Happy Travel Agent Day/Month! To celebrate the annual event commemorating the role of the travel agent in Canada, PAX spoke to a group of agents from various markets outside of the hubs of Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver to learn about their experiences as travel advisors in 2019. It likely comes as no surprise that business is booming! Check back each Wednesday in May to read about a different travel agent.
Born and raised in the Haliburton, ON, Transat Travel’s Linda Coneybeare has always had an interest in exploring the world.
A life-long member of the industry, Coneybeare’s role as a travel agent in the picturesque community – located in Ontario’s ‘cottage country’ on the doorstep of Algonquin Park – has been her most successful and fulfilling travel career transformation, one that has allowed her to explore memorable destinations including Iceland and Jordan, two trips which she said are tied as her favourite travel memories.
“I sort of morphed into being a travel agent,” Coneybeare told PAX. “Like many young women of my age, in high school I dreamed of a glamourous job as a flight attendant; my first flight was when I was 15, travelling to visit relatives in England with British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC; the now-defunct precursor to the modern British Airways). I was totally hooked!”
Coneybeare’s early love of travel lead to a series of roles with General Aviation Services, a company that represented BOAC based at Pearson Airport, working as both a ground agent and ticket agent at YYZ. While she had originally eyed a flight attendant role, Coneybeare said of her ground-based positions that, “I quickly realized I could have all of the perks of travel – plus the cute uniform – and not be cooped up in an aircraft for nine or 10 hours per flight.”
While she loved working in aviation, Coneybeare wanted to return to her Haliburton roots while remaining in a travel industry role, a decision that ultimately lead her to becoming a travel agent.
“Here I am, living in this beautiful town near the lake and being very fortunate to work for a company like Transat; I have the advantages of living in the country with the security of a wonderful company with benefits.”
Location, location, location
With Haliburton centrally situated in southern Ontario, major urban markets such as Toronto or Ottawa are hundreds of kilometres away. For Coneybeare, geography has worked out much to her advantage.
“We’re the only brick-and-mortar travel agency within a 60-mile radius,” she said. “The market is strong and our sales are very high; within the Transat group, we’re among the top-producing offices relative to our size. It’s great to be able to live in a beautiful community by the lake, but to also have all of the tools to sell travel in a proper, professional way.”
In addition to location, Coneybeare also enjoys a clientele that understand the value of a travel agent – including some who learned from first-hand experience when booking travel on their own.
“I started working as a travel agent in the age before there were fax machines!” Coneybeare joked. “The internet changed everything and there’s always going to be people who think that because they can Google, they’re a travel agent. A little bit of knowledge can be a dangerous thing.”
The importance of travel agents
In one case, Coneybeare recalled, an online booking gone wrong ultimately converted a pair of travellers into repeat clients.
“I have clients who booked with me the second time they wanted to go to Roatan,” she explained, “because the first time they went, they booked online and the computer didn’t tell them that they needed their passports valid for six months beyond their return date. They were denied boarding and they lost the cost of their holiday.
“They came to us the next time and we of course have to advise about entrance terms and conditions; they quickly learned the value of a travel agent from that expensive mistake!”
And in recalling her most memorable booking, Coneybeare shared an example of the important insight offered by agents; in this instance, the reason why offering travel insurance is a must.
“In 2010 I had clients on a cruise sailing from Buenos Aires around Cape Horn and north to Chile, when the earthquake struck Peru,” Coneybeare said. “The ports were closed and they couldn’t dock; my clients contacted me and of course, I had sold them full travel insurance so they were well-covered. Working with the insurance company and the cruise line, they stayed on board the ship as it re-positioned back to Buenos Aires; the insurance covered the cost of the return cruise and the airfare change fee, so they got an extra week of cruising out of this disaster!
“In the meantime, I was calling their family to keep them in the loop, as it was difficult for them to stay in touch. I felt like I really earned my paycheque that week!”
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