“It's good to be back.”
Air Canada Vacations’ Vice-President Nino Montagnese is all smiles in the foyer of the Universal Eventspace in Vaughan, ON.
Big coffee in hand, he’s spending a few quick minutes welcoming attendees into the annual #ACVDreamMakers product launch before the show begins.
More than 800 top-tier travel advisors and suppliers gathered to hear all about ACV’s abundance of plans for the year ahead, including their 2023/2024 Sun Collection destinations.
“I love the interaction between our customers and suppliers,” Montagnese says, “and our ability to bring the two together and let them learn from each other. Tonight, we’ll have close to 70 suppliers here – from Mexico, the Caribbean, some from Europe, the cruise partners, they’re all in the room.”
“Our trade partners are now going to have first-hand conversations with them, to get the type of invaluable, detailed information that my sales team can’t provide. Everyone wins.”
Toronto was the last in a series of stops for the showcase, which travelled across the country this past month.
Whereas just a single Dream Makers event was held in Montreal in 2022, this year marked a return to multi-city events in Halifax, Edmonton, Vancouver, Montreal and Toronto.
“We typically focus on our sun product line – the largest product line that we have – but this show tonight is about the world,” Montagnese tells PAX. “Air Canada has a global network. So my mandate for the team is that we need to start showing our customers the world, not just the sun.”
Guests mingled around multiple food stations, before wandering between supplier tables, gathering packages and notes, then sitting down to absorb the energy of a troupe of dancers and singers, sponsored by Norwegian Cruise Lines.
Opening remarks from Montagnese were followed by notes from reps of the event’s two presenting sponsors: Bahia Principe’s Director of Sales Henry Perez, and Sandals and Beaches Resorts Executive Vice President Gary C. Sadler.
ACV General Manager Erminia Nigro then smoothly ran through the coming year’s game plan, assisted by various members of the ACV team, including Ana Paula De Souza, Dianne Pedroso, Krista Rothfuchs, Marco Lot, Judy Munden and Elish Tait.
A tech-forward workplace
Many of the updates highlighted during the evening were rooted in technology, including a travel agent tool kit and a digital brochure.
“We’ve put a lot of focus on technology these last couple of years,” Montagnese says. “We're giving travel agents as much technology as we can. We have had multiple back-end booking systems, which didn’t allow us to support our trade partners on the front end the way we should. Now, we’ve made the decision to move all of the product into one system. By bringing these technologies to our trade partners, we’re giving them functionality they’ve never had before.”
Tech treats also include a new “insta-tool” for booking tours, wherein travel agents will be able to “generate their own quotes, rather than waiting for us to manually quote them by email,” Montagnese says.
“We want them to control their own bookings and make changes, add payments, add names. This is going to make life so much easier for travel agents across the country.”
And, as previously reported, ACV has also modified commission payouts.
“We're probably the first tour operator that’s going to pay commission on a customer that cancels at deposit,” Montagnese says. “The agents are putting in the work – and they should be paid for it.”
One of the sales team’s takeaway tips of the night is a sure-fire sign of things to come – book early.
“We’ve always said to book early,” Montagnese says, “but over the past couple of years, we’ve realized you have to book even earlier than that. For next summer, Europe is already more than 90 per cent ahead of where we were last year for this summer.”
Wrapping up the evening, well-wishes for a successful year ahead came from Lisa Pierce, vice-present of global sales for Air Canada and ACV.
Then, ACV vice president of product development Dina Bertolo presented a number of awards of recognition.
Winners included Trip Central, Blowes & Stewart Travel Group, The Travel Agent Next Door and Red Label Vacations.