AIR CANADA VACATIONS MEGA FAM REPORT
130 ACV Dream Makers Soak Up St. Lucia!
Karen Dahdah, Open Jaw
Jewel. Sanctuary. Paradise. These are all words that come to mind when witnessing the beauty of St. Lucia as your glide in for a landing. Stepping off the AC Rouge flight onto the tarmac in 30-degree weather, it was evident the 130 travel agents, including Open Jaw’s very own Tina, had landed in paradise.
Agents were encouraged to post photos using St. Lucia tourism tagline
#LetHerInspireYou and #ACVDreamMakers for a chance to win a $250
future flight credit with AC.
We ACV Dream Makers were divided into three groups. Tina and I were part of Group A, staying at the Sandals Grande St. Lucian. We transferred by motor coach -- a two-hour scenic drive through lush tropical forests on winding mountain roads. If your client suffers from motion sickness you may want to offer them the option of a 10-minute helicopter transfer to St. Lucia’s capital Castries, before a private car transfer to their resort.
When asked how the resorts were selected for this fam, Dana Gain, Senior Director, Sales, Groups and Partnerships replied: “We worked with St. Lucia Tourism and our hotel partners to select a wide range of properties so that we could offer our agent partners a broad view of what was available at each price point.”
Day 1 -- Sites To See, No Time To Waste
Upon arrival, welcome drink in hand, there was no time to waste, as we set off on our first site inspection. We started with our home base for 48 hours, the Sandals Grande St. Lucian. It’s everything you would expect from a Sandals property, with exceptional hospitality, gourmet dining and generous-sized suites.
The agents were especially excited to view the over-water bungalows, the first of their kind in St. Lucia, and offering the ultimate in Butler Elite service. Most impressive was walking across the glass floor panel over turquoise water, before exiting onto a private outdoor terrace.
Our group with Tina dolled up for dinner at Sandals Grande Toscanini Italian restaurant.
Day 2 – Nine Resorts, One Day... Go!
On Day 2 we set out early for a full day of nine site inspections beginning with The Landings Resort & Spa by Elegant Hotels. This 5-star resort boasts magnificent beachfront and marina view villas, where guests can dock their yacht right outside their villa.
Next up were the combined Royalton St. Lucia & the adult-only Hideaway Saint Lucia. This upscale resort will be two years old in FEB 2019, and is divided into three sections: Family, Adult only at Hideaway and the Diamond Club.
If your client is seeking a relaxing, holistic wellness spa to disconnect from the world, BodyHoliday is the answer. "This is my second time to St. Lucia, and I enjoyed touring the BodyHoliday," said Felicia Grasso of TripCentral.ca in Barrie. "Loved the concept and atmosphere and already plan to recommend to a group I have coming in February."
The list of resorts goes on. We made stops at the luxurious St. James Club Morgan Bay, Mystique Royal St. Lucia (formerly Royal St. Lucia Resort & Spa), Starfish St. Lucia Resort (formerly Papillion by Rex Resorts) and the beautiful family owned Bay Gardens Beach Resort with its newly renovated suites.
“I like the family vibe of Bay Gardens,” said Joanne Zsiros, Expedia CruiseshipCenters Ancaster-Dundas. “It has a very casual, family-friendly grassroots local feel. I’d book families here.” Asked for her overall impression of St. Lucia, Zsiros said: “The island itself is absolutely beautiful, lush, volcanic, a step above some of the other islands in the Caribbean.”
Our last stops were at the Sandals Regency La Toc Golf Resort & Spa and Sandals Halcyon Beach Resort & Spa which received rave reviews from fellow agents. "I would recommend for a romantic getaway,” said Amanda Thornton, Brantford Marco Travel.
Day 3 – Site Inspection Via Catamaran
It was blue skies and sunshine on our last day, as a catamaran waited to take us to Jade Mountain Resort. We’ve all seen the images online and in brochures, but once you see the magnificent resort and Pitons from a waterborne vantage point, it takes your breath away.
L-R Grant Morris, Grant Morris Cruise & Travel, Kelly Chappel, Expedia CruiseshipCenters Ajax, Kathy Becht, Northstar Travel, Joanne Zsiros, Expedia CruiseshipCenters Dundas, Bohdana Berkova, Enterprise Travel.
Christina Hlusko, CAA North-Eastern Ontario. “The highlight would be at Jade Mountain, when you stand there and look out at the Pitons and they're just quite something else. Really incredible.”
The final stop on our site inspections was Coconut Bay, just a short drive from UVF. This resort is perfect for couples and families, as well as those looking for a unique water sport and eco-adventure trip.
Set on the Atlantic side of the island, it’s popular with scuba divers and kite surfers, but also home to a turtle sanctuary where guests can witness turtle nesting and hatching events eight months of the year. Coconut Bay is playing its part in conservation of endangered species of Hawksbill, Green and Leatherback turtles.
Agent Impressions: Seeing Is Selling
“I haven't been back in seven years,” said Grant Morris of Grant Morris Cruise and Travel in Courtice ON. “They did a lot of work here, and it’s a really great update for me coming back to St. Lucia.”
Morris says trips like this ACV Mega Fam are essential for today’s travel advisors. “I’m a firm believer in hands-on education. Some people will say, read the brochure, it’s just like being there, but that’s not the case. You really have to update your education at least every five years, because things change more rapidly now.”
ACV’s Dana Gain says that’s exactly why the operator hosts such fams. It’s all about bringing more awareness to the destination. We offer great lift – we have regular nonstop flights four times weekly from Toronto Pearson, for example. We included St. Lucia on this year’s list of mega fam destinations for our agents so they could experience the island. This is so important because it will give them the confidence to talk about it with their customers, and the ability to make recommendations based on personal experience.”
Sandals Grande hosted fam-goers to a gala affair featuring live entertainment, gourmet dining, speeches and dancing. Agents were welcomed by Tiffany Howard, Acting CEO of Saint Lucia Tourism Authority. “I’m in a room full of superheroes, I know this, because I’ve seen your fam itinerary,” she joked.
In a private interview, Howard expressed her affection for the island and her Canadian visitors. “Canada is our fourth largest market after the U.S, U.K, and Caribbean.” She shared a piece of advice to agents who were not able to make the trip. “Join the Saint Lucia Experts Program. Once you go through that program you have basic knowledge of the island, then of course come to St Lucia and experience the island on a fam.”
Our amazing hosts, the staff that put it all together from ACV.
Although the trip was an intense 48 hours for these agents, Tina included, they are now armed with the latest firsthand experience, tools and photos needed to launch their own marketing initiatives to promote St. Lucia to Canadians.
Underlining its commitment to promoting St. Lucia, ACV has just released news of a 2% bonus commission for all St. Lucia bookings made by 11NOV.
Our group overlooking the Pitons.
Karen Dahdah Columnist
An avid traveller, adventure seeker and travel expert for over 15 years, Karen has toured over 35 countries around the world. She shares her first-hand knowledge of unique and off the beaten path destinations including hidden gems in Asia, adrenaline-rushing African safaris, and the fascinating culture of French Polynesia.