“Never in my wildest dreams did I think we’d have this many loyal associates, affiliates, and staff who truly care about this organization,” said Gregory Luciani, president and CEO of TravelOnly. “It’s people who make this company, and we’re truly blessed.”
It was a weekend of gratitude and glamour as TravelOnly’s founders, head office staff, associates and supplier partners celebrated the host agency’s 45th anniversary at Caesars Palace Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada from Sept. 26-29th.
The monumental event, called “Better, Stronger, Faster,” took more than a year to plan, and was as much a fun-filled extravaganza as it was an informative conference for the nearly 170 TravelOnly advisors and suppliers who flew in for the party.
“We wanted to produce something that was bigger and better than anything we’ve ever done before,” Ian Elliott, TravelOnly’s vice-president of sales and marketing, told PAX, which covered the event exclusively. “This is the biggest conference we’ve ever accomplished.”
The guest list was gushingly grand, welcoming 50 – yes, fifty – suppliers, each of whom took turns presenting on a variety of topics, such as product and destination training, ocean and river cruising, group sales, insurance and social media marketing.
“What’s most important is the relationships our advisors build not only with each other, but also with the suppliers and the TravelOnly executive,” Elliott said. “In this business, it’s all about relationships.”
Industry notables spotted at the event included husband-and-wife duo Rudi Schreiner and Kristin Karst (the co-owners of AmaWaterways, which was the event’s title sponsor); CLIA’s Charles Sylvia; WestJet Vacations’ Jane Clementino, TravelBrands’ Frank DeMarinis; Air Canada Vacations’ Dana Gain; Ensemble Travel Group’s David Harris and Cathy Varrecchia; Uplift Canada’s Denise Heffron; Travel Agency Tribes’ Ryan McElroy; Travefy’s Scott Rutz; Sunwing Vacation’s David Wright and many, many more.
And, of course, the family that started it all – Patrick Luciani, who founded TravelOnly in 1974 and who, today, serves as company chairman; Patrick’s wife, Ann, TravelOnly’s CFO and their son, Gregory, who rose through the ranks after joining the family business 20 years ago when he finished university.
“We’re very excited to be here in Las Vegas to share 45 years with our associates,” Patrick Luciani told PAX. “I’m really proud of our associates. The majority have become specialists in their own right.”
Big buzz, bigger opportunities
Many announcements were made throughout the two-day event, including the itinerary for TravelOnly’s President’s Club Retreat in March 2020 – a river cruise on board AmaWaterways’ AmaMagna, which is nearly twice as wide as traditional ships.
At Sunday night’s closing gala, awards were doled out – including TravelOnly’s prestigious Chairman’s Award, which went to Collette – and highly-coveted prizes were won, such as epic cruises courtesy of AmaWaterways, Carnival, Celebrity and Princess.
“We are very fond of the Luciani family,” Kristin Karst, co-owner of AmaWaterways told PAX. “It’s a family business, and so is AmaWaterways. Their core values are our core values.”
Karst added: “The travel advisors here are running wonderful businesses,” she said. “The team spirit is big. Everyone wants to work together.”
David Harris, CEO of Ensemble Travel Group, was also spotted in the mix.
“I’m thrilled to be here and be a part of the buzz,” Harris told PAX. “TravelOnly is one of our great home-based, host-model agencies in Canada. They’ve been a strong supporter of us. In the marketplace today, they realize we need different stakeholders to participate in the conversation and that we need to truly support one another. They live by their word, which is very gratifying for us.”
The anniversary also had a charitable angle – delegates were encouraged to raise funds for GlobalMedic to support relief efforts throughout regions in the Bahamas, which recently fell victim to Hurricane Dorian (an estimated $15,000 was raised).
Once the conference was over, some advisors stayed behind to explore Las Vegas and beyond (to see the Grand Canyon, for example) as part of a post-conference FAM.
“One of the great benefits of coming to TravelOnly's 45th is that advisors share with each other,” TravelOnly advisor and peer mentor Pat Probert told PAX. “Meeting other suppliers and building a network of friends and business associates is so important to us all because it helps us down the road.”
TravelBrands joins the family
The event gave TravelOnly an opportunity to unveil new initiatives, starting with a multi-faceted partnership with TravelBrands, which will now supply air, hotel and car booking engines for TravelOnly’s advisor websites.
“You have to evolve as the years go on in the industry, and TravelOnly has accepted that,” Frank DeMarinis, president & CEO of TravelBrands, told PAX. “They’re continuing to embrace new technology.”
DeMarinis elaborated more on the partnership in a rousing speech to the delegation:
“We just don’t rely on delivering products,” DeMarinis told TravelOnly’s associates. “We are a wholesaler that drives the innovation of technology and this partnership is going to give you the ability to stretch your imagination to do more.”
DeMarinis added: “You can double your business through technology and [through] being innovative enough to accept it, to embrace it and to honour it.”
TravelOnly also revealed a new look for its advisor websites, a project facilitated by Ryan McElroy, chief executive officer at Travel Agency Tribes, a digital marketing company for the trades.
The revamped sites are “aesthetically pleasing and mirrors the professionalism of the person sitting in the seat who is actually consulting on travel,” McElroy told PAX.
Advisor consultations combined with six travel styles are at the forefront of the new interface, and the user experience is elevated by clear imagery, vibrant pages and shareable editorial content, from articles to videos.
“We’re putting the emphasis on the advisor and making them the authority on travel,” McElroy said, noting that the new websites will roll out over the next 30 days.
A business built to last
Embracing new technology is just one part of the secret sauce that has fuelled TravelOnly’s 45 years of success.
When Patrick Luciani started TravelOnly – a company originally called Luciani World Travel – more than four decades ago, he was fresh off a career in politics, having served multiple terms as a city councillor in Brantford, ON, where the family is still based today.
Patrick and Ann Luciani's honeymoon in the early ’70s – a month-long-plus adventure that included a cruise through the Adriatic and Mediterranean Seas followed by a road trip through Italy, Paris, Switzerland, Munich and Berlin – gave Patrick a lasting travel bug, which eventually steered him away from the political scene and into travel full-time.
The dream of running a travel business became a reality on Monday, September 30th, 1974, when Patrick officially opened Luciani World Travel.
“There were only four agencies in our small town, Luciani World Travel would become the fifth,” Ann, in a moving speech, told guests in Las Vegas. “We had up to three other agents in the office, our client base was mostly leisure with a few choice corporate accounts. We earned a good living. Things were good.”
By the time the ’90s hit, the economy was in a downturn and the travel industry began to change. Many airlines decided to stop paying commissions, forcing many travel agents to start charging service fees.
Proving one’s value in the travel marketplace was the new norm.
Then, one day, an opportunity came knocking to become a host agency with outside agents – “A radical concept in those days, but not a new idea,” Ann recalls.
As told by Ann, Patrick had been to a travel trade conference in Las Vegas and had the opportunity to sit next to an agency owner from Texas operating with more than 500 agents.
“He told me about that meeting, and we discussed the pros and cons. But it didn’t take long to make the decision. It was a no-brainer,” Ann said. “This was our opportunity to do something bold. So, we geared up for the challenge, prepared our business plan and began building this new model.”
And with that, TravelOnly was born, becoming one of the first host agencies in Canada.
The industry was evolving, too. Computers and email were soon part of everyday business, and along came Sirev, which replaced hours of waiting on the phone.
“Initially, it was a strange concept for existing agents, so we thought we would formulate our model to also appeal to salespeople in other careers. We could teach them the product,” Ann said.
They attracted accountants, nurses, teachers. Even a judge.
Gregory joined TravelOnly in 2003 when he finished school. He pushed for professional marketing, a new logo and more advertising for the new program.
The business flourished, and TravelOnly grew across Canada, eventually gaining home-based travel advisors in every province.
Today, the company’s head office is still in Brantford, ON, with offices in Vancouver, BC and Longueuil, QC.
“Along with our loyal associates, the reliance of our head office team, and the conviction of our sales team, we also owe much credit to many travel partners who believe in us. It’s the cohesion of these parts that keep TravelOnly successful and strong,” Ann said.
The Luciani family grew, too, with Gregory and his siblings, sisters Francesca and Nicole, all starting families of their own and producing a collective total of nine grandkids for their parents Patrick and Ann.
Family values come first
The travel industry is still a fickle one, however. It’s always evolving, and it’s usually at the mercy of ongoing challenges, from natural disasters to wars to terrorist attacks to structural changes associated with big-time corporate acquisitions.
These are topics you’ll always hear at the Luciani dinner table (“We talk travel 24/7,” Patrick says), but what’s helped the family, and their company, stay in the game all of these years is something very straight-forward: strong relationships, strong family values.
“I have always found that if you build relationships with your partners and associates, it’s a win-win for all of us,” Patrick Luciani told PAX.
Being a family-run business is one of TravelOnly’s strongest assets, Patrick says, especially when it pertains to the needs of advisors, who are routinely encouraged to call or email Patrick, Ann or Gregory, directly, if there’s an issue.
“When we make decisions, it’s with the view of a family,” Sinthia Gawlak, TravelOnly’s senior vice president of sales and marketing, told us.
Such open lines of communication to the owners of a major company is rare, but it comes part and parcel with belonging to the family that is TravelOnly.
“Our team is fabulous and they treat our associates as one of the family. I don’t think many other corporations have that ability to do that,” Patrick told PAX.
Besides, if anyone understands what takes to be a travel agent, it’s the Luciani family. “We were agents ourselves,” Ann said. “We know exactly what they’re experiencing.”
Gregory said his parents are “amazing ambassadors” for the TravelOnly brand and for the industry at large.
This is, perhaps, one reason why associates and suppliers put their trust in the company (and it may also explain why TravelOnly has been successful, year-over-year, with double digit growth).
“At the end of the day, you can have the best technology in the world and amazing marketing plans, but success comes from trust,” Gregory told PAX. “I think we’ve built that trust over the years.”
“We really are part of their family"
Feeling at one with the Luciani family is a common thread amongst TravelOnly’s network of 650-plus advisors, many of whom bring a wealth of sales and marketing experience from other business backgrounds and careers.
The company’s diverse roster, and inclusiveness, breeds a unique type of home-based advisor.
“These associates go out and mentor other associates,” Patrick told PAX. “They’re involved in community fundraising and charity events. They share so much knowledge.”
The synergy that exists between associates also comes from giving people the freedom to be their own boss.
“We allow the associates to be their own independent owners, yet they know that behind them there’s a wonderful foundation and network that we have established over 45 years with our suppliers,” Patrick said.
Kathleen Campbell, a TravelOnly associate who helps lead TravelOnly’s operations in British Columbia, says “the secret to the Lucianis' success is their personal touch to the business.”
“They’re involved,” Campbell told PAX. “You’re dealing with real people. A real family.”
As Campbell and others will attest, working with TravelOnly very much feels like you’re part of the Luciani clan.
“We help each other out in our endeavours, whether if it’s with training or helping with groups. We’re all in it together,” Campbell said.
New Brunswick-based advisors Ginette and Gerard Richard described the Lucianis as “such good people” who are “so passionate about what they do.”
“You can tell that it comes from the heart,” Gerard told PAX. “That’s why they’re still here today after 45 years.”
Travel advisor Mary de Almeida joined TravelOnly after working for a large company, and noted that “it’s such a big difference working for a family-oriented business.”
“We really are part of their family,” she said.
Holly McBean, an advisor who’s been with TravelOnly for 20 years and is now heavily active in the company’s training division, said the culture at TravelOnly “has always been about growth, but to also enjoy everything you do.”
“Because of the industry changing so often, we’ve been able to change our way of thinking and grow in different sectors,” McBean told PAX, noting how advisors, over time, have accelerated their groups business. “[Advisors] are knocking their business out of the park.”
From a burgeoning cruise industry to the rise of artificial intelligence, the next five years in travel is going to be “really crucial,” Patrick said.
And after 45 years in the business, you can bet TravelOnly will be ready.
As Patrick says: “The future has never looked brighter.”
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