Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
It was a travel advisor day for the books.
On the second-last night of Travel Professionals International’s (“Trevello’s,”) national conference in Cancun, Mexico, on May 4 – Travel Advisor Day – more than 160 agents received the ultimate parting gift from the sales team at Majestic Elegance Costa Mujeres, which hosted the week-long symposium from May 1-6.
Attendees received a complimentary seven-night stay for two at any Majestic property of their choice, whether it be the compound in Costa Mujeres (an up-and-coming region some 25 minutes north of Cancun’s hotel zone) or one of Majestic’s Colonial, Elegance or Mirage resorts in Punta Cana, Dominican Republic.
“Travel advisors have been supporting us for 15 years and the best way to say thank you is by rewarding them with what they really need – a break,” David Martinez, sales and marketing manager for Mexico and the Dominican Republic at Majestic Resorts, told PAX at the conference’s joyous gala and awards dinner, where the giveaway was revealed and received with high enthusiasm.
The right venue
TPI, or Trevello (more on that later), hosted its 2022 conference, “Unlock Your Future,” at a resort, and in a region, that’s building buzz.
Sleek and spa-like Majestic Elegance Costa Mujeres, a 570-room, all-inclusive beachfront resort with adults-only and family sections and alluring swim-up suites, launched in 2019, but it feels like it opened just yesterday.
READ MORE: TPI kicks off 2022 conference, “Unlock Your Future,” at Majestic Elegance Costa Mujeres
Signs of wear and tear (if any) are minimal, given the pause in guest traffic that occurred in 2020 during the initial pandemic shutdown.
Last week, conference attendees (travel advisors – 40 per cent of which were new to the industry – and some 35 suppliers) got to see, taste and touch everything Elegance has to offer.
It was timely exercise, too, as Majestic is banking on laid-back Costa Mujeres – a spread-out, developing region of protected flora, mangroves and sand dunes – to be the next big thing.
The brand owns two big plots of land on both sides of Elegance Costa Mujeres and the plan, Martinez told PAX, is to build two neighbouring hotels – a family-friendly Majestic Colonial, for one, and another that may divert from the suite-and-butler-focused Mirage brand.
“We’re thinking about changing the concept,” Martinez said.
Either way, Majestic’s goal is to have “around 1,800 rooms” in Costa Mujeres over the next six years, he said.
“The density is much lower here compared to other areas in Riviera Maya and Cancun. We’re trying to develop all-inclusives that have space, which, for us, is luxury,” Martinez said.
Don't say the C-word
In a marketplace characterized by eased travel restrictions, pent-up demand and low inventory, having more options to choose from is something agents might appreciate as business, paused for two years due to the pandemic, comes roaring back.
And there’s a definitely a roar in the air – TPI, which announced last week that it will rebrand as “Trevello” as part of a U.S. expansion strategy, was at first hesitant to host an in-person conference this year (their first since 2019) simply due to the fact that many advisors who usually attend couldn’t go because they’re so busy with work.
But getting agents in front of suppliers is key to “unlocking” the future, as the week’s theme implied.
“We really, really wanted it to be in person and make this a new beginning for all of us,” company CEO Zeina Gedeon said. “I don’t even want to mention C-O-V-I-D.”
At TPI, new beginnings start with Trevello Travel Group, which is what the host agency will be known as moving forward.
Trevello refers to someone who is a natural leader, independent, individualistic, ambitious, original and courageous, and that name will be front and centre in all consumer and media-facing materials.
Agents can still brand themselves as TPI, if they wish, or as Trevello. Or their own brand.
READ MORE: TPI is rebranding as “Trevello.” CEO Zeina Gedeon explains what this means
But the new name is just one piece – Trevello will not only guide TPI’s expansion into the U.S., but it will also serve as a springboard for big changes to the company’s technology and compensation platforms, as Gedeon told PAX in an interview last week.
The update comes at a time of significant growth.
While Trevello’s network lost members during the pandemic (many retired, Gedeon said), it gained others, from agents whose storefront agencies closed during lockdown to newcomers looking to cash in on the pent-up demand for travel we’re seeing now.
Last March alone saw the highest number of new recruits in the company’s 27-year history, Gedeon said.
But the host agency doesn’t accept every Tom, Dick and Harry.
“We are picky with who we get,” Gedeon said. “If you’re new to the industry, we want you to be passionate about travel. We don’t want someone who just wants to go on FAM trips.”
Advisors in Trevello’s network are also making big changes, Gedeon explained.
“Many have reset their business,” she said. “They’re charging fees, they’re putting more value on what they do, they’re creating their own niche.”
“We have many advisors that used to do everything. Now they’re saying, ‘I only want to do this.’”
The real world
Almost every session at Trevello’s conference last week offered an authentic glimpse at what travel advisors are doing to kickstart their business after two tumultuous years.
The week – enhanced by supplier presentations, a trade show, giveaways, roundtables, a Travel Advisor Day celebration, and fun activities, like beach volleyball, salsa dancing and a karaoke “wig night” – focused on the travel agent experience, amplifying the voices of those who changed their strategy, and mindset, during COVID to take on a whole new world.
READ MORE: TPI (Trevello) kicks off Travel Agent Day with a bang in Cancun, Mexico
At last Monday’s (May 2) “Pain That Unlocked Your Gain” panel, advisors shared lessons learned from the past two years.
Kim Hartlen, for example, felt empowered after introducing fees for her services, while Rachel Smith found benefits in developing more personal connections with clients while also becoming selective in her supplier partnerships.
At another panel, “Unlock Your Power,” held May 5, leading Trevello advisors shared front-line strategies for newcomers and seasoned pros, tackling topics such as mental health while addressing ways of working smarter.
(Click here to read PAX’s recap of that discussion).
“It’s great to be back and see everybody. It’s been way too long,” said Tahiti specialist Carl Henderson, one of the panelists. “I love learning from other advisors. You get so much from that.”
Travel consultant Ashley Doell delivered a talk about knowing, showing and growing your value, which is “imperative in this industry if you want to grow,” Doell told PAX.
Doell touched on barriers that often come into play – such as perfectionism, imposture syndrome and lack of confidence – when running a travel business.
“The best return on investment is investing time into yourself,” Doell said. “You are a huge part of your business. You need to focus on that as well.’
The week was also about unlocking partnerships, as Sneha Varghese, Trevello’s director, marketing and partnerships, outlined in a presentation.
“Partnerships no longer look like they did before,” Varghese said, urging delegates to focus less on the past and look to the future by teaming up with suppliers who can help foster growth.
“Sustainability is resilience"
A presentation on sustainable tourism also took place on the main stage at TPI-Trevello’s conference for the very first time.
“Sustainability is resilience. And I think advisors get that,” said presenter Emilyn Salvador, a professional development manager at Trevello, referencing what travel advisors have endured over the last two years.
During COVID, Trevello created a Facebook group for advisors that focused on sharing sustainability content and tips on how to engage with clients about eco-conscious choices and ways of travelling better.
The group’s mission is to not only have a positive impact on the planet, but to also make info about sustainable tourism accessible to all.
This includes awareness around topics such as over-tourism and environmental protection, as well as direction on which brands are practicing sustainability.
“Travel advisors have an opportunity to bring a new service to clients by being more knowledgeable about destinations and brands by knowing where the money trickles down,” Salvador told PAX.
READ MORE: Travel pros unlock powerful ideas at Trevello’s conference in Cancun
“Clients want to travel responsibly, but few ask about it. There’s a myth that sustainable travel is only about hiking, hugging trees and being in the wilderness. But it’s more about choosing the right brands.”
In line with this, Trevello, last week, announced that Planeterra, a Canadian non-profit organization that uses community tourism to change lives, would be its new charity of choice.
“Unlock Your Future” also unlocked some hot properties.
On Tuesday night (May 3), attendees were bused to Dreams Vista Cancun Golf & Spa Resort for a site inspection, and then it was off to the new (and very slick) Breathless Cancun Soul Resort & Spa for a tour, dinner and rooftop, poolside party.
Trevello’s visit marked one of the first big groups of agents to visit Breathless Cancun Soul, which opened in December 2021, said Javier Mavarro, the property’s director of sales.
“We are the soul of Cancun,” Mavarro told PAX, calling the adults-only, all-inclusive property a “centrepiece” in the region’s hotel scene.
With two connecting towers, 10 chic dining venues, ocean views, and three pools divided into low, medium and high-energy categories, the 429-suite hotel is like a fashion magazine come to life, capturing a South Beach meets Ibiza vibe.
Operating under seven pillars – fashion, arts/culture, pool/beach experiences, dining, spa, entertainment and music – there’s always something glam to take in, like on-site fashions shows, art exhibits or, as seen at Trevello’s bash, showgirls on roller blades and beefcake synchronized swimmers.
But “get this out of your minds,” stressed Carlo Trinidad, business development manager, Western & Central Canada at AMResorts. “This is not risqué.”
Trinidad, alluding to how Breathless has left its past hedonist reputation behind, said the brand has evolved into a “sophisticated” product for the “dress-to-impress” traveller.
Breathless Cancun Soul can also handle “any large group,” he said, urging agents to book as far in advance as possible to secure the best rates.
The night was a hint at what’s to come as Breathless Cancun Soul will host Trevello’s conference next year from April 30 to May 5, 2023.
Saved by Santonato
“It’s hard to put into words how this week has truly connected us even more than we were,” said Caroline Hay, Trevello’s national director of sales, at the conference’s gala and awards.
This year honoured suppliers (voted on by the Trevello network) in various categories, including “Best On Hold Music” (which went to Transat).
Agents attending conference were celebrated for having the highest commission and fees, and for being team players, as reflected by the “Spirit,” “Global Citizen,” “Advisor Advocate,” “Extra Mile” and “Social Media” awards.
Mary Santonato, national account manager at Air Canada Vacations, received the “Supplier Partner Representative of the Year Award" for her commitment to helping advisors during COVID.
“It’s been a pleasure being there [for advisors] in any way I can. The struggles have been incredibly insane,” Santonato told PAX over dinner.
Santonato clearly had a positive impact on Trevello’s network during the roughest times of the pandemic.
As one advisor quipped: “Her award should have been called the ‘Life Saver Award.’”
To view fun pictures from Trevello’s 2022 conference in Cancun, visit PAX’s Facebook page here.
And here’s a list of all the suppliers who were honoured.
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