It was in the early 90s and the Last Minute Travel Club was at the peak of its creativity. They ran a series of brilliant radio commercials with a man who looked a lot like TV actor Robin Leach, who was the host of the hugely popular “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous” show.
The Leach-like actor would come on air and talk about the great trips people could take, much like Leach would highlight the castles in the sky and the sparkling pools of Beverly Hills on her show. People loved the ads, which lasted about a year.
One day, some time after the last announcement had aired, the phone rang in the offices of the Last Minute Travel Club. At the other end of the wire ? Robin Leach. Not the sound alike. The real guy. With a Canadian lawyer.
âThe legal ramifications were sort of ringing in my head,â said Vicki Borenstein, founder of the Last Minute Travel Club, which will be inducted into the Canadian Travel Hall of Fame on May 17 at the TravelPulse Canada Readers’ Choice Awards in Toronto. âI was like, ‘Oh, we have problems now.’
As it turned out, Leach was a huge fan of the radio commercials and wanted to know why Borenstein and the club had stopped broadcasting them. He also suggested recording some commercials himself, which he did.
âRobin was fantastic,â Borenstein said. “He would do whatever we asked him to do, he would do it.” We had parties where tour operators would come hang out with Robin and have their pictures taken with him. We were a cut above in a way having all this celebrity excitement around us. I used to give him the list of tour operators birthdays and he would call them and wish them happy birthday and have dinner with them. He even attended our travel shows, worked at the booth and brought clients. “
Leach was a huge success. But he wouldn’t have taken the time to call if he hadn’t believed in Borenstein’s vision for The Last Minute Travel Club, which she took over from CP Air, where she started working in the years. 1970.
âMy role with CP Air was to develop a travel club,â she told TravelPulse Canada in an interview last week. âTheir main objective was to bypass the travel agent and try to sell directly. Which is pretty funny because it only really happened in the 2000s, âwhen the Internet and online agencies took off.
The club, which was a popular feature for CP Air, offered members discounts on hotels, restaurants and tourist attractions at CP Air destinations. But Borenstein said members have made it clear that they don’t care about getting free desserts or discounted rental cars. What they wanted was to travel cheaper.
This, however, has become a problem.
âThey were getting feedback from their network of travel agents that travel agents were not going to sell them if they continued to operate with this club. At that time, you had to get an airplane plate to print your tickets. The officers returned their plates. So the airline decided to back out of this thing. But they had thousands of members with one-year memberships who were their loyal customers.
âThe public relations aspect of the shutdown would have been a nightmare. So they wanted to go out. Being the primary marketing team that worked with the club, we were in the right place at the right time and became the last minute concept drivers.
As a group now independent of the airline, Borenstein and his team needed new suppliers and sources of tickets.
âWe have started to convince Canadian tour operators, large and small, to rely on us to sell their unsold inventory. And they did well with that. Last Minute Travel Club was well positioned to sell high volumes of unsold capacity and we achieved the lion’s share of the business, so we became the specialists.
âSome agents felt they didn’t have the deals we had, but that’s actually a misconception because most smart tour operators would offer the same prices to everyone. It was more about who could sell it than what the real prices were. And the Last Minute Travel Club was really last minute. We got places sometimes 24 hours before departure and we could sell them. Your traditional travel agent really couldn’t touch it. “
âWe had call machines and things like that to call our membership lists and give them taped messages that we had inventory available. Members would call us to update a tape with all the promotions every time we got something exciting.
The Last Minute Travel Club also broke new ground with hours of operation from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays and that sort of thing.
Borenstein, who also ran a popular business known as The Wholesale Travel Group, left the company at the age of 50 and spends much of his time in Florida these days. She also has a business that helps people downsize to smaller homes.
âI am honored to have been chosen as the first inductee into the Canadian Travel Hall of Fame,â she said.
âI don’t want to start thanking people for fear of leaving someone behind. But if I had to thank anyone, I would thank the many travel counselors who made The Last Minute Travel Club what it was, because their loyalty and loyalty is what really made the club. A lot of people will say that their travel counselors were really the bottom line of their business. Well, with us they were the top of the food chain, not the bottom.
âThe real grassroots people were the travel counselors; not management, not the who’s who of the industry. They were the backbone of the business and I love them. They are all like my children today.