It’s an award that was created to honour Patrick Luciani and everything he stood for.
TravelOnly’s fifth annual Achievement and Distinction Awards (otherwise known as “TADA”) unfolded Friday night (June 10) at the Bellagio Boutique Event Venue in Vaughan, ON, to honour travel pros who have weathered the pandemic storm and proven themselves under the toughest of circumstances.
It was a celebratory and family affair, drawing more than 150 attendees, as the Luciani children handed out glass trophies to travel advisors and suppliers across 40 categories while attendees snapped fun pics in a nearby photo booth.
But it all kicked off with the debut of the Patrick Luciani Legacy Award, which recognizes individuals who embody the sense of community and industry advocacy that was once held by Patrick Luciani, TravelOnly’s founder and chairman, who sadly passed away in April of 2020.
Created for members who encapsulate passion, empathy, respect, teamwork, support and love for family – traits Patrick was known for – the inaugural award went to Nancy Wilson and Brenda Slater, two co-founders of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors (ACITA), a grassroots group that was formed in June of 2020 over a shared concern that independent advisors were falling through the cracks as the industry fought for its survival during the pandemic.
“ACITA has helped with huge wins,” said Ann Luciani, Patrick’s wife and TravelOnly’s CFO, in her opening remarks Friday night.
Some of those wins included ensuring that independent contractors (ICs) could access federal aid programs, such as the CERB, during the pandemic, and securing commission protections for agents as airlines grappled with thousands of refund requests – “a major achievement that wouldn’t have happened without ACITA,” Ann noted.
“Through petitions, Zoom calls with MPs, emails and social media, they helped support hundreds of advisors who felt stuck and unheard,” Ann said. “And their fight is not over.”
The volunteer-led association, which Wilson and Slater created alongside Judith Coates, has amassed a 2,000-plus membership on a private Facebook group, where advisors were urged to contact their local MPs and schedule virtual meetings so they could explain why they’ve needed sector-specific help.
The strategy, supported by impactful advocacy campaigns, resulted in the words “independent travel advisor” being spoken in the House of Commons for the very first time, giving home-based agents an influential voice in Ottawa.
“The fact the ladies at ACITA were able to take the bull by the horns was very much what Patrick would have wanted,” said Gregory Luciani, TravelOnly’s president and CEO, referencing his late father.
“They’re exactly who we wanted to give [this award] to – people who wanted to make change and be helpful to the those around them in their industry.”
A lasting legacy
Arriving in Canada from Italy at age 12, Patrick Luciani nurtured a life-long love of travel from an early age – one that would fully blossom years later in the form of TravelOnly.
Patrick started TravelOnly – an agency originally called Luciani World Travel – in 1974 after a career in politics, and by the time the ’90s hit, the industry began to change as airlines stopping paying commissions, forcing many advisors to start charging fees.
Proving one’s value in the marketplace was the new norm, and guided by the drive to do something bold, Patrick and Ann drew up a business plan that revolved around the home-based model – a concept that was very new at the time.
With that, TravelOnly was born, becoming one of the first host agencies in Canada that would go on to gain home-based travel advisors in every province.
In those early days, it was illegal to be a home-based agent in Canada, a situation that saw Patrick and Ann challenge the system and advocate on behalf of their advisors.
“TravelOnly is [Patrick’s] legacy,” Gregory told PAX. “Which is so apropos that we have this award for people who are doing what he was doing – advocating for agents and pushing governments to make changes.”
Taking to the stage to accept the award, an elated Wilson and Slater – who didn’t know each other prior to the pandemic (they met online) – shared their appreciation for the Luciani family and their colleagues.
“When I got into the industry in the ’90s, independent agents were called ‘outside agents.’ They were looked down upon. Look at us [now] – a whole room, completely full of independent travel advisors. How about that?” said Wilson, generating a round of applause.
“It is thanks to the pioneering of Ann and Patrick who made that happen.”
“We are not done yet"
Wilson also stressed that “we are not done yet.”
“We are trying to work towards change in the industry so we, as ICs, are respected and have a great working relationship with suppliers so we can move forward to help each other,” she said.
Slater called her work with ACITA “an interesting journey,” saying that “the best thing to come out of everything we’ve done are the amazing relationships we have formed with suppliers.”
(That journey isn’t over either. Slater’s final words to suppliers that night were: “We’ll be talking soon.”)
TravelOnly members Sarah Boville and Terry Declare were also thanked for their involvement in ACITA.
Speaking with PAX earlier that day, Gregory called the founders of ACITA “warriors.”
“It’s ridiculous how many hours they spent making phone calls and on Zoom meetings. The sacrifices they had to make for everyone else…it’s beautiful. They were so well organized and passionate. It’s truly the essence of the award,” Luciani said.
Stronger than ever
As Patrick Luciani used to say: “We’re in the business of selling dreams,” which is a line that resonated, time and time again, during last Friday’s ceremony.
(And Patrick’s warm presence was felt throughout the evening – even the flowers that were used as centrepieces on each dinner table were picked from Patrick’s garden).
“Each and every one of you are selling dreams. You’re bringing joy and promise back into people’s lives. That’s how powerful travel is and we are the gatekeepers,” Gregory told gala attendees.
The night capped off TravelOnly’s first national conference since 2019, “Stronger Than Ever,” which saw members gather at Bellagio Boutique Event Venue for presentations, workshops, panel discussions and one-on-one meetings on June 9 and 10.
(Both the awards and conference were supposed to happen in January of this year, but everything was moved to June due to challenges posed by last winter’s Omicron wave).
A lot has changed since January with the widespread intake of COVID-19 booster shots and easing of border restrictions, which has led to a fierce return in demand for travel.
“We believe we will be back to pre-pandemic numbers by the end of this year,” said Gregory, confident that home-based pros will be the fastest industry group to recover due to low overheads and new technologies that were developed pre-pandemic.
“We’re back in business"
The boom in business is being felt across the board: taking a moment to address the room before presenting a TravelBrands award, Frank DeMarinis, CEO of H.I.S-Red Label Vacations Inc., said his company experienced its “strongest sales day in company history” two weeks ago.
“If that ain’t a sign of where we’re heading in the future, I don’t know what is,” DeMarinis said.
In a music and pop culture-infused keynote address, Cindy Girard, an account manager at Norwegian Cruise Line (the event’s platinum sponsor), noted how “we have already passed the curve,” telling advisors to “buckle up” for what’s ahead, assuring all that they, being stronger than ever, will “rock” in business and in life.
“We’re back in business – literally,” Girard said. “For most of us, we are completely back, which means clients are back at sea as well.”
Kevin Visser, who has been with TravelOnly for 17 years, also shared a powerful speech on expressing gratitude and lessons learned following a cancer diagnosis he received in 2020.
“Set goals for your business and your life,” Visser told the audience. “It can help you keep your head up, looking forward.…There’s so much in our lives to be grateful for [and] practicing gratitude can change your perspective.”
Visser said he was confident that the travel industry “is ready for an explosion.”
“It’s got to be a win for everybody”
On top of honouring top sellers from 2020 and 2021 and President’s Club inductees, TravelOnly celebrated suppliers and presented its 2021 peer awards.
Jennifer McPherson was named TravelOnly’s most supportive peer; Shannon Smith, VP of training, received Rookie of the Year; Sarah Boville was honoured for her community participation; Leia Marvin was named TravelOnly’s MVP; and Pat Probert and Mary de Almeida took home TravelOnly’s top peer award.
Longtime TravelOnly member Holly McBean, who retired from her role as VP of training in 2020, received the Lifetime Achievement Award.
(“She has literally trained thousands of advisors to succeed,” noted Ian Elliott, TravelOnly’s vice-president of sales and marketing).
On the supplier side, the following brands (and people) were acknowledged:
- Top Preferred Supplier – Cruise (Contemporary) – Norwegian Cruise Line
- Top Preferred Supplier Award – Cruise (Premium) – Celebrity Cruises
- Top Preferred Supplier Award in Cruise (Luxury) – Regent Seven Seas
- Top Preferred Supplier – River Cruise – AmaWaterways
- Top Preferred Tour Operator – Sunwing
- Best Partner Support (during the Pandemic) – Air Canada Vacations/Erminia Nigro
- Best Industry Personality – Amanda Morris (Playa Hotels and Resorts)
- Most Support BDM – Cindy Girard
Top producers received awards from suppliers and all advisors were treated to giveaways galore.
Ongoing President’s Club members Pat Probert and Mary de Almeida scooped up an arm-full of trophies – 12 awards total – that evening.
“When you go to your supplier, make sure it’s a deal that works for you, your supplier and your client,” Probert said, taking hold of the mic to share some quick advice with his colleagues. “It’s got to be a win for everybody.”
Stay tuned for more coverage from TravelOnly’s 2022 conference “Stronger Than Ever.”
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