Just Like The Oscars

It was a night when the stars of the Canadian travel industry shone brightly as Baxter Media – along with presenting sponsors, Air Canada and Sandals Resorts International; feature sponsors, WestJet, TravelBrands and the Jamaica Tourist Board – welcomed a sold out crowd for the first annual Agents’ Choice Gala.

In all 350 agents and suppliers gathered at the Eglinton Grand in Toronto to celebrate the presentation of the 2018 Agents’ Choice awards to the Favourite suppliers in 43 categories – ranging from airlines to cruise lines; tour operators to destinations; car rentals to airports – and the list goes on and on.

In fact, there was Hollywood-like excitement – with many commenting that it was “just like the Oscars – as the superbly talented Nova Sounds Band led by Dr. Alan Shiner and including double JUNO Award winner Sonia Collymore, entertained the VIP industry crowd throughout the evening as they enjoyed a dinner that featured Mediterranean salad; a main course of filet mignon and shrimp stuffed sole; and lemon meringue tart for dessert.

A warm welcome

The evening began with a welcome from Baxter Media’s executive vice-president, Wendy McClung and executive editor, Bob Mowat.

McClung told the crowd: “Tonight we celebrate all 6,027 travel agents who spoke up and voted in the 19th Annual Agents’ Choice Awards Readership survey. Tonight, we celebrate the 28 sales reps who were voted the top in their field. Tonight, we celebrate the 250 companies, destinations and support services represented in the Favourites lists in this year’s survey. If you are among the top 10 Favourites in a category, you are somebody’s favourite – be proud of that achievement.”

As for Mowat, he told the gathering: “I am so pleased to welcome all of you to the first annual Agents’ Choice Awards Gala because it gives me the opportunity to tell you that – from all of us here at Baxter Media – each and everyone of you are our FAVOURITES. Not only for what you do each and every day, but for the support that you have shown our company for 50 years and for that, we can’t thank you enough.”

Committed to agents

Presenting sponsors, Air Canada and Sandals Resorts International also had their own messages for the travel agents and suppliers attending the event.

John MacLeod, the new vice-president global sales and alliances for Air Canada, said that in his new role, he will continue to work to strengthen the ties between Air Canada and its travel agency partners, telling the audience that agents are a vital link between the airline and its customers.

The message from Gary Sadler, senior vice-president of sales for Unique Vacations was crystal clear: “Travel agents are, without a shadow of a doubt, the most important distribution channel for Sandals Resorts. We’ve stood shoulder-to-shoulder with agents since 1981.”

Hodge honoured

One of many special surprises during the evening was the presentation of the W.H. Baxter Lifetime Achievement Award to the founder and president of Goway Travel, Bruce Hodge.

It was a moment that was particularly meaningful to Goway’s Aubrey Schmidt, who told Press Today:

“I was delighted to see Bruce Hodge get acknowledged,” and praised Hodge’s dedication to the industry.

The evening brought more rewards to Schmidt and his employer as he won a Favourite Supplier Sales Rep of 2018 award, while Goway won awards for Favourite Tour Operator to Africa and to Asia/Pacific.

“It’s nice to be acknowledged by the agents,” Schmidt said.

Those attending the Gala were also the first to receive a copy of the 2018 edition of the Agents’ Choice Readership Survey … which will be in full distribution today – so watch your e-mail.

Stay tuned there will be more on Agents’ Choice in upcoming issues of Canadian Travel Press and Travel Courier … not to mention lots and lots and lots of photos …