With Destination Canada’s third biannual MegaFAM on the horizon, Andrew Doherty reports on how the last trip aided agents selling the destination.
Destination Canada’s third MegaFAM is fast-approaching, with the tourism board gearing up to whisk 60 UK agents away to take part in 11 trips across the North American nation this autumn.
Following each of the simultaneous itineraries, all the groups will meet in Toronto for a grand finale and a rip roaring party to celebrate the confederation’s 150th birthday.
The last MegaFAM, which took place in 2015, saw 170 agents from across the globe experiencing Destination Canada’s “Signature Experiences” such as the Cliffwalk in British Columbia, a zodiac tour of Newfoundland’s rugged coastline and a helicopter ride over Ontario’s Niagara Falls.
To help highlight what agents can expect from this year’s fam, we chat to four members of the 2015 contingent, who explain how the experience has given them an competitive edge when selling Canada.
Anneka Bones, consultant at Southern Cross Travel, exudes a passion for Canada and it’s evident that her time spent on the Yukon Itinerary has only added to her love for the nation. Beginning the trip by exploring Vancouver, Bones then flew to Whitehorse where she spent five days in Kluane national park before heading to Dawson City to walk the streets paved with gold, try her hand at digging for the precious metal and enjoying a cabaret night.
However, it was catching a glimpse of the Northern Lights that she extols as the highlight.
“I had never seen them before and they were spectacular. The group was taken to a remote area in Whitehorse where we first enjoyed hot chocolate in log cabins before going in search of the lights.”
Bones’ past MegaFAM experiences continue to shape the way she sells Canada today.
“I had a Yukon enquiry two months after I came back and I could tell my client exactly what they should do, recommend where they should visit and how long they needed to be in each place for.”
Despite the province not being a common enquiry, Bones has managed to encourage customers who want to visit Vancouver to tie a short stay in the Yukon onto their holiday.
“I would recommend the Yukon to clients on their second or third visit to Canada. In Whitehorse you only have to drive for around four minutes and you’re out of the city in the wilderness and the national park. It’s perfect for people who are looking for something more remote.”
Having applied to take part in the 2017 MegaFAM and already completed the tourism board’s new Canada Specialist programme, Bones shares the importance of seeing the destination first-hand: “I wouldn’t have been able to sell half the holidays I have without knowing so much about Canada. In the six years that I’ve been a specialist our bookings have tripled and this year I’ve been booking Canada weekly.”
Since returning from her time on the Alberta itinerary in 2015, Carol Smith, personal travel advisor, Co-operative Travel, has had an abundance of interest from her clients regarding the trip; and she has since sold an Alberta holiday with an Alaskan stay added on.
Smith attributes her ability to successfully seal the deal to the “exceptional organisation” and “diversity” of the MegaFAM.
“It was my first time in Canada and I was blown away by the many different areas we experienced. One minute we were in shorts and t-shirts in Calgary and after a two-hour trip to Jasper’s glaciers we had donned our winter gear.
“You’ve got so much to do in the cities on the west coast along with the chance of amazing wildlife encounters too,” she says.
With regards to the upcoming 2017 MegaFAM, Smith can’t recommend it highly enough.
“Clients love to hear about your adventures. I can now recommend they try river rafting, walking on ice fields and horse-riding, fishing and trekking around Lake Louise.”
Having never been to Canada before, Katie Bunting, branch manager at Hays Travel Weymouth, has done well translating her Canada knowledge into hard sales.
“I haven’t sold Manitoba exclusively but I have sold Halifax where the MegaFAM ended. I have also had clients who flew into Montreal and visited Calgary and Banff, travelled on the Rocky Mountaineer and cruised with Holland America Line. That particular booking came in at around £10,000.”
Bunting says Manitoba would suit clients who have previously visited Canada but are unsure what to do next. Her time spent taking in walks around Falcon Lake, bison viewing, catfish fishing in Winnipeg and even attending a local college football game, has shaped her opinion that Manitoba has “something for everybody”.
She explains that her experiences on the trip have made her more confident in not just recommending Manitoba but selling Canada as a whole.
“I’m a very a strong believer that knowledge is power – it makes you sell in a different way. I’m a lot more confident in selling Canada because I can give a more personal account of it. When we’re up against the internet there is nothing better than a personal recommendation.”
Gabriele Scholes, travel consultant at Hallmark Travel, admits that she may not have been as confident selling Canada in the past; however, since returning from the MegaFAM the tables have certainly turned.
“Canada is a big seller for Hallmark and I often used my colleagues’ 27 years of experience selling it to help with my own bookings. Since I’ve experienced Nova Scotia myself it’s the opposite and they come to me for advice.” Scholes was lucky enough to experience a wealth of activities on the itinerary, from staying at the Pictou Lodge Beachfront Resort on the Northumberland Strait and dressing up in period costume in Louisbourg to exploring the streets of Halifax.
“The people in Halifax were great and so laid-back and the city itself was fantastic – on the last afternoon we had time to ourselves and I managed to walk the whole city and cross over to the other side using the ferry to see the sunset. It’s great as you don’t have to take buses or any metro systems to get around.”
Using her new-found Nova Scotia knowledge, Scholes has recently booked a client a self-drive holiday to the region.
“Clients can take their time and stop where they want. They can go on amazing hikes that are excellently signposted. Canada is of course a safe country too.
“However there are guided tours available for those who don’t want to drive themselves. Early retirees who have time to do a self-drive would be a perfect match and since it is just a six-hour flight; clients could even do it in 10 days or fewer.”
To be in with a chance of winning a place on this year’s Canada MegaFAM, complete the Canada Specialist Programme at csp.canada.travel/gb and register at canadaspecialists.co.uk before June 30, 2017.