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.
Transat sure knows how to throw a sand-tastic party.
The company treated travel advisors and suppliers attending The Travel Agent Next Door’s (TTAND’s) national conference in Mexico to a BBQ beach bash Thursday night (April 20) along the buttery-smooth shoreline of Secrets Playa Mujeres, which is about 40 minutes from Cancun Airport.
The “contemporary Mexican” night, filled with hanging string lights, steamy buffet stations and fire-throwing performers, gave conference attendees a chance to kick off their sandals and soak up life just down the road from TTAND’s main venue, Majestic Elegance Costa Mujeres, which, until April 25, is hosting nearly 240 agents and 67 suppliers from 42 companies (record numbers for this TTAND annual event).
“It’s an excellent conference and we're really happy to be here,” Transat’s Commercial Director Nicole Bursey told PAX last night. “It's the largest independent travel advisor conference in Canada, so it's a great opportunity for us.”
“We’re congratulating TTAND on the growth they've seen. They do great business with Transat and we really appreciate everything they're doing to support their members – especially as travel recovers.”
READ MORE: On Location - “An amazing week”: TTAND’s “Breaking Barriers Together” conference kicks off in Mexico
The theme of TTAND’s conference, this year, is “Breaking Barriers Together,” which acknowledges the host agency’s nine years in business, and the many barriers the company, and its agents, have overcome.
The week of fun and learning, which kicked off Tuesday (April 18), is packed with supplier presentations, workshops, training sessions, panel discussions, guest speakers, awards, and off-property parties.
“We’ve invested more money than ever in education and training,” TTAND’s President and Founder Flemming Friisdahl told PAX earlier, noting how this year welcomes the most guest speakers TTAND has ever booked.
They include experienced executive, author and business coach Geraldine Ree, corporate trainer and CEO of BizXcel Gary Gzik, social media expert Arienne Parzei, Lori Gold, a Canadian travel advisor who lives in Mexico, and more.
This year’s symposium also welcomes newcomers from the supplier world, including Silversea, The Jordan Tourism Board and Project Expedition.
Addressing the upbeat crowd at last night’s party, Friisdahl noted how Transat, now in its 35th year, was one of the first companies to support TTAND in its early days “when we had zero agents” and it was just Friisdahl and Penny Martin (TTAND’s VP of Travel Agent Services) running the show.
“They’ve been there from day one,” said Friisdahl, who presented Transat with a plaque made out of 300 chopsticks.
Unlocking Hyatt's Inclusive Collection
The Inclusive Collection by World of Hyatt was also honoured – after all, the company formally known as AMResorts has been a TTAND partner for a while now, and helped pull together Transat’s beach party at Secrets (one of many brands in the Inclusive Collection).
Last night officially unfolded on the beach of adults-only Secrets Playa Mujeres, which sits in a gated community, but the land is also linked to family-friendly Dreams Playa Mujeres, which is directly next door.
TTAND advisors last night got to explore both modern properties, which boast a “stay at one, play at two” offering.
“All guests at [adults-only] Secrets have full access to Dreams. And all adults at Dreams have full access to Secrets,” explained Brian Joseph, business development manager for Toronto, GTA, the Niagara Region and Eastern Ontario for the Inclusive Collection. “For groups, you can almost book it as one resort.”
For Joseph, TTAND’s conference has given him a chance to clearly explain the “Inclusive Collection, part of World of Hyatt,” which is a portfolio of nine all-inclusive brands (Hyatt Ziva, Hyatt Zilara, Zoëtry, Secrets, Breathless, Dreams, Vivid, Alua, and Sunscape) that came together after Hyatt’s acquisition of Apple Leisure Group (the parent company of what was once known as AMResorts and the AMR Collection).
An important clarification to note is that there are brands in the Inclusive Collection – Hyatt Ziva and Hyatt Zilara – that Joseph does not oversee. Those aforementioned brands are represented by Playa Hotels and Resorts, and the rewards associated with each entity remain.
“Nothing, as we know it, has changed. Except for the names,” Joseph said.
Hyatt’s acquisition hasn’t changed the day-to-day in terms of what agents know about the brands that were formally under AMResorts, he said.
“If anything, it injects more funds into maintaining what we do,” Joseph said. “It gives us more exposure, more opportunities, and opens doors to explore new areas.”
Transat’s plan for Western Canada
As for Transat, Bursey said travellers are “best served” by dealing with a travel agent.
She said “flexibility is still important,” urging agents to continue talking to their customers about Transat’s Option Flex product.
Additionally: “The bookings for this winter are really, really good,” she said.
“We expect it to be a really busy year for growth. For agents booking groups, don't wait too long.”
Bursey also addressed Transat’s possible return to Western Canada, which won’t happen until the company adds more aircraft to its fleet, she said (there has been delivery delays at Airbus).
“Until we get the fleet to the size we need, we have to concentrate on our main markets, which are Quebec and Ontario, and Atlantic Canada, which we serve in winter,” Bursey said. “We do hope to return to Western Canada, for sure."
Transat, in the meantime, has codeshare agreements with WestJet and Porter, which has helped people on an air-only basis to get to Montreal or Toronto to connect, especially to Europe.
“We miss agents in the west and we are happy that they still ask about us because it means they care and that they miss us,” Bursey said. “We miss them too and we hope to be back.”
Spotted: Jacques Gilbert!
In between margaritas, juicy BBQ chicken and beef-filled tacos, travel pros also had a chance to wish Jacques Gilbert a happy retirement.
The associate vice-president of client relationships at Manulife, packing it in after nearly 50 years in the travel industry, was spotted last night after wrapping up at Transat Distribution Canada’s (TDC’s) conference down the coast earlier this week.
He’ll be presenting at TTAND’s conference (for the first time, it was never his account), and it will be his last travel conference ever as he officially retires on April 28.
“I’m going miss the industry so much,” Gilbert told PAX. “A job’s a job, but it’s the people who make it. This industry is amazing.”
PAX is reporting on location from TTAND’s 2023 conference at Majestic Elegance Costa Mujeres all week.
Stay tuned for more updates and “like” our Facebook page here to see more pictures and videos!
Don't miss a single travel story: subscribe to PAX today! Click here to follow PAX on Facebook.