Friday,  December 4, 2020  9:26 pm

Travel industry was in a "dangerous place" before COVID: Bruce Poon Tip calls for change at ACTA summit

Travel industry was in a "dangerous place" before COVID: Bruce Poon Tip calls for change at ACTA summit
G Adventures Founder Bruce Poon Tip was the keynote speaker at ACTA's 2020 Leadership Summit.
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 DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.

G Adventures' Founder Bruce Poon Tip believes the travel industry was getting to a “dangerous place” prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, succumbing to a model where people were “selling amenities instead of destinations.”

“People were no longer connected to destinations,” said Poon Tip on Thursday (Nov. 12), addressing attendees, virtually, at the Association of Canadian Travel Agencies’ (ACTA) 2020 Leadership Summit. “I think that’s a very, very dangerous place to be in this industry.”

As the Summit’s keynote speaker, Poon Tip not only acknowledged the value of travel advisors (he, notably, thanked agents for their help when borders closed last March, leaving thousands of G Adventures customers stranded), but also called for an industry-wide change in how travel is perceived and sold.

G Adventures' Founder Bruce Poon Tip appears virtually at ACTA's 2020 Leadership Summit.

“All of you got into this industry because of your passion for showing people the world – because you love and understand the benefits, and beauty, that travel brings into your life,” said Poon Tip, suggesting that, leading up to the coronavirus crisis, the industry had lost its way.

“The industry has changed,” he said. “There’s a push for capacity, more compound resorts, bigger ships and more amenities. Suddenly, we find ourselves selling amenities, learning about all the various things that people can buy outside of where people are going.”

From Broadway shows to endless restaurants to indoor zip-lining to thread counts on sheets: Suddenly, the amenities were more important and we were missing why we love to travel, and the purpose of travel,” said Poon Tip.

The entrepreneur and philanthropist called on the travel industry, and travellers, to relook at travel as something “purposeful” that’s directly linked to destinations.

“There will always be mass and mainstream tourism,” he said. “All we need is a small group of people to change how they look at travel as being more connected to destinations.”

“It’s very exciting to think about all the opportunities that lay on the other side of the pandemic, for all of us.”

Solid advice 

Poon Tip’s advice to travel advisors, especially as the industry pauses amid the COVID-19 pandemic, is to “create a dialogue” with their customers, especially around the topic of mental health.

“Be that light of information to get them feeling safe and comfortable again,” said Poon Tip, who encouraged agents to educate themselves about the latest COVID-19 research that’s out there.

“The role of the travel agent has never been more important,” he said.

ACTA outlines priorities

ACTA’s 2020 Leadership Summit – “Transforming Travel Through Resilience and Innovation” – takes place on Nov. 12 and 13, welcoming travel agents, travel agency owners and managers, consortia leaders, independent contractors, suppliers, and other industry members.

Held in a virtual setting, the Summit features speakers (including government leaders), fireside chats, presentations, networking sessions, prizes and workshops, covering topics that are top of mind in today’s state of the industry.

“The value of travellers working with a professional travel agent or certified travel counsellor has never been more apparent,” said Wendy Paradis, president of ACTA, at Thursday morning’s opening session.

Addressing agents, Paradis noted how the “ACTA team has been with you every step of the way since the start of COVID-19,” attending “hundreds” of meetings to advocate on behalf of the trade.

Wendy Paradis, president of ACTA, welcomes delegates at ACTA's 2020 virtual Leadership Summit.

ACTA’s key priorities, said Paradis, include:

  • Lobbying governments for financial help (including aid that covers the impact of potential commission recalls)
  • Safely restarting the travel industry (the introduction of rapid testing and contact tracing at airports, and reducing the 14-day quarantine order)
  • Encouraging the Canadian government to reduce travel advisories (lifting the blanket ban and determining risk factors, country by country).
  • Evaluating the relationship between agencies and suppliers (including when commission is being paid).

On commissions, in particular, Paradis said: “The current model is no longer sustainable.”

ACTA’s 2020 Leadership Summit runs until Nov. 13.


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