Tannis Dyrland is used to taking matters into her own hands.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when travel was brought to a near halt, the Calgary, AB-based travel advisor famously launched a head-turning marketing campaign, called “The Fu*k-It List,” that encouraged people to book travel – come hell or high water – even if the travel industry’s reopening, at the time, looked bleak.
(Spoiler alert, the campaign was a hit).
Then, during that same dark period, Dyrland launched another venture aimed at keeping her business, and the spirit of travel, alive: a line of cocktail kits, called “Mile High Cocktails,” containing ingredients for mixing with the alcohol that’s served on airplanes.
Now, almost two years (and several cocktails) later, with COVID in the rear-view mirror, Dyrland is challenging the status quo once again.
Breaking free of her host agency to go independent, Dyrland has formed a new organization, for Alberta-based travel advisors only, aimed at fostering growth and camaraderie through resources and partnerships rooted within the borders of Western Canada.
Welcome to Tisson Travel Group, a “strong community of Alberta-based travel pros, where we can rely on people in our own backyard,” Dyrland told PAX in a recent telephone interview.
In search of local connection
The company, which officially launches today (Sept. 5), was born out of a need to elevate and support travel advisors in Alberta – a community of professionals that, in Dyrland’s view, is underserved.
“We’re lacking a local connection here in Western Canada,” Dyrland explained. “We’ve lost Transat, and over the past year or two, we’ve noticed how a lot of offers, like FAM opportunities, are based in the east.”
Host agencies, especially national ones, aren’t a one-size-fits-all system either, Dyrland explained. Especially when it comes to establishing relevant, localized support.
She says that when her travel business was attached to her previous host agency, she wasn’t allowed to lean on a BDM in Calgary for support because the national account manager for that particular supplier was based in Toronto.
“It just didn’t make sense to me that I had this person down the street who couldn’t support me,” said Dyrland, who eventually decided to go her own way.
Not a host agency
So, what is Tisson Travel Group, exactly?
For starters, the name “Tisson” apparently refers to someone who is strong and resilient.
“No matter how difficult a challenge is, you are capable of completing it by using your exceptionally quick wits and tremendous adaptability powers,” as one definition found online reads.
“That’s who we are in this industry,” Dyrland said. “We are challenged continuously, and we are adaptable.”
Secondly, Tisson Travel Group is not a host agency, but a “community where people can make their own decisions," Dyrland said.
One main differentiator is that, unlike most host agencies, Tisson doesn’t split commissions on service fees.
“I don’t believe in taking income,” Dyrland said, noting that agents in her network are only required to pay three per cent in merchant fees.
“We’re trying to encourage travel advisors to value themselves…I want agents to feel like they’re getting the most for their return,” she said.
But there are fees to belong to Tisson – $499 annually, plus a $69 (plus tax) monthly fee – which is about 20 per cent higher than what host agencies charge, Dyrland said.
“However, you’re making more because you’re not splitting your commission three ways,” she said.
Dyrland says her role at Tisson is to advocate on behalf of advisors through mentorship, and support agencies using her supplier contacts in Alberta.
Her original team of six advisors, which previously worked under the banner of Tannis Dyrland with The Travel Agent Next Door, are now all independently owned, but powered by Tisson Travel Group.
Other agents that have joined the Tisson community, so far, have been independent contractors that own their own branch, Dyrland said.
“Members are running their own businesses,” she said. “Whereas I’m here to negotiate contracts on their behalf and make sure they have support and updated technology.”
On the technology front, Dyrland teamed up with Ryan McElroy of Travel Agency Tribes to develop a backend system for Tisson that is agent-centric and ahead of the curve.
Tisson advisors, for example, receive a website that comes equipped with artificial intelligence tools, such as a feature, developed in conjunction with Google, that allows clients to shop around for trips online and still book directly with the advisor.
“It’s stronger than ChatGPT because it gets rid of tire kickers who just seeking free information,” Dyrland explained.
Tisson advisors determine their own marketing strategies and lean on each other for referrals and support. (“There’s enough business for everyone. We are in competition with no one,” Dyrland said).
Members also have the ability to choose their own preferred suppliers. The Tisson community is part of a consortia (TRAVELSAVERS), but “there is no tier system” when it comes to booking brands, Dyrland said.
“If a supplier benefits your business, and you have that relationship, then it’s only beneficial to have them on the list,” she said.
Leveraging partnerships that serve travel advisors in Alberta, and Alberta only, is at the core of Dyrland’s model.
For instance: one of Tisson’s advisors is organizing a group trip to climb Mount Kilimanjaro with G Adventures and is involving members of a local F45 gym.
“We’re trying to promote things that are different and fun – not just tours posted by suppliers,” Dyrland said. “We’re also being realistic in what we can offer. I’m not looking for space out of Ontario when everybody is based in Alberta.”
“The east doesn’t understand west. But we understand the west. The world is at people’s fingertips in Toronto, and we’re just trying to get to Toronto.”
One need not look any further than Canada’s own aviation sector to understand the ever-shifting dynamics of air travel in Western and Eastern Canada.
Coming out of COVID, national airlines have become more regional, with WestJet going back to its roots, focusing heavily on Alberta, while Air Canada has prioritized markets in the east, such as Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa.
Airlines and tour operators also serve different roles in different provinces, which can sometimes create a disconnect in Ontario-centric host agency spaces, Dyrland said, referring to gaps that can occur when some suppliers are in the club, and others are not.
Dyrland cites Sunwing as an example. “In Western Canada, they are our supplier. We have to use them. We have to form a relationship with them, whatever that looks like, and until this point, we haven’t been able to do that,” she said.
Word of Dyrland’s new venture has been quietly spreading in Alberta for several months now and, so far, the feedback has been positive.
“The word has gotten out in supplier land, and everyone has been ecstatic and over the moon,” Dyrland said. “People are saying: ‘We’ve got you.’”
“It’s empowering to know that I can do this and have support from so many players.”
Who can join?
How do travel advisors join Dyrland’s new community? It all depends on the candidate, their contracts, and what they bring to the table.
Interested agents must first apply through Tisson Travel Group’s website, here, and “part of the application will be a discussion,” Dyrland said.
Talking points will cover everything from sales to supplier relations, and candidates also have to provide a referral from a supplier, she said.
“I have to know that you have relationships in the industry. It matters,” she said.
Newcomers need to also “want to be part of the community and what I’m creating,” she added.
“It’s a community that will rely on each other heavily,” she said. “I want them to feel part of something.”
As for Tisson’s reach in Canada, the plan, for now, is to keep operations contained within Alberta, Dyrland said (one of the main reasons for this is because provinces, like British Columbia, have different licensing requirements).
Tisson Travel Group also marks a new direction for Dyrland as she intends to step back from booking travel to focus on business development, using her marketing, people and psychology skills – Dyrland is actually a registered psychologist – to ensure her new community is a success.
“I am not looking to be the biggest and best,” she said. “I am looking to be the strongest. If that means we’re six to ten people forever, then that’s what we’ll be.”
“Just as long as we feel part of a community, and not just a number, and that we have access to the people we need access to.”
For more on Tisson Travel Group, click here.