevari told PAX.

“I’m 42-years-old, I’ve lived here my entire life, and I still don’t fully know the United States,” he said.

A Canadian first

This year’s MegaFam, created in partnership with Brand USA’s tourism board partners, as well as codeshare partners Air Canada and United Airlines (which provided the lift), was important as it was the first one designed for the Canadian trade.

Canada, as a transborder market, is the United States’ number one market for international visitors. Last year, some 25 million Canadians visited the sprawling country, Canevari said.

Canadian agents gather at the Downtown Aquarium in Houston, Texas. (Pax Global Media)

Speaking with PAX, Jackie Ennis, vice-president of global trade development at Brand USA, called Canada “an incredibly important market.”

“I think the pandemic made everyone have a little reset on how important that market is,” Ennis said. “We don’t ever want to take Canadian visitation for granted.”

From left: Jorge Franz, Visit Houston; Casey Canevari, Brand USA; Katie Streater, Brand USA; Norma Ponce, Visit Houston; Grace Muniu, Brand USA; Jerod Fuchs, Brand USA; Audrey Tanguay Beaudette, Air Canada; Yazdan Bakhtiary, Air Canada; Coralis Rivera-Aponte, Brand USA; Laura Haces, Visit Houston; Luke Hennig, Brand USA; Shandra Mitchell, Brand USA; Shandra Mitchell, Visit Houston; Daniel Taylor, Visit Houston; Kevin Pohlmann, Air Canada. (Pax Global Media)

One could argue that the United States is primarily a market for consumers. However: “We feel strongly that there’s an opportunity to inspire the travel trade to talk about the USA in an entirely different way,” Ennis said. “We want to inspire [Canadians] to visit the gateways, but also go beyond the getaways and visit those hidden gems.”

This, Ennis explained, is where Brand USA sees value in working more closely with Canadian travel advisors.

Kristina Ziegler of Stonetown Travel enjoys Red Rocks park. (Pax Global Media)

“The travel trade are so important – especially post pandemic,” Ennis said. “Travellers are looking to the trade as that trusted third party, they want that reassurance and expertise. They want to go with someone they trust.”

“We want to tap into that client base and work with the trade so they have the confidence to sell different aspects of the United States.”

PAX on location

PAX joined agents on the “Western Wonders” route and unpacked a world of mountainous (and flat) landscapes.

Clean and pedestrian-friendly Denver, called "The Mile-High City" because its elevation is one mile above sea level, was established during the gold discoveries of late 1858. It’s about an hour-and-a-half drive away from Rocky Mountain National Park. 

The city has a comfortable climate (300 days of sunshine), a booming beer scene (there’s more than 100 craft breweries, brewpubs and taprooms in the metro area), art galleries galore and several Michelin-rated restaurants.

Canadian agents explore Denver, Colorado. (Pax Global Media)

It’s also sports central: there are six professional sports teams — Denver Broncos football, Denver Nuggets basketball, Colorado Rockies baseball, Colorado Avalanche hockey, Colorado Mammoth lacrosse and Colorado Rapids soccer. Five of them play in the city (whereas the Colorado Rapids play in Commerce City, some 20 minutes away).

The abundance of arenas and other venues – including nearby Red Rocks Amphitheatre, an open-air venue that’s flanked by red sandstone rock formations – is also a draw for some of music’s biggest names.

Showing off Colorado's flag at Red Rock State Park. (Pax Global Media)

Fort Collins, meanwhile, is a city in northern Colorado with an Old Town district (which served as the inspiration for "Main Street U.S.A." at Disney's theme parks)

Situated on the Cache La Poudre River, the city is also a beer capital (home to the New Belgium Brewing Company, the fourth-largest craft brewery in the U.S.), and a cycling destination.

Cycling along the Cache La Poudre River in Fort Collins. (Pax Global Media)

But everything changed once we entered Cheyenne, Wyoming – the cowboy state where howdy stirs the whiskey drink.

Arriving in Wyoming. (Pax Global Media)

Old West meets New West in Cheyenne, the train-track capital, where bronze statues, honouring local heritage, sit on almost every corner.

“It’s a small-town vibe with big city amenities, where locals are very approachable,” said Andi Jaspersen, head of industry relations at Visit Cheyenne. “You can ask people questions without feeling out of place.”

Unpacking downtown Cheyenne. (Pax Global Media)

Cheyenne may only have 65,000 residents, but during Frontier Days — “the world’s largest outdoor rodeo”- in July, it welcomes half a million.

It’s a steak-loving state (this is cattle country, remember) where wide-open fields and big blue skies dominate the landscape.

The past remains preserved at the Frontier Days Old West Museum, which has exhibits about early rodeos and artifacts, such as 19th-century passenger wagons.

Checking out the Frontier Days Old West Museum. (Pax Global Media)

In Cheyenne, Western Americana is celebrated – Wild. J Trading, downtown, is a “Hat Bar,” where visitors can “walk the west with confidence” by purchasing (and accessorizing) their own cowboy/girl hat.

(By the way, if you want to make friends in these parts, just wear a cowboy/girl hat. Our group wore hats all throughout our visit – including Denver airport – and got showered with smiles and compliments).

At Emma's Old Time Photos, you can actually dress up like a Wild West cowboy or cowgirl at a vintage photo session - period costumes included!

Agents living their Wild West fantasy at Emma's Old Time Photos.

Cheyenne is also a gateway to incredible wildlife. At Terry Bison Ranch, we boarded a train and encountered a herd of bison, which we all got to feed.

And it’s a beer and bourbon paradise – Pine Bluffs Distilling offers a behind-the-scenes look at how to make whisky, while Westby Edge Brewing, run by female brew master Brennan Westby, serves up fresh ambers and blonde brews.

Feeding bison at Terry Bison Ranch. (Pax Global Media)

Calling the bison at Terry Bison Ranch. (Pax Global Media)

Enjoying a brew at Westby Edge Brewing. (Pax Global Media)

Diverse experiences like this are what bring Brand USA’s MegaFam itineraries to life. But for Heather Cooper of the Travel Edge Network (who was on the “Backroads, Bayous and Beaches” trip in Louisiana), it was the locals who left a lasting impression.  

“Everybody who lives in these individual parishes and cities loves where they live,” she said. “They all have that passion. Every host, every tour…They love where they are.”

“It makes you want to learn more, experience more and come back.”

Want to see more from the exciting trip? Watch PAX’s interview with Brand USA’s Casey Canevari and Jackie Ennis in Houston, Texas here!

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