The energy Mary LaRocque displays within and outside the travel industry clearly hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Baxter Media’s three-day Travel Agent Appreciation event wrapped up yesterday with LaRocque, the owner of Marlin Travel/Travel n Style Boutique in Peterborough, Ont., taking home the second annual Travel Agent & Beyond Award.

LaRocque was selected for her unwavering optimism and support for the travel industry, her entrepreneurial spirit during a challenging time, for offering advice and counsel to her industry peers and for years of mentorship to future tourism professionals, something that resonates with the values of the team at Baxter Media through the Baxter Student Ambassador Program. LaRocque was also the only advisor who received multiple nominations.

“Mary is celebrating 38 years in the travel business, 18 years owning Marlin Travel. Throughout the pandemic Mary pivoted her travel business and launched Travel n Style Boutique, while helping other agency owners set up travel boutique shops to help them create another revenue stream,” said Ron Lonsdale, Vice President of Canada for Collette, who was one of Mary’s nominators. “And as the pandemic impacted her business, she continued to mentor and offer placement opportunities at a high school and college level.”

Lonsdale praised the unwavering optimism LaRocque displays and noted that she’s active outside the travel industry as well, being, for instance, a supporter of local sports teams and special needs projects.

Mary is a true inspiration to all of us and this award is so well earned and deserved, Lonsdale said.

LaRocque, who found out she won while on a river cruise in Amsterdam, was selected from the 14 travel advisors who were nominated by their peers to be part of the annual combined Travel Agent Appreciation edition of Travel Courier and Canadian Travel Press. 

So incredibly blessed. Thank you so much for this incredible award, she shared. Words cannot express my gratitude. Travel industry professionals are fabulous. Congratulations to all the nominees. We have an incredible industry and perseverance prevails. Always!

Advisors in attendance did not go home empty handed either. Not only were they equipped with insightful tips to develop their business from Judith Coates of ACITA, Tannis Dyrland of Travel with Tannis and Shalene Dudley of Latitude Concierge Travels, they also had a shot at winning some fabulous prizes.

Here’s a look at the lucky winners (and a big thank you to our event sponsors!):

  • Allianz – Revenge Travel Prize Pack – Renee Herman, TPI
  • Voyzant – Roundtrip tickets to Europe for two (2) from – Jerry Sundercock, Expedia Cruises London
  • WestJet – $250 WestJet Gift Cards – Arlene Gibbons, The Travel Agent Next Door & Brett Tabor, Maritime Travel
  • Celebrity – Celebrity Silver picture frame, wireless charging pad & $100 Visa Card – Laurraine Payne, Northstar Travel
  • Air North – Roundtrip tickets for two (2) to Whitehorse – Lynn Callaway, Vision Travel
  • Collette – $500 Future Travel Voucher – Lynette DeZwaan, Capri travel centre ltd
  • Anderson – Empress 1908 Gin – Kelly Oinonen, Romantic Planet Vacations
  • Myrtle Beach – $100 Petro Canada Gift Card – Shannon Graves, Charrisma Travel
  • AMResorts – 3-night stay at Dreams Aventuras Riviera Maya – Dave Van, TTAND
  • UpLift – $100 Amazon Gift Card – Sue Flemming, Janes Worldwide Travel
  • Huntington – $100 Huntington Visa Rewards Card – Marjorie Conrad, Marjorie Conrad Travel
  • Thailand – Carryon Luggage – Renee Herman, TPI
  • Coconut Bay -$100 Amazon Gift Card – Christine Winchester, TTAND
  • Grenada -$50 Amazon Gift Card – Jennifer Quinlan, Travel Professionals International
  • AmaWaterways – $100 Visa Gift Card – Maria Runco, Kemp Travel
  • Baxter Media – $100 VISA Gift Cards – Rhonda Handley, Expedia Cruises & Caroline Samson, Pro Croisières
  • Sandals – $50 VISA Gift Cards – Sheryl Donavon, Northstar Travel & Brett Tabor, Maritime Travel

Featured speaker takeaways

Don’t expect Judith Coates to throw in the towel. And she doesn’t want to see other travel agents who have had to endure punishing times during the pandemic give up on their businesses either.

Coates, one of the founders of the Association of Canadian Independent Travel Advisors, was the first featured speaker during the event. She said that seeing many travel agents give up on their careers during the pandemic “is very sobering to us” but she is confident that there are positive signs for agents, including a growing appreciation travel consumers have been showing for agencies these days. Indeed, ACITA has been using the hashtag, “We are not done yet,” she told viewers.

Coates said travel agencies must continue advocacy work as small business owners and work collectively, recalling how ACITA has been reaching out to elected officials, using the likes of Zoom and email campaigns to get its message across.

“We (independent travel agencies) are stronger than we thought we were and we’re stronger when we work together,” Coates told viewers encouraging those who want to get involved to reach out to her.

Next up was Tannis Dyrland of Calgary’s Travel With Tannis, who told of the creative marketing measures she’s undertaken during the pandemic, pointing to The F*ck it List trips for example, the name of which is a play on the Bucket List. Dyrland encouraged agents to step out of their comfort zone to join platforms like TikTok to build their brand awareness. 

For anyone seeking more advice, she shared, “reach out to me. I’m so happy to talk to you.”

Dyrland also created Mile High Cocktail Kits, which offers “boozy drinks at 35,000 feet” and can be bought in stores and as subscription gift boxes.

Finally, Shalene Dudley of Latitude Concierge Travels, the winner of the inaugural Travel Agent & Beyond Award in 2021, shared some social media tips on how to drive bookings and engagement while travelling and on FAM trips. Dudley uses the likes of Facebook and Instagram before, during and after trips to promote travel to clients and future travellers.

I think it’s important to remember that when you’re going on a FAM or any kind of vacation, and you want to use some footage or keep people engaged, that you ramp that up a little bit in the days ahead,” Dudley said. I know some people like to do it weeks ahead, but really engagement on social media is fickle. So I found that just a quick ramp up like ‘I’m leaving in two days’ or ‘I’m leaving tomorrow, here’s what I’m packing’ or ‘can’t wait to see X destination,’ has been better suited to make sure clients are engaged when I’m on the trip.

After the featured speakers wrapped up, Lynn Callaway, a sales consultant with Vision Travel, noted, Thanks for the great information you passed on to us. Very helpful!

And congratulations again to all the advisors who were nominated for the Travel Agent Appreciation edition. You are all worthy of some special praise:

  1. Jennifer McPherson, Turnkey Travel
  2. Shannon Graves, Charrisma Travel
  3. Mary LaRocque, Marlin Travel
  4. Jamie Milton, Uniglobe Carefree
  5. Shalene Dudley, Latitude Concierge Travels
  6. Lesley Keyter, The Travel Lady
  7. Martin Charlton, Adventures Abroad
  8. Sue Flemming, Janes Worldwide Travel
  9. Colette Brown, Maison de Voyages – House of Travel
  10. Barry Davis, Transat Travel
  11. Pat Probert & Mary de Almeida, Bob Family Travel 
  12. Neelam Dwivedi, Maritime Travel 
  13. Mike Sanderson, Up Up And Away Travel, Independent by Flight Centre

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