Q&A: Ontario agent taps into the foodie niche and lands a spot on Saveur advisory board

Diane Cook Food and wine travel specialist Diane Cook knows her stuff. So much so that the Fergus, Ontario TPI travel agent has been appointed to the advisory board of Saveur magazine (saveur.com), the only Canadian travel advisor to achieve this honour. Virtuoso’s Saveur Advisory Board works with Saveur staff to create customized travel itineraries with a focus on food and fine dining.

Cook underwent a rigorous screening process to earn her role on the Saveur advisory board and her selection was based heavily on her specialization in food and wine-related travel. As part of her role Cook will be providing Saveur with custom food-oriented travel itineraries from personal experience, collaborating with Saveur’s advertising partners, attending Saveur events and providing Saveur readers with expert advice through Q&As.

Only Virtuoso travel advisors are eligible to serve on the Saveur board, says Angela Roditi, Vice President, Alliances at Virtuoso. “This alliance is one more valuable way that network advisors can distinguish themselves from the competition by highlighting the remarkable food-focused journeys they’ve created.”

Travellers today are craving authentic culinary experiences, and Saveur readers will benefit from the skills Cook and the other Virtuoso board members will showcase in bringing destinations to life in the magazine’s pages, added Roditi.

“We are thrilled that Diane has been included in the Saveur Advisory Board,” said TPI President and CEO Morris Chia. “Her expertise in culinary travel is top-notch and her involvement in Saveur will be an excellent way for her to continue to expand her talents. It is wonderful to see our advisors take full advantage of TPI’s membership with Virtuoso and the many opportunities within their extensive network of superb partners.”

Sphere recently connected with Cook to find out more about how she makes her food and wine travel specialty work.


Sphere: How did you get into the retail travel industry and what made you want to specialize in food and wine related travel?

Cook: “I started straight out of the St. Clair College two-year Travel & Tourism program as a leisure agent at Thomas Cook Travel at Bay & Bloor [in Toronto] 33 years ago. I have worked for several large retail travel companies as an agent and manager.

“To quote Ludwick Marishane, ‘You can learn some entrepreneurial skills, but the entrepreneurial attitude cannot be taught’.

“In the landscape of travel today the time was right for me to step out and live my dream of having my own business, determining my own focus and specializations.

“So much of each travel experience is centered around our senses. With the culinary explosion around the world – celebrity chefs, culinary classes, wine/ beer/ whisky experiences – our clients are seeking these adventures.”


Sphere: Do clients booking these sorts of trips typically have a higher than average spend, making this a lucrative niche and worth the extra work/planning involved?

Cook: “As a Virtuoso Advisor I specialize in customized travel planning for the higher end client. Most of the suppliers/ hotels/ cruise lines I work with offer and have access to some very unique opportunities. This is also how I travel.

“I curate, based on my experiences and knowledge, very personal experiences for my clients. This is just part of the value proposition clients willingly pay their trusted travel advisor professional fees for.”


Sphere: Can you tell us about a particularly incredible food/wine themed itinerary that you’ve booked?

Cook: “It is about listening and understanding my clients needs and wants.

“I have a single female client, age 65. This was her first solo adventure and there were several mental and emotional hurdles to walk through with her as she learned all that I could do to make every step of this adventure effortless and stress-free for her.

“The main component was a cycling tour in Tuscany. With one night in Florence pre I arranged a private guided walking/tasting tour and with one night post in Rome I arranged also a private guided tour including a private chef table.

“For some clients it is about splurging on a Michelin Starred restaurant, making the suggestions and securing their reservations. For some it is cooking alongside locals. It’s creating their perfect experience.”

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