“I love getting to know people from all walks of life, from all over the world to establish a deeper understanding of our existence as humans,” says Martha Tavio, director of sales at Gateways International Tailor-Made Tours.
Tavio has been travelling the world her entire life. The Greater Toronto Area-based travel professional doesn’t take a single day for granted since starting her travel career with Sunquest Vacations in the mid-’80s.
“I have been very lucky to visit many different places around the world and being in the travel industry is what helps me continue to explore,” Tavio tells PAX. “I say it all the time, we are all truly lucky to be in the industry we are in.”
Gateways International has been a leader in tailor-made tours to Europe, the Mediterranean and Central & South America since 1986.
As sales director, Tavio says her job is “really about building and retaining strong relationships.”
“I take great pride in visiting agents at their agencies or over lunch, catching up on what they are doing and helping them understand how Gateways International can help make them shine,” says Tavio.
When she’s not conducting trainings, “going through our two full-colour brochures of suggested itineraries to Europe and Latin America,” Tavio attends trade shows, conferences and hosts consumer evenings where she enjoys connecting with possible passengers over “a nice glass of wine and great company.”
“I try to keep things fun and upbeat,” she says. “Everyone knows I don’t mince words and love to laugh.”
Here, PAX checks in with Tavio to chat about the destination that inspired her to pursue travel, a memorable seafood feast in Spain, and that time she went swimming with wild dolphins.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
Martha Tavio (MT): A pair of sandals, a scarf and my perfume!
PAX: What are some of your favourite vacation spots?
MT: Argentina makes me so happy. It’s classy, European and has diverse landscapes that get to me every time I visit. The wine is beyond excellent. Israel will always have a special place in my heart. Israel is a land that offers everything – history, spirituality, adventure, food and wine. The country continues to evolve and grow year after year. It’s different with each visit. Spain is another unique destination that I continue to visit with great pleasure. The unique people, food and culture vary by region. It is a country you cannot visit just once.
PAX: What’s your favourite airport and why?
MT: Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv makes me feel safe and secure. And the great prices on my perfume at duty free is always a bonus!
PAX: What’s the first vacation you ever took?
MT: I was born and raised in Venezuela, a stunningly beautiful country in and of itself! The closest vacation spot to visit was Aruba, a place we visited frequently with my large family. When I was 12-years-old, we visited for the first time. I can still vividly remember how relaxing it was, all the great fun adventures with all my cousins together in one place. Those trips inspired me to travel and explore the world. I didn’t know that travel would end up being my career. Funny how things work out.
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
MT: About 32 years ago, I was vacationing with friends in Sarasota, Florida. We chartered a boat, and I proudly drove the boat all day. We picked a remote spot, dropped our anchor and spent the day swimming with wild dolphins! Thinking about it today, I don’t know if I would ever do that again. At the time, it cost an absolute fortune!
PAX: What’s the most memorable meal you’ve ever eaten while travelling?
MT: About 10 years ago while on a familiarization trip with the Tourist Office of Spain, we visited Galicia, Spain. We had a unique dinner experience at a seafood restaurant on a boat. The fisherman took us to the floating platforms where the seafood is farmed. They gave us an abundance of mussels for lunch. I drank the typical Albariño wine while eating never-ending servings of muscles and oysters. It was pure heaven. On that trip, we also ate at some delicious Michelin-starred restaurants in San Sebastian and Bilbao.
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
MT: Travel can be both an adventure and challenging at times. Many things are out of our control and for those who like to control everything, including the weather, it can present many opportunities to complain. I wish people would appreciate the privilege it is and to not sweat the small stuff. Really, just relax, open your eyes, ears and noses to learn something new about the way others live. Culturally we are all different; we don’t have to like everything in a new city, but I do wish people would stop complaining sometimes. We don’t realize how many people never leave their hometowns even for one day in their lives. Travel is something special and such a great teaching tool for adults and even more while travelling with families. Such an amazing gift; better than tangible things.
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
MT: Many people think drinking is my only talent, but I am also an excellent cook. Because I grew up by the sea, I love to cook fish and seafood. My specialty is paella. I love meat, but I will always pick seafood if I have a choice for an entrée. I also love to share the cooking experience with close friends and family.
PAX: When flying, window shade up or down?
MT: It really depends on where we are flying. I’m always considerate of other passengers. When flying over the Andes, the shade is definitely up!
PAX: What's your funniest travel anecdote?
MT: Many years ago, early in my travel career, I visited Greece for the first time with a few female colleagues. We had finished touring the islands and came back to Athens for the night before our flight home the next day. We stopped at a local restaurant near the Plaka to grab a gyro and a beer. We ordered from a take-out window, got our food and sat down at the patio to eat. Much to our surprise, a waiter came out and began shouting at us to get up. We didn’t understand that seating was only for table service, not for the take-out window. This is very common in Europe, but we didn’t know that. A Greek-American lawyer walked by during this commotion and helped intervene as the dialogue was literally Greek to us! Eventually, the owner came out, smoothed everything over and we spent the night drinking shots of ouzo until 1:00 a.m. We didn’t pay a penny and almost missed our flight back home!
PAX: What should travel agents know right now about Gateways International?
MT: Gateways International Tailor-made Tours is a proudly Canadian, family-run tour operator based in Richmond Hill, Ontario. Think of us as a couturier for travel arrangements; our itineraries are not pre-packaged. For the past 33 years, we have perfected the tailor-made itinerary, customizing each and every detail to the traveller’s interests, exact specifications and budget. No two packages are the same.
Travel is incredibly personal; what makes me happy may not interest someone else. Give me or one of our specialists a call – we will ask you about your clients, give you ideas and even challenge you on the arrangements or logistics. We are on your side and nothing makes us happier than making your clients smile.
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