TORONTO — You learn a lot over the course of 20 years – just ask Christine James, CTM and Vice President of TL Network Canada. The travel industry veteran celebrated her 20th anniversary at the company on Nov. 29, which is still only half the time spent in her 40-plus year career.
Having first started as an intern at Thomas Cook Travel in the mid-1970s, and landing subsequent roles at Eaton’s Travel, Uniglobe Attco North/Travel Resources, Travel Trust International Canada and the Chimo Hotel chain, James eventually made her way to Vacation.com, which transitioned to TL Network in 2017. Now, she’s not only managing all aspects of its Canadian operations, she’s thriving at it. And despite already spending four decades in the industry, James is more excited than ever for what the future still holds.
What made you get into the travel industry?
“I’ve always enjoyed dealing with people. Upon graduating from high school, I accepted a job in customer service for a national mail order company. That year, I happened to be flipping through a college career publication when I came across an article on travel and tourism and I thought, ‘What a perfect solution to combining my passion for dealing with the public with my love for travel!'”
Tell us about your first job in travel.
“On day one of my internship as a travel consultant at Thomas Cook Travel in Toronto’s Yorkville district, the manager at the branch warned me not to council any clients directly, that I was just there to observe and process any bookings the ‘real’ consultants made. However, after only one week on the job, the reception area was so full of clients that a couple was about to walk out. I invited them to my desk and ended up booking them on an FIT transaction, including flights to London, 4-star hotels plus a fully-escorted 14-day coach tour of Britain! After they left, my manager stormed over to ask why I was chatting with them. I simply handed him the file along with the deposit cheque and from that day on I didn’t have to spend much of my day stamping brochures.”
In those early days at TL Network, how was the travel industry different?
“For starters, it was easier to negotiate preferred supplier agreements on behalf of national networks or chains. Back then, a supplier would compensate headquarters on a base override, but today most will only pay on achieving growth targets year over year. On the other hand, technology has reshaped the industry, from the way consumers shop for travel or a travel agent, to the way agents transact the booking. There has clearly been an upside to travel agencies of networks, like TL Network, that have applied and developed technology to deliver more customer leads to their travel advisors, as well as train their advisors to become true experts in their area of specialty.”
What would you count as your most memorable accomplishments at TL Network?
“The fact that I’ve been able to work with the same company for 20 years while being allowed the opportunity to develop my career and enjoy being continually challenged over the years is an accomplishment in itself. Plus, playing an instrumental part of growing our Network to where it is today makes me extremely proud.”
What is the best part about working at TL Network?
“In a single word – people! We have a very dedicated team of people who I’ve formed great friendships over the years. I also love working with our key suppliers and developing relationships beyond just business.”
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned in the past 20 years?
“That hard work, dedication and perseverance do pay off! 20 years is a lifetime at this stage of my career. I’m very fortunate that I still feel challenged and proud of my accomplishments as I did since joining the company all those years ago.”