Ensemble Las Vegas: Agents Dish On Post-Covid Travel

L-R: Chris Rollinson of Escapes.ca; Kathie Drummond of Charrisma Travel; Rick Gaudet of FareConnect.com and Darci Murray of Hooked.

If you want to get a snapshot of the evolving Canadian retail travel industry, where better than at a conference for one of the major consortia – in this case Ensemble, at its annual Horizons conference. The event was held this year 02-06 NOV in Las Vegas.

Some 700 advisors, ICs, managers and suppliers spent several fruitful days at the massive Paris Hotel, networking, learning, engaging in 1:1s and in general getting updates on how our industry is evolving.

Trends include a slowing down after the unprecedented, unexpected “post-covid” demand. Business is robust, for sure, but not as crazy.

What are clients looking for? Luxury, multi-gen, culinary-themed and authentic experiences are all on the list. And of course, all categories of cruising.

Interestingly, the social media platforms agents find are best working for them are (in order): Facebook, Instagram and LinkedIn. The number one source of business? Referrals.

Open Jaw spoke with a few advisors to get a handle on what is working for their businesses.

Darci Murray of Hooked, Alcohol Free Travel, is a wonderful example of the new travel entrepreneur, taking a passion and personal focus and turning it into a career. Just 2 years ago she founded this wholesaler/retailer which specializes in alcohol-free travel, and hosts small group tours. A non-drinker herself, she accompanies the groups and reports that her clients are extremely sociable and fun, and find her trips completely intoxicating (even without the alcohol). She attracts business through Instagram and LinkedIn and the consumer media interest she has garnered in, for example, the Globe and Mail. In the pipes are tours to Morocco, Tanzania and Canmore, Alta., for dogsledding (all are viewable at hooked-on-travel.com). “There is,” she says, “A total market for this.”

Kathie Drummond of Charrisma Travel in Bolton, Ont., is also enjoying great success. She told Open Jaw that business is picking up and clients are broadening their horizons with big FIT trips to Australia and New Zealand, and clients looking for ever higher end cruising. “I’m booking 2025 now and 2026 where the books are open.”

Chris Rollinson of Vancouver-based Escapes.ca has an interesting business model: he specializes in all-inclusive packages to the sunny south which about half of his clients book on his website. And every online booking client gets a follow-up call – which, he says sometimes surprises them but pleases them and gives Escapes staff the chance to build a bond and offer upgrades, as well as ancillary services such as day trips or private transfers. Escapes.ca is clearly doing something right: their 10 agents and 28 ICs are breaking company sales records every month. As Chris says, “We are very, very optimistic.”

Another interesting business model is that of Rick Gaudet of FareConnect.com. The Winnipeg-headquartered company, celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, is a host agency to over 400 ICs from across Canada and, like Escapes.ca, sells mainly the Caribbean and Mexico (though with a growing portfolio of European business). FareConnect had a whopping 50 agents at the Ensemble conference in Vegas. It’s important, Gaudet feels, to educate his ICs in the Ensemble offerings and also imbed the philosophy that service charges are the way to go. (“ICs can struggle to deliver that message to their clients,” he says. “It can be hard for them to feel their own worth, but I bring it up continually.”) With his top producer selling $3 million a year as an individual, he’s confident that the future of travel, and that of FareConnect, is robust.

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