“We’ll bounce back stronger": Communication is key during crises, says Ensemble

“We’ll bounce back stronger": Communication is key during crises, says Ensemble
Of Ensemble (from left): Cheryl Babulal, business development director; Cathy Varrecchia, training manager – Canada; Cristie Palmer-Newell, senior director, meetings & events; Chris Lackstrom, director, supplier and market development; Clare Burke, manager – meeting & events.
Blake Wolfe

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.

Calls for the travel industry to stand together amidst and after the COVID-19 pandemic marked the final event of Ensemble Travel Group’s 2020 agent information series.

Dubbed Ensemble Connections, this year’s roadshow focused on the importance of communication and connection in the travel industry – a theme which proved all too timely amidst the World Health Organization’s declaration of the novel coronavirus as a pandemic and a day before the Canadian government would issue an advisory warning against all non-essential international travel.

During a morning information session, supplier after supplier took to the stage to reconfirm their dedication to the industry and to travel agents, followed by a champagne toast; this year’s participants included Goway; Manulife; Paul Gauguin Cruises; WestJet Vacations; Big Five Tours & Expeditions; G Adventures; Just You; Globus; Kensington Tours; Tourcan Vacations; TravelBrands; Viking; Windstar; and Princess Cruises.

The Toronto edition of the event took place as a wave of travel cancellations took place, including sailings numerous cruise lines including Viking and Princess; just after the news broke, a tearful Christine Kelly, Princess Cruises’ business development manager, took to the stage to thank advisors for all of their support during this time, presenting a video message from Princess President Jan Swartz to agents and their clients. Two Princess Cruise ships – the Diamond Princess and the Grand Princess – were recently quarantined after passengers tested positive for coronavirus.

“Thank you from the bottom of our hearts – it’s been a tough couple of months,” Kelly said. “We’re going to get through this. It’s unprecedented. We can’t thank you enough; I’m worried about the Princess ships but you’re dealing with every cruise line.”

Maizy Alexander, an agent with The Travel Agent Next Door, thanked Kelly and Princess Cruises for the treatment of her clients, who had been stuck on the Grand Princess as it was quarantined off the coast of California last week.

“They had a balcony so they were fortunate and had fresh air,” she told PAX. “I’ve known them for years and he’s a very positive person. He and his wife are healthy and in good spirits. Princess has been awesome to deal with during this time.”

Ensemble’s Cristie Palmer-Newell, Chris Lackstrom, Cheryl Babulal and Cathy Varrecchia raise a toast to agents.

“Travel will bounce back”

Cristie Palmer-Newell, senior director, meetings & events, told PAX that despite the recent events, attendance at the shows had been strong.

“Despite what’s happening, nothing beats being in a room with your peers realizing you’re not alone. Our partners are here and we all have the benefit of being under one roof; they’re (agents) trying to mitigate against some of the challenges their clients are facing and the partners are providing them with solutions…. We’re letting them know that they’re not alone. We’re leading the way – we’ve got a ton of resources on our member portal.”

Palmer-Newell added that the recent events have also prompted agents across Canada and the U.S. to share their best practices through the  Ensemble Friends Facebook group, including ideas such as sending flyers to their clients to update them and remind them of their services.

“It’s a tough time – we’ve been through this before, maybe not to this extent, but at the end of the day we’ll bounce back stronger,” she said. “We’re staying strong and fighting through this. The most important message to our members is that ‘we’re all in this together.’ No one is alone and we’re going to support everyone. Travel will bounce back and we’ll just keep our head up and move forward – while washing our hands!”


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