Happy Travel Agent 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.
For Dartmouth, Nova Scotia travel advisor Scott Penney, travel has held a life-long fascination.
And while selling travel wasn’t always the plan, Penney – a member of The Travel Agent Next Door – found that he had become so successful at fulfilling his clients’ travel dreams that it soon became his main career focus.
“I’ve been interested in travel since I was very young,” Penney told PAX. “I’d look up at a plane and wonder who they are and where they were going.”
Working in sectors such as banking, finance and insurance, Penney said that his previous roles included a substantial travel element, so much that “friends and family would always come to me and ask for information and advice,” he said. In 2006, Penney began selling travel part-time in addition to his insurance industry role.
“But I never thought it would be something that I would do for a career…. People would say ‘you should do it full-time,’ but it felt like a risk to give up a well-paying full-time job. I wondered ‘what if no one books another trip?’”
However, what started as a hotel booking for an insurance colleague (“my commission was around $20,” Penney recalled) eventually grew into a full-time job and in 2017, Penney left the insurance world to focus on selling travel.
Describing Dartmouth as a mid-sized market, Penney said that the role of the travel advisor is alive and well in Atlantic Canada. While sun destinations remain popular, he said that with the growing number of flights out of Halifax Stanfield International Airport, clients are travelling further afield with a particular emphasis on Europe.
“We’re not a huge market like Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver, but we’re not tiny either,” he said. “We have a good in-between market and people are interested in seeing new destinations; we’ll always be huge for the south market but my clients also want to do something different.”
“A lot of my clients could book air or something simple online, but I think that when people have an idea of seeing something new, that’s when they come to us. Maybe having the internet is a good thing to research destinations, but when they need someone to put everything into place, they can come to us.”
Penney adds that while he does some advertising and promotion, word-of-mouth referrals are key to his success; word has travelled quickly as well, with Penney receiving the 2018 Halifax Star Metro Halifax Community Choice Award for best travel agent, as voted on by clients.
“I’ve got clients who have booked for the last 15 years and refer their friends,” he said. “If you give good client service, they will tell their friends and family about you: my clients gave me a referral for a wedding group last year – 80 people to Punta Cana. She referred me to another client and now I’m doing that person’s wedding too.”
While referrals have lead to some big bookings over the years, Penney said that every trip is memorable in its own way.
“Two years ago, I had three couples that wanted to go to Ireland; I booked them and then it ended up being around 40 people who booked because they all told their friends,” Penney told PAX. “My first river cruise booking was also exciting; three couples ended up travelling together, so it was a pretty good booking.
“Every trip is special in a way, whether it’s a client who booked a trip to Africa to take his children there, or when a family books their first trip to Disney. It’s not always about the big commission – it’s about the memories you’re helping to make.”