Emma Madsen’s career plan was to become a nurse, but after doing a little exploring after high school, she set out to make travel her full-time focus.
“Having not quite turned 20 years old, I also needed to figure out a way to do it cheaply,” says Madsen, who was born in England and grew up in Terrace, B.C.
Her first step was leaving home and moving to Edmonton, Alberta with a friend. It was here, in May of 1999, that Madsen landed her first job in the travel industry, working in the reservations department at Fun Sun Vacations.
“This was back in the day when most travel advisors called in to book their clients trips,” Madsen tells PAX. “I would take upwards of 80 calls a day. There was this guy named Bruce Lidberg who was the happiest guy at Fun Sun. He came in usually around 10 a.m., chatted with everyone, and then got to go on all the fun trips to Disneyland and Hawaii. Watching him, I knew needed a job in outside sales!”
The rest, as the saying goes, is history.
Since that first gig, Madsen has always worked in travel – except for a brief stint in high school when she worked at A&W. (“I was a pro at making onion rings,” she says).
In 2003, Madsen moved to Calgary to accept a position as a key account manager at MyTravel, and has lived in the Stampede City ever since.
Today, she’s a business development manager for Western Canada at the Jamaica Tourist Board (JTB), a role she started in 2009.
“My role is primarily to support travel advisors,” Madsen says. “Our focus is to keep Jamaica top of mind. We do a lot of marketing efforts, such as hosting and attending trade events, training and sales calls. I also work very closely with our travel partners that are selling Jamaica. We work together on joint initiatives.”
What’s her favourite part about the job?
“Not every day is the same,” Madsen says. “Working for the Jamaica Tourist Board, I get to do a lot of really cool things. Just this past month I hosted an amazing FAM to Jamaica with a great group of advisors and spent time with Freddie Marsh from Playa Resorts. The following week, I was in Winnipeg, hosting ‘Jamaica Night in the Ballpark’ with the Winnipeg Goldeyes.”
“The travel industry is the best industry and it's all because of the people. There are so many incredible people, from advisors to suppliers to the travel media.”
Here, PAX Checks In with Madsen to discuss the merits of wearing comfortable shoes, one of the best Jamaican lunches she’s ever had, and a recent achievement that has kept travel advisors connected to the JTB.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
Emma Madsen (EM): My tablet fully loaded with crime docuseries from Netflix for the long plane rides; a large suitcase (I often travel to Jamaica with the largest suitcase possible so I can bring home as much coffee as I can carry); comfortable shoes (I do so many shows and the days can be long. Uncomfortable feet are the worst. Plus, this position takes me to many cool cities. I always try to explore when I can and want to be able to quickly check out the area that I am in).
PAX: What’s your favourite airport?
EM: Surprisingly, Calgary! Calgary is home and it always feels great to come home.
PAX: What was the first trip you ever took?
EM: My first trip as an adult was heading back to England to stay with my Grandparents for a few months. It was great going back ‘home’ and spending time with family and exploring.
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
EM: I had a destination wedding in Jamaica. We wanted to make sure everyone who joined us had an incredible time so we pulled out all the stops for our guests. The day before our wedding, we hired a private catamaran tour to Dunn's River that came with snorkeling and a beach lunch. It was a great way to thank our friends and family for joining us.
PAX: What's the most memorable meal you've ever had while travelling?
EM: Jack Sprat's is a small rustic seaside restaurant in Treasure Beach in Jamaica. It was one of the best lunches I've ever had. It's set right beside the sea and is the perfect setting with such a cool vibe. The Escovitch fish was out of this world!
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
EM: Obnoxious people when travelling are the worst. I can't stand when people are rude and demanding to those that are working at airports and airlines. Shouting at someone isn't going to make them un-delay a flight!
PAX: What is your funniest travel anecdote?
EM: I once took an Alaska Airlines flight from Victoria to Seattle. I was the only passenger on the plane. Myself and 100 empty seats. It was quite strange!
PAX: Would you travel for a month in luxury or for a year on a budget?
EM: This is a hard question. I’ve had the privilege of experiencing a lot of luxury travel over the past years, and I wish I could travel like that all the time. However, a whole year to travel and explore would be life changing. To be able to explore for an entire year and see countries on a slower pace would be incredible. Even on a budget, you'd really be able to immerse yourself in the local culture and destination. And let's be honest, the best food when travelling is often from those inexpensive, family-run restaurants.
PAX: What do you consider your greatest achievement in recent years?
EM: Over the past few years, I have really grown the JTB's Facebook page for travel advisors. When I first took over the group, there were about 1,300 Canadian advisors. Now there is 3,300. During the pandemic, this Facebook group was instrumental in us being able to get the word out to travel advisors. Restrictions and protocols were constantly changing, and it became a great hub for us to get the word out quickly and efficiently. It also became a great space for advisors to ask questions and have them quickly answered. Advisors really knew that we were there for them. I love the sense of community that this group brings. Advisors know they can trust the information in there and trust it to be a safe place to ask any question about Jamaica, even if it may seem silly or repetitive.
PAX: What is your motto?
EM: Everyone has a story. Be kind.
PAX: What is your idea of perfect happiness?
EM: A slow day on a nice beach with great coffee and company.
PAX: What is your biggest fear?
EM: Would it be surprising if I said I have a fear of flying? Despite travelling multiple times a month, if a flight is turbulent, my blood pressure goes up and I am gripping those arm rests.
PAX: Who is your favourite singer or band?
EM: Love the ladies with the voices. Whitney, Celine, Tina...
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
EM: My hand-eye coordination is pretty good. I can beat most people at the carnival game Whac-A-Mole. I have all the stuffies from the fair to prove it!
PAX: How has the pandemic changed your outlook on life?
EM: I am more patient and understanding with people now. The pandemic was so hard on our industry. Watching so many people in our industry lose their commissions, their jobs and livelihoods. When travel re-opened and people were travelling, it also wasn't without hiccups. I am more patient to hear someone's story and see where I can help fix it. It's much easier to help come up with a solution than to spend time analyzing what went wrong in the first place. I try to greet people with more patience, understanding and compassion because you never know what they're going through.
PAX: What is the biggest challenge facing the travel industry right now?
EM: Demand and inflation are real. Prices continue to go up and up for consumers and the cost to operate is also going up. This does pose a problem of affordability to the traveller and cost of doing business for the operators.
PAX: What is this year’s top travel trend?
EM: Family group travel is so strong right now. Families, especially multi-generational families, are wanting to travel together. Grandparents are a lot more active these days and they want to travel with all their grandkids together. I am seeing lots of family groups travelling to spend time with each other.
PAX: What should travel advisors know right now about the Jamaica Tourist Board?
EM: If you ever have any questions about Jamaica, we're here to support you. We aren't biased, so we can help guide you and your clients to what is best for them.