When she moved to Canada 15 years ago, Simona Cercel worked in several industries, including financial, communications, advertising and even for the Canadian Forces School of Aerospace Technology and Engineering as a translator.
But it was while working at Rogers as a communications manager that she had her first taste of Canada's travel trade community.
There, she was invited to join the first team of volunteers that made up Toronto Pearson’s Welcome Team.
"I fell in love with the airport operational environment and realized I belonged in the airline industry," Cercel told us.
That summer, Cercel took some time to reflect, and decided that it was time for a change.
"The stars aligned, allowing me the opportunity to work for Canada's national carrier and as a special bonus, for my fellow Romanian Calin Rovinescu. He has and continues to encourage me to dream big."
Cercel began her career with Air Canada in a customer service role. Over the last five years, she's worked for the airline in different capacities, always on the frontlines and dealing directly with both the operational side and customer relations side of the business, an experience she calls "invaluable".
"Everyone who dreams of working in the airline industry needs to spend time on the front line, face to face with our customers," Cercel said.
In 2017, she joined Air Canada's global sales team as a tourism and sales development manager, part of the tourism & strategic global partnership team where she strategically supports managing relationships with partners, in order to make sure they comply with Air Canada's regulations, while staying on top of everything else.
"Every one of these partners has different terms and deadlines in partnership with Air Canada," Cercel explains. "It’s all about building relationships with external and internal partners, and I love it!"
This week, we're checking in with Toronto-based Cercel, and learning more about "The Big Coffee Conspiracy", the two foods she encourages visitors to her native Romania to try, and the inexpensive tradition she follows for every new country she visits.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
Simona Cercel (SC): My phone and iPad for pictures, music, social media, and keeping in close contact when far from friends and family; my running shoes (I try to squeeze in a run wherever I go, it's a great way to tour the destination and to balance overindulging because there's a lot of great food out there!); umbrella, sunglasses, and swimsuit- just pack them; they don’t take a lot of space and trips can always be surprising!
PAX: What are some of your favourite vacation spots?
SC: Every place I visit I ask myself the question: 'Could I live here?' Other than the mandatory beach vacations, I'm a city girl; I like subways, Uber, and the ease of access. I don’t care about hiking, biking, or getting lost in the mountains and in the woods. Give me a big city with access to a beach or lake, boardwalk for running, patios, great restaurants, local stores and I am happy. So here we are:
Rome: that’s the place that felt like home. I think I was Italian in a previous life; I speak, write, and read fluent Italian without ever learning it in school. I fit right in when I got there, and I was treated like a local. I would go back there any day. And I will very soon!
Hawaii: It gives me a sense of inner peace and a calm that I just couldn’t find anywhere else. Nothing beats the jetlagged 5 a.m. walks on Waikiki beach, waiting for the sunrise and watching the surfers ride the waves. Plus, hop in your rental car and in 10 minutes you will move from the hustle and bustle of Honolulu to the middle of the mountains. Don’t forget to enjoy the many rainbows a day and the misty rain!
PAX: What’s your favourite airport and why?
SC: Daniel K. Inouye International Airport, Honolulu. Most travellers pick a favourite airport based on its facilities, like the shopping, the restaurants, lounges etc. For me, it’s the open space at the Honolulu airport, the balmy breeze, the smell of frangipani, which is always welcome after another fabulous flight with Air Canada.
Toronto Pearson also holds a special place in my heart; it’s my home and since I worked there I know almost everyone and also know where every door in the airport takes you!
PAX: What do you love about your job? The travel industry?
SC: How much time do we have? I could talk about it for hours. The aspect I most cherish is connecting with colleagues in the industry. I am very blessed to have so many colleagues who have become close friends. Also, I get easy access to experts in different destinations; I get their advice when going on vacation and I am thrilled when I visit their beautiful countries and bring home amazing feedback.
PAX: What was the first vacation you ever took (and why was it memorable)?
SC: As a young woman who spent most of her childhood and teenage years in the communist Romania, I had never dreamt of being able to cross the border of my country. Travel abroad and holding a passport was forbidden. My first trip out of the country was to Budapest, Hungary; it was love at first sight and I would go back there anytime.
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
SC: I “splurge” on experiences, not objects. I'm big sports fan and always travel to see the Toronto teams in action. So, I would say tickets to concerts and sporting events. Next splurge would be either a Tennis Grand Slam Tournament, the Augusta Masters Tournament or the Rugby World Cup in Japan. Also, not forgetting running, I plan a few trips a year around races: I did a few half-marathons and I'm planning to run my first full marathon maybe by the end of 2019.
But I do have a tradition wherever I travel. Every place I go I buy a piece of jewellery, not necessarily expensive, to remind me of that destination. I do have quite a big collection!
PAX: Most memorable food/meal you ever ate while travelling and where you ate it?
SC: Every new place I go I must try the traditional food. I clearly remember having Poi, the traditional staple food in native cuisine of Hawaii. It’s not really my favourite, but again, in life it’s all about trying something once. For the ones visiting my native Romania, don’t forget to have Mititei or Mici, best served piping hot, with mustard, pickles and a cold beer! Enjoy!! Oh, and don't forget the Papanasi, either!
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
SC: Turbulence. Next would be the “barefoot” concept in the plane. That's just wrong on every level!
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
SC: I speak five languages (English, French, Italian, Spanish, Romanian) I am a good singer, and I am an amazing trip planner and organizer (and I truly enjoy it).
PAX: Checked bag or carry-on?
SC: It all depends on the trip….one night in Montreal or 10 days in Australia?
PAX: What's your funniest travel anecdote?
SC: Some time ago I was on a FAM trip in a European city and, after the long flight, we all decided to make the first stop at this local coffee/chocolate spot.
Everyone was raving about the local products and how amazing they are. Obviously everything was delicious, including the coffee! Only later did I find out that the coffee was decaf! Needless to say, everyone started laughing and that was the joke for the whole trip. Ever since, I call it the “Coffee World against Simona” conspiracy!
PAX: What are 1-2 things travel agents should be aware of right now regarding Air Canada?
SC: Firstly, collaboration, communication and feedback are still some of the most important keys to success in sales and in life, generally.
Secondly, knowledge! Know more, sell more! The travel landscape is constantly changing, and it is a challenge for the travel agents to be on top of each carrier, cruise line, hotel and car rental chains. I would like to encourage our partners to take advantage of the Air Canada Global Sales University https://learninglibrary.com/AirCanada/a/.
It is a great resource that is meant to equip everyone with the tools they need to enhance their Air Canada product knowledge. And to stay up to date don’t forget to subscribe to The Flash: http://go.pardot.com/l/463862/2017-12-26/l2b75
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