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.
Two Canadian travel advisors that have made their communities better places took home some well-deserved hardware on Saturday night (Dec. 3) at a masquerade gala that was held to cap off AMResorts’ 2022 “Amazing Agent Celebration” in the Dominican Republic.
Shalene Dudley, owner of Ontario-based Latitude Concierge Travels, and Julie Théberge, owner of Club Voyages Montmagny and Club Voyages St-Jean Chrysostome in Quebec, both won awards at the resort chain’s “Be Amazing” dinner at Dreams Macao Beach Punta Cana, which hosted the celebration from Dec. 1-4.
Dudley was honoured for inspiring leadership and promoting diversity in tourism.
During the pandemic, the travel specialist participated in several panels that addressed the realities of anti-Black racism in travel and tourism, sharing steps organizations could take to prioritize diversity, inclusion and anti-racist practices.
Her advocacy work is shared alongside the team at Let's Get Uncomfortable (LGU), a grassroots organization dedicated to addressing issues often overlooked in travel and tourism.
“At the end of this exciting and gruelling year, winning an award means so much more when it comes from a brand you truly believe in and a company made up of individuals who genuinely care about your business but also your well-being and development,” Dudley told PAX.
“My business development manager, Brian Joseph, has been along a crazy journey with me for the last three years. I cannot thank him enough for the words of wisdom and the big brother no-nonsense support and advise he has provided.”
Dudley said Let's Get Uncomfortable “really shares this award.”
“We work as a collective on all of our initiatives,” she said. “Without them, LGU would not exist and important conversations in our sector would be left unsaid.”
Théberge was honoured for inspiring and promoting give-back initiatives in her community.
“Words fail me to express all my emotion following the honorary distinction that was granted to me. To be highlighted in this way warms the heart!” Théberge told PAX.
For 20 years now, Théberge has opened her door and heart to children with family problems.
The travel professional said she has adapted children three times internationally and once within her community.
Her volunteer work with the Chaudières Appalaches Youth Centre gives youth in need a chance to feel cared for and appreciated, and a chance for a better life.
“Contributing to [child] development both in terms of their academic progress, but also offering them a healthy environment that is conducive to healing their inner wounds has always been my priority,” Théberge told PAX.
“This recognition is a testament to the hard work and dedication I sow around me. I thank the team at AMResorts for this honour!”
Agents "at the centre of our success”
The lively gala, which included a floor-stomping performance by D.R.-based Da Republik dance crew of America’s Got Talent fame, concluded AMResorts’ third annual agent appreciation conference, which, this year, welcomed 130 travel advisors from both Canada and the United States.
The invite-only affair included key updates to the AMR Collection (a name that combines all of AMResorts’ properties under one master brand), a panel discussion about luxury travel, (which Dudley also participated in), workshops and parties, including a 1960s-themed beach bash.
The venue, Dreams Macao Beach Punta Cana, is an upscale, 500-room property for families and couples, about 40 minutes from Punta Cana International Airport, that opened in March of 2020, just before the pandemic hit.
This year’s Amazing Agent Celebration was the largest one to date.
“Agents are at the centre of our success,” Kevin Wojciechowski, senior vice-president, sales and distribution at AMResorts, told attendees at Friday’s (Dec. 2) opening session. “They’ve worked tirelessly to position our resorts at the top of their clients’ lists. It certainly has not gone unnoticed.”
Hyatt influence + Europe expansion
It's been a big year for Apple Leisure Group, parent company of AMResorts, after Hyatt Hotels Corporation finalized its acquisition of the company in November 2021.
The brand is also experiencing major growth with new properties that have recently opened (or will open soon).
This includes Zoëtry Marigot Bay St. Lucia (which launched Dec. 1), Secrets Impression Moxché Playa del Carmen (which also opened Dec. 1), Dreams Flora Resort & Spa (February 2023), Secrets Impression Isla Mujeres (March 2023), Secrets Tulum Resort & Beach Club (Summer 2023), Dreams Estrella del Mar Mazatlán Golf & Spa Resort (2023), Secrets Tides Punta Cana (Fall 2023) and Secrets St. Lucia Resort & Spa (late 2023).
AMResorts is also enthusiastically expanding its footprint in Europe.
The brand's European expansion began in 2019 with 12 properties in Spain when ALG announced the signing of Alua Hotels & Resorts. And prior to that, in 2018, ALG signed a deal with Hesperia to operate four of its properties, also in Spain.
The latest activity includes plans to expand Hyatt’s Inclusive Collection – a new global portfolio of distinct luxury all-inclusive resort brands – with five all-inclusive resorts in Bulgaria.
There’s also the planned 2024 opening of Dreams Madeira Resort Spa & Marina in Portugal, marking the Inclusive Collection’s entry into a fourth European country.
The “Inclusive Collection” is terminology, launched in May, that will soon marry the World of Hyatt and AMR Collection into one mind, explained Erica Doyne, senior vice-president of global marketing and communications for the AMR Collection.
READ MORE: Hyatt unveils luxury-focused "Inclusive Collection"
Official details about this transition will be shared soon, but the general idea is that the AMR Collection name will be phased out and replaced with a new umbrella term reflective of Hyatt.
New agent platform & loyalty program
The transition, which will take place through 2023, will also transform the B2B space – a new and enhanced travel advisor platform, for example, will be launched, Doyne said.
This website will have a dedicated learning management system, as well as enhanced education programs on resorts and destinations.
A new loyalty program for travel agents is also set to debut next year.
It will offer new booking incentives, referral opportunities, and new options for points redemption, Wojciechowski said.
“We see you as the cream of the crop of our industry, and with this new program, we look forward to growing closer and continuing to evolve our practices in rewarding you for your commitment to our portfolio,” he said.
AMResorts' Romance Travel Forum will also return in 2023, and so will FAM programs for dedicated luxury advisors and weddings and romance specialists, Wojciechowski said.
And, with new properties opening across the pond, the AMR Collection will expand its trade FAM trips to Europe, he said.
The emphasis on Europe, combined with enhanced trade programs, indicates that AMResorts is viewing its future through a global lens.
The new loyalty program, for one, will focus on “growing the international community,” including Europe, Wojciechowski told attendees.
“We’ll have more ways to interact and offer incentives worldwide,” he said.
As a gesture of thanks and gratitude, all travel advisors at this year's Amazing Agent Celebration received a three-night stay for two at the soon-to-open Secrets Tulum Resort & Beach Club in 2023 or 2024, as well as 15,000 AMResorts points.
“It keeps getting better”
The Canadian travel advisors PAX met with on location embraced the updates with enthusiasm.
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan-based Jamie Milton of Uniglobe Carefree Travel said she was “very excited” about AMResorts' expansion into Europe as it opens new venues for destination weddings.
“The company continues to exceed expectations of agents and clients. It keeps getting better and better,” she said.
Marj Dejong of Transat Travel Peterborough in Ontario, as a member of AMResort’s agent advisory board, has already had a taste of what the AMR Collection can do in Europe.
Dejong, last fall, had an opportunity to visit Zoëtry Mallorca Wellness & Spa, located on the island of Mallorca, Spain.
Zoëtry Mallorca features buildings once owned by the landed gentry dating back to the 14th century, has a 15th-century windmill and a neo-Gothic 19th-century chapel.
“It’s like taking a step back in time, with amazing luxury,” Dejong said of the cobblestone-infused property, which debuted in early 2021. “And the food was over the top.”
Also, the brand introducing its all-inclusive offer in Europe “is huge,” she said.
“People know what they will spend before they go, and Canadians like that,” Dejong said.
Vancouver-based destination wedding specialist Liz Moore, whose team has processed “hundreds of Secrets and Dreams weddings,” is particularly excited to see what happens once AMR’s rewards and loyalty programs blend with the World of Hyatt.
“Really, the sky’s the limit for agents to be able to benefit from staying with a chain that’s so large and encompasses so many levels of vacation, wedding and luxury experiences,” Moore said.
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