CALGARY — When Lesley Keyter opened her travel agency in 1996, she had next to no experience in the travel industry.
Now 27 years later, Keyter has not only made South Travel Inc. – operating and better known as The Travel Lady Agency – one of the most successful travel agencies in Calgary, she’s also known to millions of consumers through her TV and radio appearances with Global TV, Mornings with Sue and Andy, CBC, Global Toronto and more.
As part of Travelweek’s 50th anniversary celebrations in 2023, travel advisors across Canada are sharing their industry memories with Travelweek readers. Here’s what Lesley had to say…
“I opened my agency in February 1996 as a franchisee of a large organization. The idea was that you needed no experience of the travel industry, as you were going to be running a business – the premise was, you should be ON the business instead of IN the business. Looking back I realize how foolish that was, as you really need to know things from the ground up if you are going to run a business successfully. I remember my first franchisee meeting and listening to people talking about BSP. ‘What the hell was that?’ I wondered. Yep – stop laughing. I know you are!!
“It was later in the same year that I had the opportunity to do a screen test with Global News Calgary with the objective of being the travel personality to be interviewed each week on Global Morning News. I was petrified and had always been terrified of public speaking. But what a chance! Seems I hid my jitters and have been on Global News Calgary every week since about July 1996. That first interview was a huge milestone.
“By 2001 the business was ticking along. We had moved to bigger premises and had taken on more staff. In September 2001 we headed out to Vancouver for a franchisee meeting and while getting ready that morning I stared in disbelief as the planes charged into the Twin Towers. Travel collapsed. At our franchise meeting the members sat in silence while we received updates from our Air Canada rep regarding the crewmembers who died. It was a sombre event.
“But more was to come. I remember being woken up by my radio alarm on November 8, 2001 to hear the announcement that Canada 3000 had ceased operations. I literally levitated from my bed. We had large wedding groups booked and had been doing so well with C3 that they had raised our commission level to 18%. Can you imagine getting 18% for an all-inclusive package? I should have known something was wrong.
“But we travel agents are a resilient bunch and gradually travel built up again – with the few bumps in the road like SARS in 2003.
“Could anything have prepared us for COVID? March 16, 2020 – Canada closed its borders and the travel industry was once again feeling like it had been punched in the gut. As the weeks and months ticked by many agencies closed. Suppliers kept our spirits up with virtual presentations – everyone was on Zoom. We got to see our work mates’ homes, kids and pets. We had trivia contests and challenges to see who could tell the dirtiest joke. We did everything we could to get through this – and we did!
“I am so proud to be part of this industry. We are a team of tough, determined, travel-loving lunatics. That’s what keeps us going and ready to face anything!”
Want to take part in Travelweek’s 50th anniversary celebrations with your own industry memories? Email firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com. Images are welcome! Plus, try your luck with our contest, ‘It Happened This Week’, featuring a new headline (and a new chance to win!) every week from Travelweek’s 50 years of travel industry news coverage.