Saturday,  July 2, 2022  12:45 am

Agent takeaways from TravelOnly's Symposium at Sea

Agent takeaways from TravelOnly's Symposium at Sea

TravelOnly’s inaugural Symposium at Sea is continuing onboard Norwegian Getaway, with travel agents joining company executives and suppliers on the ship as it sails to Roatan, Harvest Caye in Belize, Cozumel and Costa Maya.

Attendees got down to work on Monday morning with a series of comprehensive presentations by suppliers Mary Jo Cutaia of Norwegian Cruise Line, Kim Barbisan of WestJet Vacations, AmaWaterways’ Sandra Gardiner, and Diana Winters of Palace Resorts.

Gregory Luciani, president and CEO of TravelOnly, described the company’s agents as ‘partners on this journey,’ with the Symposium serving the valuable purpose of helping associates ‘remain competitive in the most competitive industry in the world today.’

Norwegian Cruise Line

Mary Jo Cutaia, business development manager - Western Ontario, Norwegian Cruise Line

NCL’s Mary Jo Cutaia commenced proceedings by giving agents a closer look at the cruise line’s planned fleet of 16 ships, putting emphasis on its entertainment offerings – described as entertainment ‘like you’ve never experienced before.’ Cutaia highlighted the company’s status as a multigenerational cruise line – the fastest growing segment in the cruise industry – and said that this helped contribute to the ‘real buzz’ guests would experience onboard.

The company’s Free @ Sea Cruising, Cutaia said, offers a flexible experience for cruisers, with no assigned dining times, a broad variety of nightly entertainment in numerous intimate venues, and a highly-personalized experience each day. Agents were advised to explain the concept of Free @ Sea cruising to their clients, since it’s a new cruise style that won’t be familiar to seasoned cruisers; clients could also pre-book entertainment and dining, Cutaia noted, with 45 days in advance providing the optimum time to do it.

In addition to guiding attendees through Epic, Breakaway, Getaway and Escape, Cutaia also gave agents a sneak peek at Norwegian Bliss, the company’s newest ship, which has been purpose-built for Alaskan cruises. The ship boasts its own race track and laser tag, while its expansive observation lounges are designed to provide optimum views of the surrounding Alaskan scenery.

Also of note on Norwegian liners is the large, distinctive Haven area, described by Cutaia as a ‘ship within a ship.’ Featuring 24-hour butler service and a concierge, the area includes the ship’s most spacious and luxurious accommodation, giving its guests priority on a range of factors including embarkation, debarkation, onboard entertainment and dining times.

Cutaia highlighted NCL’s inter-island Hawaii experience, which visits four Hawaiian islands in seven days, including a Honolulu round trip. Offering almost 100 hours in-port and specially-chosen Hawaiian ambassadors onboard, it also features shore excursion credits of $50 per stateroom and free sails for each stateroom’s third and fourth guests on select sailings.


Kim Barbisan, business development manager, WestJet

WestJet’s Kim Barbisan described gift cards as ‘huge’ for the company – with both plastic cards and eGift cards offered. Available only for airfare, not WestJet Vacations, these are commissionable cards that Barbisan said were ‘super easy’ to redeem.

Among the incentives offered by WestJet for its important air group bookings are a dedicated group specialist, a complimentary checked bag, complimentary name changes up to 24 hours prior to departure, discounted Plus fare upgrades, zonal connector fares, flexible deposits and site inspections.

New updates to Air groups include a new per-group deposit of $100 for groups of less than 60 guests, with air-only groups of more than 60 people requiring a deposit of $100 per person.

Of particular interest to attendees was the fact that WestJet Vacations no longer sells groups directly to consumers, with agents now a required point of contact. The minimum booking has also been changed to five rooms, down from the original 10.

Barbisan also highlighted the new upgrades to, which is now for agent eyes only. All of the company’s webinars are now included on the website, featuring useful information on everything from travelling with pets to policies for unaccompanied minors; meanwhile, agents were encouraged to make use of WestJet’s travel support team, consisting of 70 professionals who only speak to travel agents.

Some of the benefits of using this team, Barbisan said, include the ability to consult with qualified and dedicated agents, shorter hold times, and more efficient service. The team works for WestJet as well as WestJet Vacations.

Barbisan’s presentation also emphasized the value of WestJet Connect, the company’s inflight entertainment offering ‘which allows clients to connect to their world while they’re in ours.’

The app brings entertainment choices to a mobile device or laptop, featuring 650 hours of free streaming content – movies, TV shows and satellite TV – with the option to rent tablets with pre-loaded content, and internet packages also available.

Agents were encouraged to recommend to their guests to download the app before going to the airport, and Barbisan said that it’s been an extremely successful offering – perhaps unsurprisingly, given the fact that 87 per cent of people who fly now have their own device.


Sandra Gardiner, director of national accounts, Canada - AmaWaterways

‘AmaWaterways is all about family,’ commented Sandra Gardiner, the company’s director of national accounts in Canada. Guests immediately become part of the family as soon as they step onboard, she said, with the company also symbolized by its French balconies, staterooms ranging from 170-255 sq. ft., and low capacity of customers onboard.

Gardiner showcased the company’s unique dual-balcony ships, with new innovations including its triple and quad-occupancy staterooms, and an elevator on AmaKristinaand AmaLea that reaches all three stateroom decks.

New in 2019 will be AmaMagna, which is set to cruise on the Danube, including several new features. Its average room size is around 335 sq. ft., going up to 750 sq. ft., with all rooms set to include a balcony; also featured on the ship will be a hair salon and the option to receive manicures, pedicures and massages. “We’re really trying to adapt, and create vessels that suit every style of traveller,” commented Gardiner.

AmaWaterways will introduce its Sip and Sail program in 2018, with the company committed to the quality of its regional wines. The company has also invested millions of dollars in technology, Gardiner said, with systems in each room offering Hollywood movies, different genres of TV and music, internet access and more – giving guests the chance to stay connected while they cruise.

Shore excursions are part of the company’s all-inclusive offer, with guided bike tours available for anywhere between 20-45 km. AmaHiking is also offered, and Gardiner mentioned the quality of the onboard culinary fare – frozen food is never brought onboard, with breads and pastries baked onboard and all fruits, meats, vegetables and fish freshly-sourced.

One of the most unique experiences offered by AmaWaterways is its champagne yoga fitness course, with the AmaFit wellness program set to be unveiled across every river the company sails in next year. Also on the cards for next year are new wine experience cruises, with some of Europe’s most illustrious wine regions set to be featured including Bordeaux, Normandy, the Rhone Valley, Douro Valley, Wachau Valley, and Rhine Valley – "a great option for boomers," according to Gardiner.

Palace Resorts

Diana Winters, business development manager, Palace Resorts

Diana Winters, business development manager for Palace Resorts, said that the company continues to reinvest in its properties – with Playacar Palace (‘one of the best properties we have’) reopening a number of days ago. The property had been closed since August for refurbishment, with its location in Playa del Carmen, near the ferry terminal, giving it proximity to a range of attractions.

Le Blanc Spa and Resort, Winters said, is the property that ‘nobody can really touch.’ The only all-inclusive resort to receive a 5-diamond rating seven years in a row, the property was described by Winters as an offering that’s simultaneously upscale yet unpretentious. Every guest has a butler, irrespective of room category, with resort credits also offered and a level of service that Winters said was ‘amazing.’

Cozumel Palace was another gem in the company’s portfolio, Winters said, offering a diving area that’s ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving and equally superb levels of service. The company’s commitment to its culinary quality was highlighted, with Palace having recently partnered with award-winning pastry chef Antonio Bachour; it’s also the only hotel chain in the world to enjoy a partnership with Certified Angus Beef.

Another property that’s set to be a winner for the company is Le Blanc Los Cabos, boasting 25 treatment rooms, 373 guest rooms, six bars (and two swim-up bars), four outdoor pools, and eight themed restaurants. Winters also advised agents to let their clients know about Resort Credits – available up to $2,000 – which can be redeemed towards rounds of golf, spa experiences, scuba diving and more. If they don’t use up all their credit by the end of their stay, Winters said, they’ll get a card with the remaining balance at checkout, good toward any stay in the next year.

Offered on travel until Dec. 23, 2018 is the opportunity for kids and teens (under 17) to stay at Palace properties free, all day, every day – with airfare representing the only price. “It’s become an avenue for families who wanted to do it, but couldn’t afford to do it,” Winters said.

Finally, Winters said that the company’s agent website was expected to be up-and-running within the next couple of weeks, and urged agents to register their bookings to qualify for incentives and more.

Manulife Insurance

Tracy Emberson, business development manager, travel insurance, Manulife

Tracy Emberson, business development manager, travel insurance, Manulife, presented to agents on both the company’s longstanding regular policy and its recently-introduced Premium Protection Plan, in addition to providing tips on how to overcome common objections from clients.

Emberson listed the some of the most common objections among clients – including the belief that travel insurance is too expensive, work policies will cover it, nothing will happen, and credit card insurance is adequate. “We have to get the agents to make sure that they are asking the right questions,” Emberson explained. “‘What do I have? What will my card do for me when I’m in trouble, versus what will Manulife do for me when I’m in trouble?’”

Credit card insurance, Emberson said, was often inadequate when travelling – with only interruption, rather than interruption and cancellation, frequently covered.

How, then, can travel agents overcome the most common misconceptions or complaints among agents? Emberson said that agents should first acknowledge the objection, before asking questions to clarify exactly what it is. “It’s one thing to talk about why a client needs insurance,” she said, “but why does this client need insurance?”

Insurance needs, she said, are often very specific to the individual and the trip they are undertaking; cruise customers, for instance, should arrange coverage for the possibility of baggage not reaching the ship, while customers travelling in winter should be aware of the prospect of longer journey times for short connections. “It might be different for someone going to Florida than for someone going to Quebec,” she said. “It’s about selling the right product to the right client for the right reason.”

Following the presentations, TravelOnly agents had the opportunity to participate in a range of one-on-one meetings with suppliers, finishing with specialty dining experiences as the ship sailed towards its first stop at Roatan, Honduras.

Continue to stay tuned to, in addition to all our social media outlets – Facebook, Twitter and Instagram – for further coverage as the week continues, including more on TravelOnly's charitable efforts in Honduras with #TravelAgentsCare!