Winter Is Coming is a new PAX series that offers a glimpse into the war rooms of Canada’s leading travel companies as the winter vacation season takes flight. Stay tuned for exclusive interviews with industry movers, shakers and decision-makers as we dissect their upcoming plans for Canada’s travel trade.
Air Canada Vacations doesn’t fool around when the temperatures start to dip.
The tour operator kicked off the fall season with its annual ACV DreamMakers event, which travelled to venues across Canada to engage with trade partners and to showcase its new 2019/2020 Sun Collection.
“Our goal with our product launches was to help educate our partners to give them the tools they need to make vacation dreams come true, and we also had a lot of fun doing it!” Nino Montagnese, managing director at Air Canada Vacations, tells PAX.
Now, winter is coming, and ensuring travel agents are up to speed with ACV’s latest promotions and products as the busy booking season begins has never been more important to Montagnese and his team.
Here, Montagnese shares his exclusive insights into ACV’s action plan for winter and how travel agents can benefit most.
PAX: How has Air Canada Vacations prepared for the busy winter season?
Nino Montagnese (NM): The winter season is already off to a good start for Air Canada Vacations. We’ve had promotions in the market that encourage travellers to book early. Ultimately, when booking early, they will obtain maximum value for their vacation and can benefit from taking advantage of our CareFree and CareFlex plans which include free seat selection, price drop protection and flexibility to make changes. Not only is this amazing value for customers, it is also a great closing tool for travel agents and a way for them to provide a higher level of service to their clients.
Through Air Canada Vacations, travel agents can book vacations for customers in any destination where Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge fly to. We have a comprehensive lineup of vacations packages to all the major Sun destinations in Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Cuba. And we have always been known as the go-to provider for English Caribbean destinations, including, of course, all the Sandals and Beaches offerings.
With that said, this fall, we are hosting Mega FAMs to give travel agents hands-on experience in Jamaica, Curaçao and Antigua. We are also investing in equipping the travel trade with the knowledge they need to sell with confidence. We will be hosting Europe trainings this fall, which is a great opportunity to learn about the massive early booking savings for Europe in the spring and summer.
PAX: What should travel agents keep top of mind this winter season?
NM: The first thing that travel agents should keep top of mind is that the Air Canada Vacations’ CareFree and CareFlex plans offer customers peace of mind and flexibility when they book their vacation and our retail partners can take advantage of 15 per cent commission.
In addition to the trust and service reliability of vacations with flights aboard Air Canada and Air Canada Rouge, travellers can benefit from 63 convenient connectors across the country. That means that there are even more opportunities for travel agents to book vacations for their customers. And agents have even more ways to earn with the upgrade of our ACV & Me Loyalty program, which goes live as of November 1, 2019.
The third point that agents should keep top of mind this season are the collections, plans, programs and perks that are exclusively available for Air Canada Vacations customers. Florida, Las Vegas, Hawaii and California are all hot-selling products this year! Our newly launched “Orlando Promise” joins our “Cruise Promise” program to relax our normal terms and conditions to increase flexibility. And we’ve extended our Spotlight program to include Las Vegas. When you see packages with Spotlight in our Sun product line (and now Las Vegas!), you will know that your customers are getting extra perks and amenities not available elsewhere.
PAX: The past year in travel has had its share of highs and lows. Where is Air Canada Vacations’ "head at" as a new quarter begins? What is guiding its approach to sales and the trade?
NM: The last quarter of the year is an important one and we at Air Canada Vacations make sure we meet commercially twice weekly. This is to ensure we are putting the right price and products on the shelves for our retail customers to access. These meetings are where we determine upcoming marketing/campaign strategies. It also allows us to keep our lines of communication open between all departments.
Ultimately, we don’t take our eye off the market. We work extremely well with our colleagues at Air Canada when it comes to our capacity planning. Air Canada Vacations puts capacity onto routes where our customers are asking for it. In addition to continuing to cater to more demand from Montreal, we are providing Quebec City with new direct flights to Punta Cana and Cancun this winter. We are also growing in Western Canada with more frequencies to Mexico to give customers more options. And we are continuing to add more capacity into Cuba, a destination that continues to be extremely popular with Canadians.
PAX: How does agent feedback shape the way Air Canada Vacations does business?
NM: Over the past year we have put special focus on being more customer-centric at Air Canada Vacations. We have listened carefully to the feedback from our travel agent partners and made changes as a result. For example, we created a Facebook group to be more accessible to our partners. This group has already reached more than 2,570 members in only two months and it continues to grow.
Another example is ACV&ME. We learned that our travel agent loyalty program ACV&ME would resonate more if we offered additional ways to earn and redeem and provided instant redemption. We recently announced a redesign to ACV&ME covering 28 new ways to redeem, instant redemption, and the ability to earn points on cruise-only and land-only. Next, following up on our trade partners’ requests to offer group support on the weekends, we implemented weekend staffing effective September 14, 2019, offering 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. group quoting and service. We also recently introduced ACV@Home, our initiative supporting the home-based travel agency community.
We’re very proud of the initiatives we have implemented over the past year that are designed to support our travel partners. As we continue to receive feedback, we will continue to listen and act on it.
PAX: What makes a Canadian tour operator successful during the busy winter season?
NM: Communication is a very important part of our culture at Air Canada Vacations. We believe that communicating internally as well as externally is one of the keys to success.
Again, I’ll stress that putting the right product/promotions and pricing on every shelf possible is very important. You need to continually reinvent yourself, sourcing new and interesting products and promoting it in ways that resonate with the customer.
PAX: What products and destinations has Air Canada Vacations added this season?
NM: We launched our 2019/2020 Sun Collection earlier this year. It includes a selection of more than 750 hotels – mostly all-inclusive – 63 of which are new to our lineup. This year, we also expanded on our various and sought-after collections. Our Spotlight Collection now includes 175 new resorts and 124 resorts in our Play Collection. As well, we also launched our U.S. Spotlight Collection and Cruise Spotlight Collection.
This winter we also added capacity with three additional new flights to sun destinations – Quebec City (YQB) to Cancun, Mexico (CUN) will operate on Saturdays, starting on December 21, 2019, while Quebec City (YQB) to Punta Cana, Dominican Republic (PUJ) will operate on Sundays, starting on December 22, 2019, and a non-stop route from Ottawa (YOW) to Varadero, Cuba, operating on Mondays starting December 23, 2019.
For our European product lines, we also boosted our Costa del Sol program with options for long stays ranging up to 28 days – ideal for our Canadian snowbirds desiring to spend their winter in the warmer region of Málaga. We’ve also added new non-stop flights with year-round service between Montreal and Toulouse starting June 4, 2020, and a non-stop route from Toronto to Brussels starting May 1, 2020.
PAX: Are there any internal changes at Air Canada Vacations travel agents should know about?
NM: We’re excited to share that our Groups department is now open seven days a week; we are open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Saturday and Sundays. On the weekdays, our Call Centre has a call-back feature which keeps our agents in the queue but does not keep their lines held.
PAX: Local community tourism and experiential travel is a growing trend. How is Air Canada Vacations embracing this type of travel?
NM: Air Canada Vacations is continually enhancing its product to cater to experiential travel. In Europe, we offer hundreds of really interesting activities such as Spanish cooking classes in Madrid, Alentejo wine tours in Lisbon and a literary pub crawl in Dublin. There’s something to cater to every customer’s taste. And it’s all in the new Europe brochure launched in October.
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