It’s the People’s Choice Awards of the Canadian travel industry.
For the past 15 years, PAX Global Media has celebrated the best of the best in our industry with its annual Awards of Excellence, each year honouring a range of travel professionals in several unique categories.
These awards are the most anticipated honours in the Canadian travel industry – and the only one of its kind to be promoted across three platforms: PAXnews.com, PAXnouvelles.com and PAXnewsWest.com.
For the past month, travel pros were encouraged to nominate themselves (or a colleague) in recognition of their contributions to the industry over the past year, and then cast a vote.
It’s been a nail-biting few weeks as hundreds of nominees put their best face forward, garnering thousands of votes from travel professionals nationwide.
But as all awards seasons go, only a select few can be crowned winners.
The people have spoken, and so without further ado…
…drum roll, please...
The winners of this year’s PAX Awards of Excellence are:
Travel Agent of the Year – Holly McBean (TravelOnly)
“I’m shocked! I know the competition was very stiff,” Holly McBean told PAX over the phone when she was notified of her big win. McBean has been a travel agent for 41 years, and for 21 of those years, she’s been a much-loved member of the TravelOnly family. “I want to thank everybody in the industry who voted for me,” said McBean, who leads TravelOnly’s training department.
As a travel agent with two decades of experience, McBean said the key to her success is “listening to my clients and their needs, learning about new products daily, and creating relationships with clients and preferred suppliers.”
Her advice to agents who are new to the industry or who want to boost their sales? “Travel a lot and gain knowledge of what you’re selling,” she said. “Do not be a travel agent in every single facet. It’s too much.” She also advises agents to embrace social media and to get more involved in their communities. “Join meeting groups,” she said. And, of course: “Align yourself with the best host agency or travel company that works for you.”
Reservations Agent of the Year – Holly McCullough (Exotik Journeys, Travelbrands)
“It’s really incredible to have that much support within the industry,” said Holly McCullough, speaking with PAX. McCullough is the friendly voice on the phone agents hear when they call in for expertise on travel to Asia, Africa, the Middle East, Europe and South America.
Her secret to success? “Have a fast response time and be honest,” she said. “It’s not about trying to oversell things people may not need, but [rather] working with them.” Qualifying clients with an impactful proposal by obtaining as much information from them as possible, in advance, is key “so you can tailor [a trip] to the pictures they have in their mind,” she said. On top of that, “being as personable as possible over the phone” can go a long way. “Really be there if something goes wrong,” she advised. “When people feel they have that extra layer of support, they react well.”
Representative of the Year – Michelle Lanoue Williams (Unique Vacations Inc., Sandals/Beaches Resorts)
“Get out! Oh my gosh,” exclaimed Michelle Lanoue Williams when PAX called to notify her of her big win. Lanoue Williams was shocked when she found out she won Representative of the Year, but said “it feels amazing,” adding that she loves working with her community of travel agents. “They are what make me get up and go to work. They’re so giving and I can always rely on them to do what’s needed,” said Lanoue Williams, who is a business development manager for Southwestern Ontario. "They will jump mountains to make sure they’re there to support Sandals and Beaches...and me. And that is absolutely amazing.”
Making it in the travel business “really comes down to relationships,” Lanoue Williams said. “If you don’t have a good relationship with your clients and your accounts, you’re up against the wall,” she said. There’s also lots to be said about “being real,” she noted. “I share what’s happening in my life and I listen,” she said. “You have to listen to your clients and be empathetic. That’s what makes a really good representative.”
Rookie of the Year – Natalie Mousa (Transat Travel, Coquitlam, BC)
Natalie Mousa started her career as a travel professional just recently after working in sales at various other companies. “I feel very grateful and fortunate that I’m representing Transat. I think it’s an amazing company,” Mousa told PAX. On her first impressions of the travel industry, Mousa said: “I can tell why people never leave. It’s a fantastic place filled with people who are really passionate.”
Her advise to people who are considering a career in travel? “If you have a passion for it, don’t wait,” she said. “Put yourself out there and travel as much as you can to get that experience. Don’t hold yourself back. Put yourself through all the experiences that life has to offer.”
Social Media Guru of the Year – Freddie Marsh (Playa Hotels & Resorts)
“I’m smiling ear-to-ear,” said Freddie Marsh, who was eating lunch and touring the Hyatt Ziva & Zilara Cap Cana in Dominican Republic when he received the good news. “It feels fabulous to be recognized by my peers.”
As a business development manager for Western Canada, Marsh covers a lot of ground (his territory runs from British Columbia to Manitoba). “So social media is an extremely important way for me to stay connected with travel agent partners, especially those who I don’t see on a regular basis,” Marsh told PAX. “Social media lets travel agents know that I’m accessible and I am available to help them grow their Playa business.”
Marsh calls social media “a priority” as he tries to post every day to keep Playa Resorts top of mind in the travel trade community. “I like to use Facebook live about once a week and I treat it as a short ‘virtual sales call,’ letting travel agents know about anything new or any special promotions,” he said. He also stressed the importance of making social media fun. “As an example, last summer we ran our “Amanda Who” campaign, which was a great way to stay connected and relevant in a fun way during a typically slower time of the year,” Marsh said.
His advice to agents who are trying to up their social media game? “Playa Resorts has an incredible media library available to travel agents on our agent site (www.agentcashplus.com). We have loads of high-resolution photos and videos from all of our resorts. This professional content is perfect for social media and the best part, it’s free!” he said. “Pick a resort and post one beautiful photo or video per day for an entire week. We now have 20 resorts, so there is your social media for almost half a year.”
Personality of the last 15 Years – Zeina Gedeon (Travel Professionals International)
“This is an incredible honour to be recognized for the third time as the Personality of the Year by PAX Global Media,” said Zeina Gedeon, who was in Turks and Caicos when she found out about her award. “Agents know a good thing when they see it.”
Gedeon, who is CEO of Travel Professionals International (TPI), said she is “grateful” for all the travel agents and people she has had the pleasure of working and interacting with over the years. “To those who voted for me and believed that I am the Personality of the Year, thank-you from the bottom of my heart for this honour,” she said.
PAX Global Media would like to thank everyone who participated in this year's Awards of Excellence!
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