The Association of Canadian Travel Agencies co-hosted the first annual Vancouver Travel Marketplace on March 1 at the JW Marriott Parq Vancouver, where 250 travel agents and 50 suppliers gathered for panels, education, trade shows and social events. PAXnewsWest caught up with Wendy Paradis, ACTA's president to find out what is new and in the works with the organization.
PAXnewsWest: What's today all about?
Wendy Paradis: It's called Travel Marketplace and it is a way for travel agencies and travel suppliers to come together on the west coast. It is a two-day event full of education, which is certainly one of ACTA's priorities for travel agents. And it also gives travel agencies an opportunity to meet face to face with travel suppliers.
PNW: What is the message that ACTA wants to get out to the agents through the conference?
WP: Part of it is that travel agents and travel agencies play such a vital role when it comes to building great vacations, memorable vacations for travellers. So really, it's to show them trends, how to set themselves apart from the crowd, whether that is from other travel agents or from the technology, but what makes them special and where they can actually get an edge.
Of course, we have a number of people writing their Certified Travel Counsellor certification today and it's all about improving knowledge, networking and knowledge in, I'm going to say the soft skills sales - customer service, leadership, social media - and also their product knowledge, their destination and category training.
PNW: What's ACTA up to these days?
WP: We are extremely busy right now as far as our advocacy portfolio goes. At ACTA, our number one priority is to be advocating for the travel agents and the travel agencies in Canada.
In the air space, we've recently found out that Canada has the third highest debut memos in the world, behind China and India, which is bad news. That is money right out of the travel agents and travel agencies' pocket.
We've actually delved deep into that and have put some practices in place and have lobbied IATA to make some changes. It's going very well, and we've already seen an 11-per cent decrease in just a couple of months and by the fall we feel we'll probably get to at least a 50-per cent decrease in these error invoices coming to the travel agencies.
[We've] really been lobbying the government in Alberta about outside sales agents or home-based agent not being able to offer travel insurance, which makes no sense. We are really lobbying for change there. In Ontario we have a travel industry act that is up for review.
An Air Passenger Bill of Rights is really hot right now. We were in Ottawa just yesterday, testifying to the federal government, making recommendations that we need to have reasonable change so the consumer wins, travel agencies win, airlines win.
Our other area where we are very active is education, and we are very focussed on what we call "just in time" learning. Our travel agency members tell us what the issues of the day are, or we see emerging issues and then we'll put together a one-hour webinar and a tool kit and launch those on a monthly basis. You can come on the phone, sit in front of your computer and you've got the [tool kit] on how you're going to take care of that situation. It's open to any ACTA member. We have up to a 150 travel agencies participating.
So definitely, those two pillars of advocacy and education are really where we spend the bulk of our time.
The other thing that is really interesting is that one of our goals is to promote how amazing travel agents are to all the stakeholders - suppliers, government, etc. - and we also participate in consumer shows where we actually are having a booth and telling them that using a travel professional you'll have the best vacation and the best support.
We get calls every week from the mainstream media about negative issues - if there's a weather issue, an airport issue, still the Zika virus - we now have the mainstream media saying to us, even before we can say it, "you know the best defence is really using a professional travel agent isn't it?" And so that's really changed in the last couple of years.
PNW: How many members does ACTA have?
WP: We have about 1,500 members. The ACTA members write 80 per cent of the overall travel agency transactions in Canada, and that represents about 15,000 travel agents.
PNW: What's in the future?
WP: Looking forward, making sure we are anticipating trends so that we can be that kind of knowledge centre for our members. Always looking toward the future.
Some of the things that we're working, on when it comes to upcoming regulations or changes in the industry, might only be a year or two or three away. We want to make sure we are being really proactive to see those trends, to see how some of the rules and regulations are going to affect travel agencies and try and take care of them before they happen.
And always is the whole area of professionalism, offering certifications, where people can actually use designations, put it on their business cards. Some provinces are regulated, where there are some standards in place before you can actually say you are a travel agent or a travel agency, some not. So just really making sure we have a well-trained, professional travel industry and travel agencies. That's really our reason for being.