The Monday Minute is a weekly feature in PAX that highlights the movers, shakers, leaders and rule breakers in Canada's travel advisor community. Wanna be profiled? Wanna nominate someone? Email email@example.com!
Name: Julie Smigadis
Business: Travel Our World
Where do you live? Toronto, ON
How long have you been a travel advisor? Since June 2011. Almost 12 years.
What is your specialty?
High-end luxury travel. I worked for Flight Centre Retail Canada from 2011 to 2018 where I had various leader roles before being one of the founders of Flight Centre First and Business in Canada. Having always had an entrepreneurial spirit, I made the decision in 2018, after seven years in retail, to branch off on my own. This is when Travel Our World was born.
What is your current state of mind?
I am passionate about my business and about travel in general. Unfortunately, our industry was decimated over the last two years, but I was lucky to have some foresight to stay relevant. I focused on marketing, travel vlogs and content during that time, when the rest of the industry was relatively quiet. I made sure to be an information source for people and focused less on sales and more about just getting my name out there, gearing up for the resurgence we are currently in. It has paid off ten-fold and I am now ranked as one of the top agents within the independent space, as well as recently being honoured in ‘The 1000 Club’ as one of the most influential travel advisors globally. All the frustration and heartache during those two years were worth it and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for myself and my team at Travel Our World.
What inspired you to become a travel advisor?
Travel has always been the thing that has set my soul on fire and made me feel most alive. I have learned that if you are passionate about something, sharing it with others is one of the most fulling things we can do. There are days that my job is really tough (hold times, baggage insanity, flight cancellations, denied boardings), but my love for what I do exceeds all of those hard days. I always wake up excited about what the day will have in store and I think that is an important piece of true happiness – loving what you do, even in the moments it is most hard to love.
What’s the first trip you ever took?
When I was little my parents did summer trips to Florida and Greece as a family, but what really sparked the travel need in me was when I took my first adult solo trip on a Trafalgar Tour through Europe. I knew that, in one way or another, I wanted to spend my life wandering cobblestone streets, tasting new foods and exploring places that looked different from my home. I realized very quickly that we are more alike than we are different, and that breaking barriers of prejudice involved travelling to learn about our similarities and our differences.
What travel trends are you seeing these days?
I have found that the last two years has taught many people about seizing the moment, so I find that big bucket list adventures are at the top of people’s lists. Whether that be a European Cruise, an African Safari or a luxury all-inclusive, clients want more. Multi-generational travel is also really big this year, with groups of families travelling together. Europe seems to be busier than ever with Italy, Greece, Spain and France at the top of the list, and I have been advising all my clients that booking early is the key to success.
There is a perfect storm of travellers wanting to get away after years of being cooped up, suppliers not making money for the past two years and are now faced with tons of demand, and inflation – this is all a recipe for things being priced higher or sold out, so book early to avoid disappointment!
How has the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way you do business?
Insurance, Insurance, Insurance. Life gets in the way of our best intentions. Be prepared in the best way you can and ensure you are protected against things unknown, like a global pandemic, and I always recommend insurance for everyone. I know my worth. I know that having a travel advisor in your corner is an invaluable asset and my confidence in the role that I play in your holiday is a huge benefit and not just a nice to have add on.
Of all the bookings you’ve made, which itinerary are you most proud of?
Booking cool things like private jets or island villas is always so surreal to me, but I really love being part of special moments the most. Engagements, weddings, anniversaries – it’s so rewarding to know that I played a small part in making it happen for them. I think one of the simplest but most memorable moments was booking flights for a family to go and pick up their adopted child. That was really special to be a part of something so life changing for everyone involved.
What’s the most memorable trip you ever took?
I have been lucky enough to travel to some incredible places, but the ones that stick out the most for me were Japan and Egypt. Japan is one of the most incredible countries I have been to. Its people, food, culture and customs are absolutely amazing. Tokyo is wildly vibrant and so different from cozy Kyoto, which is so different from energetic Osaka, but they all are just magical places with so much to offer. I was so nervous about navigating the country with a language barrier, but it was one of the most efficient and easiest places to get around.
Egypt was a place I longed for since my school history books. The first day we arrived we did the Great Pyramids of Giza and although I thought it would be the pinnacle of the trip, it just got better from there with Aswan and Luxor. Our guide brought us back in time to an ancient Egypt of Pharaohs and tombs. The icing on the cake was the hot air balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings. Both destinations were big bucket list checks that lived up to, and exceeded all the hype.
Where do you see your business one year from now?
Our success this year has been both mind-blowing and humbling. Travel Our World’s next phase is focusing on partnerships with luxury properties/suppliers so we can grow our social media footprint as well as start selling exclusive product. We want to focus on continuing to be a relevant information source and offering clients incredible high-touch customer service.
What’s one thing you would change about the travel industry?
Suppliers that are gearing up to be more web-based, or trying to omit the need for travel advisors. The travel advisor is critical to the travel industry in every way and I hope that suppliers continue to value the need for clients to work with us. It’s easy to book something online, a couple clicks and you are done, but what if something goes south? What if you need help or answers? Or, what if you just want some really great advice about where you are headed?
Yes, there has to be value for the client, and I hope that travel advisors out there realize that they need to stay relevant and on top of trends to add value to the client choosing you over the internet. But our industry needs to support us and the need for us in the future of the travel booking space.
What’s the secret to being successful in this business?
You have to live your passion. If you, as the advisor, are not out there learning, exploring, and travelling, then what is it that sets you apart from the rest? Our jobs can be high stress at times, so I feel like if you are not in this industry to travel yourself, and learn as much as you can for your clients, then there are less stressful jobs out there. Passion and integrity are the key. You need to be trustworthy to the point that clients want to refer you to everyone they know.
What is your motto?
At Travel Our World, passionate travellers are wanted.
What is your number one piece of advice to other travel advisors?
Love what you do so much that people can’t help but refer you to everyone they know. Stay on top of trends. Take that FAM trip. Be a sponge. Be passionate because it is contagious. Grow your network by participating in training, conferences, etc. We are lucky to work in this field because the world is our playground.
Where are you travelling next?
I think I might have bitten off more than I can chew this year! I am gearing up for a lot of travel in the next six months, so feel free to follow along on our Instagram page @travelourworldca. We currently have the following booked and confirmed: Las Vegas, Punta Cana, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, Italy, Spain, South Africa and India, all in 2023. Wish me luck!