TORONTO — Travel industry veteran Steve Gillick has seen for himself the value of hard-working travel agents. And not just because he headed up the Canadian Institute of Travel Counsellors (CITC) for many years.
Even in a country as far away as Mongolia – one of the many destinations featured in his new travel book, ‘A Symphony of Camels’ – Steve saw first-hand why booking through a travel agent is the way to go. In short, a would-be airline passenger needed a double-entry visa, but she didn’t know, because she’d booked the trip on her own and not through a travel agent. The result? She couldn’t board the plane (see the full story in the Q&A below).
“I have always been a big proponent of the work that travel agents (advisors) do on a daily basis,” he says.
Steve’s book is a wide-ranging look at travel, tourism and the industry itself, tackling everything from the traveller vs. tourist debate, to how to truly immerse yourself in a new destination, to practical tips. As reported yesterday in part 1 of the interview, Steve is a travel writer with 320+ articles to his name, a photographer, and since 2012 the founder and President of consultancy Talking Travel. His country count so far is 85, with 730+ destinations.
Here’s part 2 of the interview …
You have some great ideas in the book, backed by your own experiences, on how to immerse yourself in a destination and get the most out of your trip. Escorted tour companies have tried really hard in the past several years to include more immersive experiences on group tours, more time in destination, etc. Do you think we’ve seen the last of ‘if it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium’ type of group tours?
Yes and no. The sheer variety of escorted tour product allows tour companies to cater to the diverse needs of individuals. And presumably they have researched sufficiently to be able to determine of what those needs consist. Some travellers may want luxury or nature, adventure, landmark attractions, general sightseeing or gastronomy-themed group tours, or a combination of everything.
But, you know, whatever the theme, travellers want to travel, and see and do as much as they can during their allotted time at each destination. The challenge is to balance the travel itinerary with what each individual hopes to get out of the trip.
So while the ‘If it’s Tuesday it must be Belgium’ type itinerary will still appeal to some travellers, other travellers may opt for a slightly less hectic version where they still explore a country or a region, but get to immerse themselves in culture or art or wines or hiking or beaches along the way.
You’ve been travelling for decades, and you’ve no doubt witnessed the erosion of the travel experience in terms of flights and airports. Have you had to deal with the current airport congestion at Pearson Airport and what’s your take on the situation?
The author Robert Louis Stevenson is credited with the saying “I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel’s sake. The great affair is to move.” And then there is the philosopher Homer’s maxim that “the journey’s the thing.”
But, alas, in 2022, moving is not so easy and the journey may be fraught with stress, angst, pain and frustration. I like to think of it in two ways…
- Exacting reasonable expectations. This means that you plan ahead for anything that could arise, so you won’t be shocked and panicky when it actually happens. If you know there may be a huge lineup midday, then try to get to the airport early. Bring a book (my book, of course!!), a movie, an iPad, an iPod…whatever. At least you’ll be checked in and securely at the airport. Flight is cancelled? Contact your travel agent for advice and assistance. Flight is delayed and connection is threatened? Again … call your travel professional.
- Fair-weather travellers. This refers to people who only want to travel when the sun is shining and the sky is blue. If it’s raining, they are upset. If something is cancelled, they are distressed. But we all know that “things happen.” If it rains, invest in an umbrella or poncho and continue to do whatever you had planned on doing. Do you think the destination stops because of inclement weather or a train strike or a national holiday you didn’t plan on? Get into the spirit of travel and enjoy the destination as a unique adventure. Take notes while you are ‘in travel limbo.’ Here’s your opportunity to write that first blog or contribute an article to the company newsletter. But keep it positive and full of constructive solutions that may benefit the reader! Think of every single travel adventure (rain or shine) as an opportunity to hone your travel writing/travel advice skills!
I know it’s not as easy as it seems. Long wait lists for passports, a huge backlog for Nexus cards, unbelievably long phone hold times for ‘customer service’ from the airlines. It’s frustrating, stressful and maddening. There are no immediate magic solutions. So take a deep breath, have another cup of coffee, put the terribly irritating ‘hold music’ on speaker on your cell phone, wait for someone to assist, and chill!
What’s your take on how the pandemic has highlighted the value of booking through a travel agent, to have someone who can help and find solutions amid major and unexpected travel disruptions?
I have always been a big proponent of the work that travel agents (advisors) do on a daily basis. Just like a fine wine or a treasured antique, every travel agent has their ‘provenance’: that wealth of experience that determines who they are and how they can service a client’s travel needs.
I was in a travel agent’s office when she excused herself to bail out a client, calling from France, during an unannounced Air France strike.
And at the other end of the spectrum, I was in Mongolia when a New Yorker was denied boarding back to Beijing, because no one told her that she needed a double-entry visa (one to enter China from New York, and one from Ulan Bator back to Beijing, and on to New York). She had booked the trip on her own. A travel agent would have saved her from the forced weekend stayover in Ulan Bator while she waited for the Chinese Embassy to open on Monday morning.
Travel agents want to retain clients. Therefore they need to understand the needs of their clients and stay in touch. It’s all about relationship building. If something goes wrong during a trip, if a flight is missed due to lengthy security clearance lines, if a flight is cancelled for whatever reason, a pop-up strike causes the shutdown of ferry services or train services, etc., it’s the travel agent to the rescue, backed by experience, as well as a community/ hub of advice and suggestions from travel colleagues.
For book ordering details click here.