Prior to 2002, Dana Gain worked in the trade show industry and, at one point, for an internet startup company.
But it wasn’t until Gain discovered an opportunity to work for a cruise line that her professional life changed forever.
“I saw a job posted online that looked very cool – BDM for Carnival, taking care of this huge territory,” Gain recalls.
Gain submitted her application with doubts as she had no experience working in travel – a circumstance that ultimately worked in her favour.
“Apparently that was just what Carnival was looking for at that time,” Gain tells PAX, crediting her business and educational experience for helping her land the position.
That all said, it was the travel trade who taught her the ropes. “My daily interaction with travel agents essentially taught me the job, and I’ve always been grateful for this,” Gain says.
Seventeen years in the business later – “the most fun years ever,” says Gain – the Milton, ON-based professional is now senior director of sales, groups and partnerships at Air Canada Vacations (ACV), a position Gain started just ten months ago.
Her role covers two key departments within ACV: sales (a “fantastic group of sales leaders covering inside sales and planning, national accounts, national field sales, and Canada inbound sales,” Gain explains) and groups, which operates in a Montreal-based call centre and houses “the most talented and amazing director, two outstanding managers, and dozens of quoting and fulfilment superstars taking care of our very important travel agent groups.”
Covering a broad portfolio “requires a lot of flexibility, stamina, and commitment,” says Gain. “I’m grateful to have some very strong leaders that are of enormous help to me both in sales and groups!”
Looking back on a busy year
Gain starts 2019 fresh from wrapping four fast-paced "ACV Mega FAMs” last fall, a project that gave nearly 500 travel agents an opportunity to experience dozens upon dozens of ACV’s hotel properties in St. Lucia, Cuba, Puerto Vallarta and the Dominican Republic.
“The agents provided us with a lot of feedback both during and afterwards, and based on this I believe we really hit it out of the park,” Gain tells PAX. “Since I hosted three out of the four events, I was able to hear much of this feedback directly. Given the amount of preparation that went into these events, that was very rewarding to hear.”
When she's not directing strategies at ACV, Gain is caring for her family of four Shih Tzus - Charlie, Teddy Bear, Samantha and Shadow.
Here, PAX checks in with the travel pro to chat about how she made her Dad fall in love with cruising, lessons from Steve Jobs, and that time she ate beef tongue in Argentina.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
Dana Gain (DG): Nexus card, laptop, Bose noise cancelling headphones!
PAX: What are some of your favourite vacation spots?
DG: Spain for sure, that was my best vacation ever. We spent 12 days covering Barcelona, Malaga, Seville, and Granada, with a quick stop in Madrid before flying home. A very close second was a 16-day transatlantic sailing from Rome to New York back in 2010. That was memorable because it was with my Dad and it was our longest cruise together. More recently I absolutely fell in love with Puerto Vallarta. I had been there many times in the past – day stops during a cruise – but this time I got to see so much more, it’s amazing how much is there. I plan to go back very soon!
PAX: What’s your favourite airport and why?
DG: Miami International Airport has to be my favourite. It has the best shopping and lots to do on layovers.
PAX: What was the first vacation you ever took?
DG: My first real vacation was on Carnival Victory in 2005. It was momentous because it was the first cruise my Dad had ever agreed to take. He never wanted to cruise because he thought he wasn’t going to have any place that he could go and just enjoy the quiet. Once I started talking about how great the food was onboard, he was converted and we quickly booked this vacation.
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
DG: My Tag watch back in 2006. At the time it cost $1,200 USD in the duty free store, and it was the most expensive piece of jewelry I had ever purchased.
PAX: What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten while travelling?
DG: That’s easy – beef tongue in Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was actually tricked into eating it and yes it was just as awful as it sounds.
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
DG: I’m not sure how hidden it is, but I’m very handy around the house. I have more tools than anyone I know, and I really enjoy putting things together in my spare time.
PAX: Checked bag or carry-on?
DG: Always carry-on.
PAX: Prior to travel, you worked in trade shows and for an internet start-up. What did you learn from those industries?
DG: I guess it’s true what they say, when you work in sales you can sell anything, because changing industries didn’t slow me down at all. In his university commencement speech, Steve Jobs talked about connecting the dots retrospectively, and my background is a great example of that. The trade show industry taught me how to be a good speaker, and how to be very well organized. The internet company taught me how to pivot quickly and think on my feet in an ever changing, dynamic environment. I’m using all of those skills today.
PAX: What do you love about your job? The travel industry?
DG: There’s so much, I wouldn’t know where to begin. The role I’m in now offers me a lot of challenge, and I really enjoy this part of it. It means that I have to figure out every day how I’m going to get everything done. It’s super important to me to support my team, and in an office environment this of course means spending a lot of time with people. This is one of my favourite things to do, and I find it very rewarding. Spending time with my team always trumps email, phone, text, or any other communication that sneaks up and tries to take your attention away. I’m a big believer in face time – not the iPhone kind, but the actual person to person connection. Whenever I’m in an environment like a conference or a meeting, my entire focus is dedicated to the people and to the conversation. I regularly turn my phone face down on the table to ensure I won’t be distracted by incoming messages. This is important for someone like me who, I admit, falls victim to distraction rather easily.
What I love about the travel industry is the people. I’ve made so many friends over the past 17 years, between travel agents and other suppliers, I can’t honestly remember what life looked like before I joined this industry. The magic for me is being close to the customer, in this case travel agents, and this also helps me stay close to the traveling consumer. When you can stay close to the end user you’re always in touch with their changing needs and, by extension, the way your business needs to evolve to keep up.
PAX: What’s your funniest travel anecdote?
DG: Funny now, but at the time, not so much. We rented a car during that great Spain vacation and decided to drive to Cadaques, Spain. We were not aware at the time, but the road is several kilometres of hairpin turns very high up on a mountain on the coast of Costa Brava. Terrifying, two-lane road, no place to pull over or turn around. We later found out that most people get to Cadaques by boat, and of course by then we completely understood why. I think I still have a video somewhere (did I mention I was doing the driving?)
PAX: What should travel agents should be aware of right now in regards to ACV?
DG: We offer so much more than just sun vacations! We’re expanding our portfolio all the time, so it’s important our trade partners are aware of our Europe offerings, our wide variety of cruise vacations, English Caribbean packages, and even close-to-home options like seeing the Rockies or the East Coast of Canada. We’re working hard to keep our trade partners updated as our portfolio increases, so I encourage all our travel friends to reach out to us for help.
For me the most important message is that we are here to support the travel agency community. We have an industry-leading team of 12 area sales managers across the country, and a large group of dedicated and knowledgeable groups agents ready to help. Don’t hesitate to contact us so we can learn how to better support you. That’s our most important job.