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.
“As travel agents, we are dream makers. That’s our job,” Patrick Luciani, founder and chairman of TravelOnly, told PAX this week.
It’s a motto every travel agent can live by, and one that appropriately sums up the message behind Symposium at Sea, TravelOnly’s annual conference, which is currently pushing through the Caribbean Sea aboard the Regal Princess, an elegant, new, 142,229-gross tonne ship operated by Princess Cruises.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity for our associates,” Mr. Luciani told PAX, which is covering the ten-day conference, on location, exclusively. “Both ocean cruising and river cruising is becoming a force of its own, so by coming on board and having that experience, you’re able to really tell the story to your clients.”
READ MORE: PAX On Location: TravelOnly's Symposium at Sea takes agents to the Caribbean
More than 100 home-based agents and select suppliers signed up for the fun and informative week, which began on land in Miami on Nov. 9th with a stay at the chic Eden Roc Hotel Miami Beach, complimented by a Harmony of the Seas ship inspection in Fort Lauderdale the next day, and then transferred to sea by ship on a voyage south to Princess Cays in the Bahamas, St. Thomas and then, just yesterday (Nov. 15), St. Maarten.
In between pursuing land excursions at various ports of calls in the Caribbean, and experiencing the Regal Princess’s various amenities, attendees have spent their time participating in on-board workshops, training, dinners, social events – notably, a “holiday pub crawl” – and one-to-one sessions with six important suppliers.
An opportunity to work smarter
“We have some wonderful and successful agents that have an opportunity to really learn how to work smarter instead of harder with the partners we have invited here,” said Mr. Luciani, who founded his Brantford, ON-based agency, originally called Luciani World Travel, in 1974.
Today, he runs TravelOnly alongside his wife, Ann, who serves as the company’s CFO, and son Gregory, who is president and CEO.
TravelOnly, which will celebrate its 45th anniversary this September, specializes in training business professionals – many of whom are new to the industry – to become home-based travel agents through educational courses and expert training.
“We’re really proud of our agents,” Ann Luciani told PAX. “They’ve come from outside the industry. We’re amazed by the quality of people.”
When business pros turn to travel
Rachel Smith from Lynden, ON, was a behavior analyst working in a private practice for 18 years before she changed careers and joined TravelOnly in October 2017. Today, she operates TravelOnly with Rachel.
“The symposium has been phenomenal,” Smith told PAX yesterday in St. Maarten. “I truly feel like I’m at home. The suppliers have been an extended family. It’s not just about sales, it’s about how to put everything together and make it personable…and they’re teaching us how to extend that relationship to clients.”
Jessica Morris from Barrie, ON, started her part-time business, Jessica Travel and Events, last April after years of working as an event coordinator and wedding planner at a golf course. She hopes to one day specialize in honeymoons and destination weddings.
“The big thing, for me, is the one-on-ones,” Morris told PAX of her time at the conference. “Being able to say: ‘This is what I’m thinking of doing.’ And then ask, ‘Is this right? Am I on the right path?’ That’s huge.”
Engaging with the TravelOnly team and building relationships with their suppliers is key to one's success when attending Symposium at Sea, Gregory Luciani told PAX.
“You’re in business for yourself, but not by yourself,” TravelOnly’s president and CEO said, pointing to the belief that home-based agents work in non-traditional environments and can sometimes feel isolated. “You’re not alone. There’s people here to help you.”
So just who are the star suppliers sharing their expertise with agents at Symposium at Sea? PAX caught up with all six to get all the answers.
Name: Sandra Gardiner
Title: Director of national accounts, Canada, AmaWaterways
On Symposium at Sea: “I’ve been able to develop some great friendships with agents in spending time with them. The conference has given me the opportunity to really hone in on what everyone’s business needs are and come up with some great strategies. AmaWaterways is a family-run business so dealing with a company [like TravelOnly] that’s also family run gives us a nice synergy.”
Final thoughts: “I want attendees to think about AmaWaterways first when booking their clients on a river cruise. I want them to understand the value in our experience so they can turn around and sell that to their clients when they return home.”
Name: Diana Winters
Title: Business development manager, Ontario for Palace Resorts and Le Blanc Spa Resorts
On Symposium at Sea: “The conference is great. This is my second year doing it with [TravelOnly]. It’s a really good opportunity to network with agents, showcase our product and get to know them on a personal level. For me, that’s key.
Final thoughts: “I want [agents], most importantly, to feel connected enough with me so they can come to me for whatever they need. That’s how I operate. Friends first, business later. If you don’t have the relationship, you will never have the business."
Name: Shannon Smith
Title: Business development manager, TravelBrands
On Symposium at Sea: “One of the greatest opportunities in participating in something like this with an at-home network like TravelOnly is having the time to build those one-to-one relationships. It’s not often you get that, unless it’s at a trade show. I like that TravelOnly is family owned and operated. A lot of times, people can be out for themselves, but they’re really here to help and encourage everyone."
Final thoughts: “One of the biggest messages I’ve been sharing with agents is that we’re a company that offers the world. We pride ourselves on customer service – we have our agents backs before, during and after the booking, if they need assistance. We’re here to help agents work smarter with our access site, their booking tool. They can do 100 per cent of their business online. Agents should never stop learning and keep on educating themselves.”
Name: Tanya Johnson
Title: Strategic account manager, Bedsonline
On Symposium at Sea: “For me, [the conference] gives me an opportunity to educate travel agents on our product, which I can’t do from a distance. Having them all in one place is great.”
Final thoughts: “I want agents to know that we’re B2B and we work with the trade only. Our goal is to help them grow their business, teach them the benefits of upselling and increase revenue.”
Name: Karly Cook
Title: Global purpose specialist, G Adventures
On Symposium at Sea: “Home-based agents are a huge focus for our team across Canada. We see a lot of potential to help them build their business. They’re all in it for the passion. People are craving something different and showing [agents] how much more is out there will make them a more well-rounded travel professional and, [in turn], make themselves look like experts to their clients, which is what you want.”
Final thoughts: “The world is a big place. People are craving something different and [G Adventures] provides that. When people start travelling in a different way, it opens their eyes and minds to different things. I find, when you travel, you come back with more appreciation and respect for what you have. There’s a ripple effect that happens to that person and their friends and family: they’re going to share that experience. Travel agents play a huge part in that. They’re the ones that influence the decision.”
Name: Karen McColl
Title: Business development manager, Princess Cruises and Cunard Line
On Symposium at Sea: “From a supplier perspective, it’s great to be able to connect with the agents. It’s a perfect opportunity to showcase our product, solidify our relationship and spend time with them on board. What sets [TravelOnly] apart is the fact that it’s a family business. You really get a sense of that family atmosphere.”
Final thoughts: “The Regal Princess is one of our new generation of ships. It’s a big ship with less passengers. Great public spaces, ocean medallion class, great itineraries...[Agents will notice] the caliber of entertainment - we’ve partnered with Stephen Schwartz, award-winning composer of Wicked and Pippin. He collaborated and produced four shows with us. It’s everything on one vessel.”
TravelOnly's Symposium at Sea runs till' November 18th. Stay tuned as PAX brings you more exclusive coverage!