But CEO warns it will be a difficult winter Thomas Cook CEO, Michael Friisdahl 24 AUG 2009: Don’t expect to see any rabbits being pulled out of a magician’s hat anytime soon when it comes to this winter’s bookings, but agents and travel industry-types who made it up to the Paramount Conference and Event Venue in Woodbridge, Ontario, were in for a treat as Thomas Cook North America staged its annual trade show aptly titled “The Big Top.”

Kicking off the show (it will also roll out in Vancouver, Edmonton and Montreal over the next couple of weeks), press and suppliers mixed and mingled with Thomas Cook brass at nearby Alice Fazooli’s. Over canapés of pizza slices and sliders, CEO Michael Friisdahl briefed the group.

“This will be a difficult winter,” said the noticeably fit and trim Friisdahl suggesting that an increase in capacity won’t make a tremendous amount of sense given the economic climate, the trend to late bookings, and the effects of the swine flu ,particularly in Mexico, all of which will pose challenges.

“Looking ahead Mexico being a key destination for all of us in terms of volume, we expect this winter will not be an easy nut to crack,” he said. With plenty of discounting going on in the market, Friisdahl hopes consumers will say “yes” to Sunquest’s new “NO NO NO” campaign, which is not only trying to stimulate consumer demand but also to entice people to book early without necessarily running the risk of not taking advantage of the lower price when it goes on sale.”

Stuart Morcombe, Michael Friisdahl, Doreen Lynch, Steve Butchart, Craig Canvin

The new $49 campaign “No worry about price reductions. No deposit when you book. No cancellation fees.” is commissionable and applies to all new bookings from now till October 15, for departures between August 18-April 30, 2010.

“This is a major step in getting consumers confident in booking today so if you want to take advantage of any sales that occur 45 days prior to departure you can book it with confidence knowing you can rebook. We are not going to charge a deposit if they buy the ‘no worries’ for $49,” he said and added, “Most of our competitors might be charging a no-cancellation policy. They would be charging the normal $250 deposit plus the $49 policy cancellation fee we will only be charging the $49 fee.

“So essentially a customer can walk in, buy their holidays and only spend $49 knowing with confidence that if their price goes down they can book well in advance.” Said Friisdahl.

Elyse Villemarie, Jill Wykes, Flemming Friisdahl, Chris Latchford, D.T.Minich

Under the Big Top

Under the big top, agents muscled over to the maze of suppliers’ booths anticipating good deals and new prospects. Aubrey Schmidt from Australian Pacific Touring explains how since January his company have been offering specials every single month.

“For August we have a camping programme. We’ve got selected tours on selected dates with 30% off for the second passenger. Another offer we have is a buy-one get-one –free for our adventure packages between the ages of 18-39 years,” he says describing how in these tough times an extra something is needed to boost sales.

“These monthly specials have helped set a precedent so now people are waiting to see what the next month’s special is.”

Kerry Sharpe, Paul Larcher, Jason DuSautoy, Lindsay Caven, Linda Wright

Boomerang & Exotik Tours’ Dan Prior discussed how a Fiji self drive, a virtually unheard of product, is making head waves. “We think with the Canadian clients are looking for more independence, more free time - so this package is good for honeymooners and young couples who wish to explore Fiji on their own.”

While there are plenty of resources agents can access for the Caribbean, Prior says, Boomerang’s menu of Southeast Asian trip options helps agents. In addition he suggested, some agents are anxious and aren’t comfortable selling Vietnam, Thailand, and Fiji, so being under the Thomas Cook brand helps

Under a Cuban su, Sobeida Feliz sales director for Blau Hotels and Resorts was hopeful for business this winter as she proudly displayed a Thomas Cook award for outstanding sales in 2008/2009 awarded to the Blau Varadero property.

Over at Sol Melia, Brenda Bradley, recovering from a kick-boxing injury, explained that as of November 2009 the Paradisus Resorts in Varadero and Holguin will have royal service and spas. “We’ve done renovations at most of our properties now so they’re all up to snuff.”

In between the carnival atmosphere with fortune tellers, tattoo artists and cartoonists lining the aisles, a buffet banquet showcased hot and cold nibblies, and for those hankering for some, cotton candy and pop corn were also available.

Curious agents ascended the trade show’s staircase knowing that after they listened to Flemming Friisdahl, VP of sales announce Thomas Cook’s newest product line, they’d receive a white letter-sized envelope bearing gifts and prizes and perhaps even one trip for two to Mexico.

Like a good circus ringmaster, all eyes were on the sales head honcho as he commanded the audience after they watched the company’s newest video promotion.

“Look, the big part is the united part,” he began. “Because united we do stand on this. We are all going to have a tough winter whether it’ll be reduced commissions because of a lower selling price, or waiting customers, or customers saying why didn’t the price go down before? So united we must stand. But we have some solutions.”

Earlier this year with the IFS brands merger, Thomas Cook North America became one company with over 2 billion-dollars in sales 1,100 employees moving 1.6 million passengers every year.

The merger of IFS has created some key things: one accounting system (to be launched next month) consolidated customer service and one reservation system as opposed to six.

The company has also consolidated into one product department and one sales team “with the exception of the cruise division and the Boomerang division because they are such a specialized product they have their own sales team that we work together with.” Said Flemming Friisdahl..

Top: Nieves Ricardo, Joanne Scalamogna, Aubrey Schmidt, Holly Swendson, Karen Lumpkin
Bottom: Eddie Carroll (back to camera) Binod Singh, Joe DeMarinis, Adolfo Salamanca, Charlotte Carral, Sobeida Feliz, Michelle Lanvoe, Gina Tsirmpas

Other new Thomas Cook happenings:

-Premium perks
For new Sunquest bookings made till October 15, clients who book a Southern Sun package from YYZ and YVR will receive a complimentary pass to the Plaza Premium Lounge.

-Sun Deals Return
Agents can win up to $100 on every single booking made with Sunquest, Holiday House, Fun Sun Vacations and Intair Vacations. Valid now through September 30.

-More sun destinations
A new 132-page Holiday House and Fun Sun Vacations 2009/2010 brochure now available with new destinations: Curacao, Cozumel and Grand Cayman added. Also included are details on the Early Booking Bonuses available at over 170 hotels among other deals.

-Aloha Hawaii
Fun Sun Vacations and Holiday House have a new Hawaii brochure with a wide range of hotels and condos for the islands of O’ahu, Maui, Kaua’i, the Big Island of Hawaii, and Lana’i.

-The big eared mouse has a one stop shop

Watch for the 2009-2010 Holiday House and Fun Sun Vacations dedicated Disney brochure.

-Direct deposit issued three times a week.
“If you aren’t we will be issuing cheques once a month. So if you’re not signed up get signed up,” says Flemming Friisdahl

-Fast quotes
Get quotes immediately or within the hour. Sunquest has a brand new groups quoting service.

-New destinations from Sunquest
New routes and new resorts for Mazatlan and Costa Rica.

-Brand knowledge
A 16-page Thomas Cook booklet is available to agents covering all the nuts and bolts (FAQs, hours of operation, contact information, etc) .

-Priority Perks
On your next Skyservice flight with Sunquest for just $50 extra, clients can get the “Priority Plus” perk that includes complimentary seat selection, 5kg excess baggage, priority check-in and priority boarding. The discount carrier is also set for web check-in.

-“I dream of Genie,” well sort of.
TravelGenie, a new dynamic booking engine only from Fun Sun Vacations and Holiday House. September-October is the roll-out date for this dynamic packaging model where agents can earn $100 just by using it. “It will give the ability not only to go into different engines and put packages together. It’s truly something that is not being offered in the market today,” says Flemming Friisdahl about this FIT programme.

-Ship Ahoy
Encore CruiseEscapes has launched its new Ultimate Cruise Collection brochure featuring romantic getaways, new ships, NCL’s best value program, and more.

-Group Love with Encore Cruise Escapes and Intair
There’s a special agent groups incentive when you book a group (minimum of eight cabins) on MSC Cruises between now and September 30, for any 2009, 2010, and 2011 departure.

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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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