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.
From health care workers to grocery store employees to transit operators to retirement home staff, thousands of Canadians are working on the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic to keep communities safe, happy and healthy.
Frontline and first-responder workers are our heroes during this difficult time, a fact that Playa Hotels and Resorts is acknowledging in a new campaign that gives travel advisors an opportunity to give back to their communities.
Playa’s “Heroes Service From the Heart” initiative, launching next month, will be gifting one trip per day in the month of May to first responders in communities across Canada and the United States.
But it won’t be Playa selecting each deserving individual – it will be travel advisors, a select group who have been given a chance to pay it forward and bestow a vacation upon one community hero of his or her choice.
Launched in tandem with Travel Advisor Appreciation Month, the campaign is not only about thanking frontline workers, but also about recognizing Playa’s advisor partners who have stood by the brand, routinely, especially during the pandemic.
“The greatest gift is when you’re able to give,” Rose Cosentino, vice-president of sales for Canada at Playa Hotels and Resorts, told PAX. “It’s been so difficult for almost two months now and we appreciate those agents that have been dedicated to us. Who have been patient. We can’t do this without them.”
Playa selected nine travel advisors in Canada and 22 in the United States to participate in the program.
It’s 100 per cent up to each individual as which hero in his or her community will receive the complimentary vacation – a four-night stay, for two, at any Playa all-inclusive resort (excluding Sanctuary Cap Cana) from August 1st, 2020, to December 15th, 2021 (private airport transfers and a $25 credit towards an excursion included).
“It could be a nurse they know, someone at a pharmacy or a cashier,” Cosentino said. “We’re not having a say. We want the advisors to shine.”
An “incredible honour & privilege”
Cosentino said Canadian agents were “gobsmacked” when they learned that they were able to honour a hero in their community with a trip.
Lois Barbour of Travel Time – TPI in St. John's, NL, was one of them.
“We are delighted to be recognized as a leader with Playa Resorts and be given the opportunity to gift this amazing travel opportunity to a frontline worker,” Barbour told PAX.
Barbour chose a healthcare professional working in long-term care who is caring for the elderly – “an often-forgotten priority in our health care system,” Barbour said.
“Having come from a career in acute care nursing before the travel industry, the sacrifices so many make to provide ongoing care is fully understood and appreciated,” Barbour told PAX. “Being able to honour them in this way is heartwarming. The risks they take and the sacrifices they make to provide care is worthy of acknowledgement, especially in times like these.”
Mississauga, ON-based Barbara Scrocco of TravelOnly called it an “incredible honour and privilege” to be chosen by Playa to participate.
“This embodies everything that Playa Resorts is known for – ‘service, from the heart,’" Scrocco told PAX. “Playa Resorts is a very special partner of ours and it is not surprising that they have come up with this amazing initiative to support our heroes. During these unprecedented times, I admire and I am incredibly grateful to all those individuals who are working around the clock during this pandemic, putting their lives at risk for the well-being of our community.”
Red Deer, AB-based advisor Suzanne Morgan of Where On Earth Travel, an affiliate of The Travel Agent Next Door, gifted her vacation to a local nurse, Kara Utri, “who has dedicated so much time to this crisis.”
“She has been involved in the planning for protocols and working on the scenarios dealing with COVID-19 and we all know that frontline workers have given up so much for us, including time with their families,” Morgan told PAX. “Let me tell you, she was shocked and then ecstatic to be chosen! She can't wait until we can do some planning for her getaway.”
Morgan said heroes “don’t often get the recognition they deserve” in their communities.
“Teachers, doctors, nurses, and all of the providers of essential services, we have taken for granted,” Morgan said. “Being able to show our appreciation for them, to show that we see and appreciate them, and all that they do, is both an honour as well as humbling.”
“Working with a company that supports the communities we live in and recognizes the hard work put in by individuals is heartwarming,” Morgan said of Playa. “I am thrilled to have been asked to help them pick a local hero to gift this token of their appreciation to.”
The other Canadian advisors that Playa selected were Vikas Malhotra of itravel2000, Caitlin Lajeunesse of Flight Centre Independent, Chantale Gatien of Voyages Nouveau Monde – TDC, Mireille Grenier of Ici et Ailleurs – VED, Chris Rollinson of Escapes.ca, and Hidar Elmais of Travel Gurus.
In a letter to participants, Kevin Froemming, executive vice-president and CCO for Playa Hotels and Resorts, acknowledged the sacrifice of frontline workers “through these difficult times” as well as the role travel advisors play in their communities.
“On behalf of the thousands of Playa Hotels and Resorts associates, I can truly say that this year more than ever, we are so proud to be honouring you, your communities and your dedication to the travel industry during Travel Agent Appreciation Month,” Froemming wrote. “We have always looked at you as our partners and we are grateful to have you as part of our extended Playa Hotels and Resorts family.”
The campaign unfolds as Playa releases a thank-you video, #tommorrowconfirmed, that acknowledges how travel advisors "answered the call…after call…after call…after call" when travel stopped due to COVID-19.
"Travel advisors are the bedrock of hospitality," the video's description on YouTube reads. "Their expertise, guidance and compassion will take us to new heights. And we stand with them with admiration beyond compare."
Watch the video below!
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