Last week, PAX Global Media proudly announced the winners of this year’s Awards of Excellence, our annual celebration of the Canadian travel industry’s finest.
The competition was tight, but only one succeeded in each category and one category even ended in a tie.
But who are the winners of this year’s Awards of Excellence really?
We caught up with each successful nominee to learn more about the work they do and what it means to earn a spot in the PAX Awards of Excellence hall of fame.
TRAVEL AGENT OF THE YEAR - Kelly Klassen, Travel Professionals International (TPI)
“Personal touches go a long way!” says Kelly Klassen, a travel consultant at Travel Professionals International (TPI), sounding off on the qualities of a good travel agent.
Klassen, a travel professional of seven years, says the key to her success is “truly caring for my client’s needs and concerns,” which she expresses, routinely, by sending handwritten cards to her clients and mailing documents instead of email.
Promptness and honesty can also do wonders. “What has proved successful for me has been responding quickly to all emails and requests, being very organized and efficient, and being sincere in my advice and recommendations,” says Klassen.
Klassen says it’s “very humbling” to win Travel Agent of The Year. “What I love most about the travel industry is the people,” she says. “You can meet a fellow travel agent anywhere and have so much in common that we are instant friends.”
She calls TPI “an amazing company” because it feels like a family. “We all cheer each other on and that’s so special,” Klassen tells PAX.
On winning the award, Klassen says she couldn’t have done it without her "wonderful clients" and the support of her husband and four daughters. “I’m truly honoured to win,” Klassen says.
REPRESENTATIVE OF THE YEAR - Brian Joseph, AMResorts
What does Brian Joseph like most about travel?
“It’s something you can’t hold,” says Joseph, business development manager for Ontario at AMResorts. “It’s like liquid or gas. It changes. Every day, every year is a different experience.”
Joseph, who’s originally from Trinidad and Tobago, started studying the travel business in 1999, after which he became a travel agent and then, later on, a travel manager. Today, as a BDM for AMResorts, his tasks are rarely consistent.
“Anything that I could do to develop business, I would do,” Joseph tells PAX.
That could be meeting with agents one-on-one to hosting webinars to attending industry events to conducting drop-by visits to creating marketing strategies to solving problems.
“Sales reps and BDMs, we juggle all day long,” Joseph says. “What excites me the most [about my role] is seeing growth in sales. This means I’m doing my job and being productive.”
On winning this year’s Representative of the Year award (which he shares with Dianne Pedroso of Air Canada Vacations), Joseph says he was “very humbled,” especially after seeing who he was up against. “I have a lot of friends in the industry, so I know the quality and calibre of my colleagues,” he says.
One piece of advice that has stuck with him over the years is to have fun. “Don’t be afraid to be happy and enjoy what you do,” says Joseph. “Let your personality be part of the job.”
“We’re helping people fulfill their dreams, so let’s have fun with it,” he says.
REPRESENTATIVE OF THE YEAR - Dianne Pedroso, Air Canada Vacations
Dianne Pedroso has worked for Air Canada Vacations (ACV) for 21 years and, today, oversees more than 400 accounts.
“I’ve always been a proud ambassador of Air Canada and Air Canada Vacations…I wear my heart on my sleeve,” Pedroso, ACV’s area sales manager for Toronto West and the Niagara Region, tells PAX.
Pedroso covers a lot of ground in her territory as she works to create awareness around the ACV brand.
This includes overseeing strategic and corporate accounts, providing agency partners with selling tools and training, developing marketing initiatives, solving problems, hosting events and finding new partners that fit the ACV brand.
“Whatever it takes to help grow business,” Pedroso tells PAX.
While Pedroso’s job “is about numbers,” it is also, notably, about “relationship building and being there for [partners] through good times and bad,” she says.
“A lot of partners have become colleagues and friends,” Pedroso tells PAX. “Being part of their business is very meaningful. My customers drive what I do every single day.”
On winning this year’s Representative of the Year award, Pedroso is elated. “When you’re not expecting anything, and [then] to get such a great honour from your peers, it’s all worth the hard work,” she says
RESERVATIONS AGENT OF THE YEAR - Hilary Arsenault, G Adventures
“There’s a French saying that goes, ‘Have a smile in your voice when you talk,’” says Hilary Arsenault, a specialist global connection officer (GCO) at G Adventures.
That’s just one of many approaches Arsenault takes when handling the many reservations she manages at G Adventures, where she’s worked for a year-and-a-half.
From overseeing VIP travellers to coordinating reservations within G Adventures' National Geographic Journeys and Just You portfolios, Arsenault’s goal at the end of the day is to “offer great customer service,” whether she’s answering the phone or replying to emails.
Overseeing reservations is for “someone who can listen, rather than just reply,” Arsenault tells PAX. She loves interacting with clients and hearing their stories. “You get people from all walks of life,” she says.
What Arsenault loves most about her job is “setting clients up on a new adventure that you know will completely change their lives,” she says.
On winning this year’s Reservations Agent of the Year, Arsenault is thrilled. “I’ve been trying to find the right words to describe it,” she says. “‘Excited’ is definitely one of them.’”
SOCIAL MEDIA GURU OF THE YEAR - Lori Gold, Twil Travel
“Without social media, I don’t think we would be able to do our jobs as well,” says Lori Gold of Toronto-based Twil Travel. “We’re always travelling the world, learning about different things. [Social media] is something that really brings us together.”
Gold, who has worked in travel for 12 years, spends most of her time on the ground in Mexico. For her, social media is particularly helpful when, for example, “things go wrong” in the destination and negative news coverage begins to spiral.
By posting updates on Facebook and Instagram, and because she works on location: “I can be the one to set the record straight,” Gold tells PAX. “A lot of travel agents know that I’m here and they look to me for the latest on what’s going on in Mexico.”
Gold was “surprised” when she learned she won this year’s Social Media Guru award, but “happy” at the same time. “I spend way too much time on social media, so I’m glad it has paid off,” she says.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR - Bruno Muñoz, Transat
Bruno Muñoz has worked in the travel industry for seven years, but in his latest role, he’s rookie of the year.
It’s been just over one year since Muñoz started his job as a business development representative for Vancouver Island and parts of the Lower Mainland at Transat Tours Canada.
“I was shocked. It’s such an honour,” Muñoz told PAX on winning the award.
Muñoz, who’s originally from Mexico, joined Transat in the groups department in late 2016, where he had opportunity to meet many of the agents he works with today.
His day-to-day duties include visiting his accounts and travel agencies to keep them updated on “what’s new” with Transat, from hotels to destinations.
“I really love travelling, I love people, I love sales – it’s in my blood,” Muñoz tells PAX.
His advice to anyone who’s considering a career in travel? “Just do it,” Muñoz says. “Don’t be scared. The travel industry is definitely an amazing place to work.”
PERSONALITY OF THE YEAR - Bruce Lidberg, TravelBrands
“Relationships are such an important part of our industry,” says Bruce Lidberg, director of sales – Western Canada at TravelBrands. “The key to success in this industry is how you treat and interact with people.”
Having an infectious personality can go a long way, too, and “when you’re around enough, people get to know you,” says Lidberg, who has worked in the travel industry for 27 years.
On winning this year’s Personality of the Year award, Lidberg says it’s “very much a team award” that he shares with his colleagues at TravelBrands. “As a company and as a team, we focus on doing the right thing,” Lidberg tells PAX, noting the importance of building partnerships and making business “an enjoyable and fun experience” for everyone.
At the same time, Lidberg says he “very honoured” to win Personality of the Year. “It’s a nice early Christmas present,” he says.