Air Canada welcomed Vancouver travel trade professionals to an event at the Fairmont Pacific Rim hotel that was packed with updates on Wednesday (April 12), including a restructuring at Air Canada Vacations (ACV) and the retirement of Lucie Guillemette, executive vice-president and chief commercial officer, after 36 years with the airline.
“It’s bittersweet for me,” Guillemette, who also served as president of ACV, told the crowd. “I can assure you that I’ll be your biggest cheerleader as we continue to grow the business.”
She noted that investments made during the pandemic – including in airplanes, technology, and the Aeroplan program – position Air Canada well for future network growth.
“I was so fortunate to find a company whose values align with mine,” Guillemette told PAX. “When I look back, I’m incredibly proud of everything Air Canada has been able to accomplish. I can sincerely say I would do it all again – even the biggest failures and difficulties I ever had, I learned from. I’ve never regretted a day.”
“I’ve got big shoes to fill”
Effective May 1, Guillemette will be replaced by two long-serving Air Canada executives: Mark Galardo, executive vice-president, revenue and network planning, and Lisa Pierce, vice-president, global sales and Air Canada Vacations.
Mark Nasr, senior vice-president, products, marketing and eCommerce, will also become executive vice-president marketing and digital, and president of Aeroplan.
“I’ve got big shoes to fill,” Galardo said before highlighting new and upcoming routes from YVR.
“Our commercial foundation has never been more strong,” he said. “In the last three years, we grew three Canadian cities, including Vancouver, into global hubs. We launched our flight to Bangkok – the only non-stop from North America – and we’re looking at new routes to Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines. We just need more airplanes.”
He also teased a “major new route announcement out of Vancouver” to come later this week. (A new Vancouver-Dubai service, notably, was announced the next morning on Thursday).
“Big strategic projects”
Pierce noted that as the Asia-Pacific region continues to reopen, Air Canada is restoring flights to Sydney, Osaka, Brisbane, and Auckland.
The U.S. market is also growing, with new routes from Vancouver recently added to Houston, Miami, and Washington, DC.
She said that leisure and visiting friends and family travel is currently outpacing business travel for a return to pre-pandemic levels. In fact, the sun market showed positive revenue growth in 2022 over 2019.
Pierce’s leadership team is rounded out by Virgilio Russi, vice-president, international sales, and Nino Montagnese, vice-president of Air Canada Vacations.
“It’s an amazing team,” Pierce told PAX. “The bottom line is they are all brilliant minds working on big strategic projects.”
Russi remarked on Vancouver’s growth as an Asia-Pacific gateway, noting that YVR’s ongoing status as a top-rated airport helps ensure the city’s status as the preferred gateway to the Americas.
Montagnese, meanwhile, focused on the tech investments made to streamline and improve ACV’s backend, as multiple systems have been brought into one platform.
Groups is the final item left to move into the new system, and that should complete by mid-May, he said, followed by a groups instant-quote system that should begin rolling out in Q3.
ACV is also developing a new B2B agent portal that will include ACV & Me, GDSs, marketing collateral, and reporting by branch, agent, or chain, Montagnese said.
One feature that travel agents can already take advantage of through TripBook is the ability to change up to 30 per cent of a passenger’s name up to seven days before departure, he said.
“We spent the last year and a half focused on the tech side,” Montagnese told PAX. “The multiple back-end systems were very convoluted, and products weren’t on every shelf. This move to one platform makes everything more available for our travel partners.”
On behalf of attendees at Wednesday’s event, Air Canada made a $5,000 donation to the Air Canada Foundation, which supports Canadian-registered charities focused on children’s health and wellbeing.
A similar Air Canada event will take place in Toronto on Thursday (April 13). PAX will be on site to provide on-the-ground coverage.
See more pictures from Air Canada's event in Vancouver!