“Good decisions are being made”: Transat talks winter readiness, strategy at training academy in T.O.

“Good decisions are being made”: Transat talks winter readiness, strategy at training academy in T.O.

“We have a very solid leadership team. Good decisions are being made,” said Transat’s Commercial Director Nicole Bursey.

Updates on Transat’s strategy, plan for winter 2023-24 and helpful tools for travel advisors took centre stage Wednesday night (June 7) at the Toronto stop of Transat’s Training Academy, a travelling seminar and trade show that kicked off earlier this week.

Some 300 travel advisors from the Greater Toronto Area, and beyond, packed into the ballroom of Brighton Convention Centre, where Transat’s sales team shared product updates, sales tips and promos.

Afterwards, some of Transat’s leading hotel and tourist board partners, as well as representatives from Europe, hobnobbed with agents at a bustling trade show.

The Transat team shared updates with the trade at Brighton Convention Centre. (Pax Global Media)

Similar academies were held earlier this week in London (Ontario) and Hamilton – two cities that haven’t seen a Transat Training Academy since 2019.

The series will head to Halifax and cities in Quebec next week.

“It’s still a little hard to connect with some agents as so many now work from home,” Bursey told PAX last night. “I think people are really craving this type of in-person event.”

Winter is coming

There was certainly lots to talk about.

For starters, Transat, earlier this week, announced an “enhanced selection” of packages for its 2023-24 winter season.

Clients craving a tropical getaway in the South can choose from more than 370 hotels, including some 50 new additions, with departures from eight Canadian cities.

Some 300 travel pros attended Transat's Training Academy in Toronto. (Pax Global Media)

Europe fans can also choose from 150 hotels in Spain, France, Portugal and the United Kingdom.

Transat has five exclusive collections – Luxury, Family, R&R 18+, Solo, and Out of Office – each of which has their own unique perks.

It’s a timely topic with Transat’s limited-time “Book Early, Get Plenty” promo well underway.

With this, clients can access a range of savings, such as up to $400 off for two people, a price drop guarantee, a reduced deposit, future travel credits, and savings on Option Flex Standard.

Multiple thumbs up for Transat's 2023-24 winter packages. (Pax Global Media)

Leisure travel “holding steady”

Savings can go a long way in today’s climate. Vacation prices are higher than ever, but that doesn’t seem to be impacting business at Transat all that much.  

The company, the morning after its Toronto event, released its Q2 financial results, reporting a reduced loss and higher revenues.

Annick Guérard, president and CEO, said the demand for leisure travel, Transat’s primary niche, is “holding steady,” despite prices increase by almost 24 per cent at the end of the quarter compared to 2019.

READ MORE: Ahead of “dynamic” summer, Transat A.T. reduces its loss, increases revenue

The CEO said that with more than 60 per cent of Transat’s capacity sold, “the stage is set for a dynamic summer.”

Annick Guérard, president and CEO of Transat A.T. (Supplied/Pax Global Media)

Last night’s silver lining, on costs, was that higher prices “can be a good thing” because agents make more.

“It’s a great recovery sign that the demand is there, and that people are willing to spend a little extra to travel,” said Bursey, standing on a stage, addressing the audience.

Higher prices doesn’t necessarily mean Transat is making more moolah (the increase is also linked to suppliers, from hotels to fuel).

“But overall, we were really happy with the winter production,” Bursey noted, “and we absolutely could not do it without all of your support.”

Not just about price

As for this winter, last night’s main focus, Bursey says people are willing to pay more for a vacation, but price isn’t the only deciding factor.

“People are looking for a real different experience,” Bursey told PAX, noting health and wellness as an ongoing trend.

“We have some products that have healthy alternative dining options,” she said. “I’m interested to see if that pattern results in sales at different hotels.”

Transat’s Commercial Director Nicole Bursey in the middle of last night's trade show in Toronto. (Pax Global Media)

Transat’s “Out of Office” collection – a pandemic-era offering created for digital nomads who want to work remotely – is also still very popular, Bursey revealed.

“Even though COVID is behind us – knock on wood – a lot of people work from home and want to go away to a hotel with good internet and business support,” she said.

Avoiding chaos this winter

The word “winter” conjures up memories (nightmares, even) from last season, which was a mess for all Canadian airlines as a winter storm in select provinces crippled operations, delaying and cancelling flights at the height of the busy holiday period.

In the aftermath of that chaos, Air Transat, notably, wasn’t among the airlines that were hauled into the House of Commons and grilled by MPs over what happened.  

While Transat wasn’t immune to the situation, “our customer experience scores for winter were really, really good,” Bursey said. “I think we fared pretty well.”

(And agents, during last night’s presentation, were encouraged to share those high scores with clients as a way of instilling confidence in the product).

The Transat team in Toronto. (Pax Global Media)

Still, it’s nothing to make light of.

“Things can happen to any of us,” Bursey said. “But what’s in an airline’s complete control is how they communicate with both travel agents and passengers.”

“We have our issues when there’s a storm or a mechanical problem, but I do believe, 100 per cent, that we do a better job communicating when something goes wrong.”

Bursey lauded Transat’s destination reps, which can be reached via Transat’s app, as effective contacts for when things go sideways.

“I think travel agents that have been doing business with Transat for a long time have an extra bit of security in knowing that we’re accessible if something happens,” Bursey said.

Transat's Training Academy series for travel advisors kicked off this week. (Pax Global Media)

Western Canada? Not for a few years

At Transat, the strategy has been about building market share in the hubs its serves and less about adding new destinations.

Transat’s possible return to Western Canada won’t happen “for a few years,” Bursey said.

As previously reported, Air Transat first needs to add more aircraft to its fleet (there has, notably, been delivery delays at Airbus).

Capacity, meanwhile, is exceeding 2019 levels, but Transat isn’t measuring success solely by that.

“It’s about being able to have smooth operations and regrow our teams from the inside,” Bursey explained.  

The sales team in Canada has been rebuilt, and issues in Transat’s call centre have been “pretty much resolved,” Bursey said.

Nicole Bursey addresses a room full of travel advisors in Toronto. (Pax Global Media)

Telephone wait times for travel advisors emerged as a major pain point during the pandemic, and Bursey, the last time she checked, says the average wait time, now, is less than 10 minutes.

“It’s not where we want it to be, but it’s still pretty darn good,” Bursey said, adding that even when hold times were terrible, agents were at least reaching somebody knowledgeable and professional on the line.

Planning ahead

Planning far ahead of winter is key. Transat has already made some date adjustments, but you could say it was done in the name of smart planning.

“What we don’t want is to make drastic changes two or three months before departure because that’s when it’s really hard to find alternative arrangements and prices are high,” Bursey told the crowd. 

Will Transat ever lean on other airlines? “Yes, sometimes,” Bursey said.

“It’s more important that we run the program,” she said. “While we would prefer all of our travellers on Air Transat, sometimes it’s just not possible.”

Transat shared its current wedding group promotions for newlyweds, which include a $100 excursion credit, a $500 future travel voucher, a free Option Plus upgrade on Air Transat and complimentary airport lounge access.

A group incentive was also highlighted: agents that book between 100 and 199 seats can get two seats free and those that book more than 200 seats can get four seats free.

(Valid on bookings made by Oct. 31, 2023, for travel from Nov. 1, 2023, to Oct. 31, 2024).

No more printed brochures

The team also touched on printed brochures, which Transat will never produce again, Bursey said, which generated a few moans and groans in the audience.  

The reason for this, Bursey said, is to ensure Transat is always distributing accurate information.

When details change, printed brochures can’t be updated (whereas when things are digital, they can, and quickly).

There’s also an environmental component, as “we know tens of thousands of brochures wind up in the garbage every year.”

Bursey went on to share other notes on sustainability, which include Transat’s commitment to purchasing green aircraft and refusing to work with suppliers that sell dolphin-swimming excursions.

The bottom line, as travel ramps up this winter, is about providing travel advisors with “effective and concise communication,” Bursey told PAX.

“We really have to think about how a travel agent is reading something,” she said. “What does it mean to them? We can have policies and procedures that make sense to us. But we have to speak about them in a way so it’s easily understood by the travel consultant.”

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