Denise Graham currently works as an account manager at VoX International, where she currently handles the Experience Kissimmee account.
She's also serving a two-year term as VP of memberships and sponsorships for Discover America Canada.
According to Graham, she's always been passionate about travel, and calls working in the travel industry a natural fit.
"I started my career in the industry in 1986. It's hard to believe it’s been 33 years, and I have never looked back," she says. "As the saying goes, time flies when you’re having fun."
These days, when she's not hosting and attending consumer events or agent FAM trips, Graham works closely with tour operators and airline and OTA partners to not only strengthen the exposure of Kissimmee, but also increase overnight visits through strategic sales and marketing plans, trade show participation and trainings.
This week, PAX checks in with Graham to learn more about an expensive souvenir that only comes out for special occasions, that time she commanded an entire airplane by accident, and the board game she'll likely beat you at.
PAX: What are three essential items you always travel with?
Denise Graham (DG): Only three? Kidding. My phone, as we all do, to take pictures, check email, post on social media, and keep in touch with friends and family. Prescription sunglasses – there’s so much to see in the world and without them, for distance, I’m as blind as a bat. I love to read, so the third would be a great new biography, not an e-book but rather, and I may be showing my age here (if the 33 years in the Industry noted above hasn’t already!), a true hardcover book.
PAX: What are some of your favourite vacation spots?
DG: Kissimmee, of course. Back in the early ‘90s, I was first introduced to Kissimmee as the director of product and marketing at Red Seal Tours, where I was responsible for all contracting with hotels, attractions, car rentals, etc. I guess you could say my career has come full circle.
Barbados is a favourite island getaway. I’ve travelled to this destination a total of 17 times over the years for both business and pleasure. I’ve always found the locals very friendly and felt very safe renting a moke and touring around the island, enjoying their stunning beaches, caves, plantations, rich heritage, nightlife and fabulous restaurants throughout the Island.
The “Big Easy,” New Orleans, would be top of the list for a city getaway, known for its round-the-clock nightlife, vibrant atmosphere, jazz clubs, fantastic Creole cuisine, and overall history encompassing French, African and American cultures. I’ve been twice and can’t wait to go back.
PAX: What's your favourite airport and why?
DG: I’ve travelled through many airports around the world over the years and each is unique in its own way. Probably London Heathrow for people watching or Punta Cana for being serenaded by a local merengue band in the arrivals hall would be high on the list. However, I’d have to say any airport I’m arriving into when I’m travelling on vacation will always be my new favourite.
PAX: What do you love about your job? The travel industry?
DG: I love the relationships that have been built over the years. Being in the Industry for more than 30 years now, it’s great to have built not only relationships but also, in many cases, great friendships. A colleague once compared the travel industry to the entertainment industry and I couldn’t have agreed more. We work hard, but we also play hard with a lot of networking and fun, social events throughout the year.
Susan Webb and the entire team at VoX International are a phenomenal group of professionals to work with. I strongly feel one should not waste their time on work that is not enjoyable and rewarding. Passion and dedication come easily when you love what you do.
PAX: What was the first vacation you ever took?
DG: One of the first vacations that I recall vividly would be flying to Scotland on summer vacation with my mom and three sisters to visit my grandparents. We were seated in the last row of the “non-smoking” section with our mom directly behind to keep her eye on us while smoking to her heart’s content throughout the flight.
Even at a very young age, I questioned the thought process behind this policy as well as the health and safety of the passengers. My, how times have changed.
PAX: What’s the biggest splurge you’ve ever made on a trip?
DG: Those who know me well, know I have a real shoe fetish. I’d have to therefore say, the biggest splurge would be on a pair of the most amazing Jimmy Choos.
I convinced myself they were a great deal as they were purchased from an outlet mall just outside of New York City. Thankfully, the currency exchange rate at the time was also in my favour, which is another justification for the purchase. They’re in the original cloth bag and box in my closet and are only brought out for extra-special occasions, like my daughter’s wedding this coming August.
PAX: Most memorable food/meal you ever ate while travelling and where you ate it?
DG: Being a huge fish lover, I once ordered the “Hollandse Nieuwe,” in Amsterdam, which came recommended by our server, as an appetizer. Little did I know the herring would be served whole with the eye staring back at me. Needless to say, I couldn’t wait for the main course.
PAX: What’s your biggest travel pet peeve?
DG: I have two. Parents who neglect to bring activities to keep their young children occupied and content during a flight and passengers who go to the washroom without their shoes. The second one more so from a hygiene perspective.
PAX: What are your hidden talents?
DG: I’m a master at Scrabble (my family would say that is subjective!) and I have a passion for interior decorating.
PAX: When flying: window shade up or down?
DG: Always a window seat and always shade up. My dad passed away 21 years ago and as mushy as it may sound, I always take the opportunity when we’re high above the clouds and as I like to think, one step closer to heaven, to have a little chat with him.
PAX: What's your funniest travel anecdote?
DG: Just one?! As a sales rep for World of Vacations/Transat Holidays, I escorted a group of 25 agents to Greece on a FAM. Mid-flight, around 11 p.m. (wearing a branded golf shirt), I got up to use the washroom. While standing in line, I was poked by a passenger who asked for a pillow and blanket. I found a flight attendant to assist her.
Upon arrival in Athens, I was assisting my group with their luggage at the baggage carousel and had asked that they all wait in one specific spot off to the side until everyone had their belongings and we would proceed together to our coach. A passenger, outside of the group must have overheard my request and before I knew it, as the last bag was retrieved and I turned to join my group, the entire 300+ plane load of passengers was waiting on me for further instruction.
PAX: What should travel agents know right now about Kissimmee?
DG: We are very excited to have Margaritaville Resort open in Kissimmee this past January, which is an island-inspired resort from the famed Jimmy Buffet brand.
Accommodations include both hotel rooms and tropical vacation cottages which range in size from one to eight bedrooms as well as a new, amazing waterpark which just opened in late June and available to both onsite and offsite guests.
Known as the vacation home capital of the world, we’ve seen a huge influx in multi-generational families taking advantage of our more than 22,000 rental properties & creating memorable, lasting family experiences. We were very honoured to host the prestigious Air Canada Race in August last year, which welcomed close to 50 agents and Air Canada sales staff from across Canada to experience a great mix of what Kissimmee has to offer.
From world famous theme parks to a number of nature-based activities such as zip-lining, tree-trekking, hot air balloon, and airboat rides, golfing and cycling tours, plus a wide array or shopping and dining options as well as a new winery, the destination really offers something for everyone.
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