Blake Wolfe is an award-winning journalist and editor, who joined PAX after nearly 10 years in Canada’s newspaper industry. In addition to PAX, his work has been featured in publications such as the Metroland Media group of newspapers and the Toronto Sun.
With an exclusive Air Miles partnership and plans for the travel agency of tomorrow well underway, the future is indeed very bright for Transat Distribution Canada (TDC).
The network’s 2018 conference touched down in Toronto this past weekend, welcoming hundreds of attendees eager to hear the latest from the company, along with 50 supplier partners. Under the theme of ‘Welcome to the Future,’ attendees put on their best futuristic look for the evening reception – complete with wigs!
Toronto was the second of three stops this year, following a successful event in Montreal earlier this month and ahead of the final conference in Vancouver taking Sept. 21-23.
The conference featured several sessions for agents in attendance, covering topics such as Spain and Portugal (two of Transat’s hottest markets currently); effective communication; and the role various technologies will play in the travel industry.
In regards to the latter subject, Nathalie Boyer, general manager, Transat Distribution Canada, told PAX that while some concepts, such as blockchain and big data, are going to change the industry over the coming years, her presentation to agents focused on their essential role and responsibilities in selling travel.
“Our message is that although we need to use that technology to be efficient, they will never replace travel agents – robots don’t have the emotional intelligence or experience that an agent can bring to the equation,” Boyer said. “I don’t think many people realize that day to day, how much they deal with technology. When you ask how many people have a smartphone, everyone raised their hands; when you bring up chatbots, there were some confused looks but when you mention Siri, they understand.
“The goal is to make sure our agents are able to sell dreams through travel, not to be able to learn the functionality of a system. Their value is in their passion and experience which can be provided to a client.”
The sky’s the limit with Air Miles
TDC also recently embarked on a new chapter in its relationship with Air Miles, which will see the network become the loyalty program’s exclusive partner for package and cruise redemption.
According to Belinda Nunes, program manager for Transat Distribution Canada, the partnership has been a win-win for both companies.
“Customers really wanted to come in and consult with someone, whereas before, they could only talk over the phone,” Nunes said. “Since the partnership, Air Miles’ satisfaction rate has really climbed, because their customers no longer have to wait for those appointments.”
“Air Miles sees the benefit of our network, which can bring value to their collectors,” added Boyer. “It’s the perfect match because we have the knowledge of the program – our agents train for many years – and they really wanted to expand the offer to their collectors, because before the collector would need to call a call centre and wait to get an appointment; with us, they can come in to our stores and redeem their miles and enjoy the experience of a travel professional assisting them in their booking.”
Preparing for the future
In addition to the impact of technology on the industry, the way in which customers perceive the role of agents is also changing – a development which Boyer said TDC is preparing their consultants for.
“They’re not coming to just book airfare, they want added value from a travel professional,” she said. “Clients are demanding and short on time and when they come to see you, they already have in mind what they want – they usually know the product better than us – and they just want the added value and reassurance that everything will be fine. It’s our job to equip the agents for this.”
The network is also looking ahead by growing its agent@home division, recently surpassing the 100-member mark with home-based agents across the country.
The type of travel purchased is also evolving. While Boyer said that package vacations still account for 50 per cent of TDC’s bookings, more and more travellers are seeking niche forms of travel, including adventure, luxury, ‘bleisure and solo travel.
“In terms of niches, there’s not one that sells more than others, but it’s rather about finding the right product for the right customer.”
And on top of all the latest developments, there’s still more waiting to be revealed.
“In the next two years, we’re working on the concept of what the travel consultant of tomorrow will look like,” Boyer explained. “This is a huge work in progress.”