Get to know Cindy Almond, Owner, Romance and Foodie Travel
Tell us a little about yourself and how you got into the industry?
In 2010, prior to becoming a travel agent, I planned an epic European adventure for my mom’s 50th birthday. It included visits to Paris, Venice, the Amalfi Coast, and a mediterranean cruise with port stops in Split, Corfu, Crete, Mykonos and Santorini. I was the travel planner in the family, and after this trip I had a life crisis of sorts, realizing that despite having a well paying secure job, I needed to do something different in order to lead my best life and had a strong calling to work in the travel industry.
Transat had a contest looking for a year long video blogger so I applied. While I didn’t get the position, my YouTube application drew the attention of a home-based travel agent who reached out to me, and that’s when I realized there was such a thing as being a travel agent from home. Since I had a full-time job, I decided to begin slowly in January 2011 and it took only a couple of months for me to realize this was indeed the calling I’d been hoping to find throughout my twenties.
I grew my travel business part-time until the time was right in 2014 to transition to it being my full time career. In January 2021, it will be my 10 year anniversary in the business and I now have a team of eight agents with me at Romance and Foodie Travel. My host agency is TTAND — they rock! Despite the current difficult situation, I intend to be here for another 20-25 years for sure.
What made you decide to specialize in destination weddings, romance and foodie travel?
My original focus was going to be on food and travel — as those are both my favourite things. However, a friend of mine, who is super laid back, decided she wanted a destination wedding and asked me to take care of it knowing I had zero experience in planning such a thing. Their wedding went great, and led to a referral for another. I then met with mentors Leslie Coates and Mona Schuller who strongly encouraged me to believe in myself and attend wedding shows to promote myself as a Wedding and Honeymoon Specialist. While I no longer work with these ladies, they played a huge role in the travel agent I am today and I am forever grateful. Romance blossomed and has become a large part of my business, and I am slowly growing the foodie side of my business, showcasing food tours and cooking classes in each of the destinations my clients are visiting.
How have you been coping over the past few months? How have you been affected?
I have been severely affected as I’m sure most of my colleagues have. I had two weddings cancelled completely and three weddings to reschedule, along with several vacation getaways and honeymoons overseas that were impacted. I was in the midst of promoting my first food tour to Italy scheduled for October when COVID hit — taking the wind completely out of my sails. I will be rescheduling the trip for 2021 when the timing feels right to begin promoting wholeheartedly, which should hopefully be soon! Meanwhile, I’ve been trying to enjoy the silver lining of the downtime this pandemic has provided to enjoy time with my family and enjoy some well deserved me-time (ie. binge watching tv)!
How are you handling destination wedding bookings right now?
I have weddings rescheduled for November 2020, and we are monitoring the situation closely for those clients to help them make appropriate decisions. I have been working with several couples for new weddings in 2021 — so far we are doing the research, looking at quotes, but not ready to pull the trigger to book until my clients feel their guests would be ready to put money down. I’m feeling this will be soon enough, should the re-openings that have been scheduled occur with success.
Is there anything you want to share?
What I’d like to share is some inspiration and hope for my fellow colleagues. While I could internalize the industry outlook with fear or worry, I have been blessed with some amazing clients, who have appreciated all that I’ve done for them throughout this experience. Most will be ready to travel again as soon as it seems safe to do so. It has been an opportunity to educate the consumer about what a travel agent really does for you, how we are compensated, and how we are truly your advisor and partner in good times and bad. It has been frustrating for sure, but I believe consumers appreciate us more than they already did, and I am hopeful for the future. I do believe that my business will come back stronger than ever in due time.
While I could internalize the industry outlook with fear or worry, I have been blessed with some amazing clients, who have appreciated all that I’ve done for them throughout this experience. Most will be ready to travel again as soon as it seems safe to do so… I am hopeful for the future. I do believe that my business will come back stronger than ever in due time.
Owner, Romance and Foodie Travel
What are some of the hotels and resorts that you work with that offer unique options for couples or that were easy to deal with when it came to rebooking dates or cancelling under the current climate?
I’d have to say that the majority of suppliers and hotels have been excellent to deal with once it was clear that this wasn’t going away any time soon. Two of my favourite hotel chains have always been Karisma and AMResorts as it relates to All Inclusive South vacations. They offer some great loyalty programs that allow us to offer benefits to our clients such as romantic dinners, upgrades, breakfast in bed, as well as treat ourselves on occasion with complimentary nights. Their business development managers and sales representatives have always made themselves available to answer questions and assist in moving things forward where possible. I do have to say this is the case for almost every supplier I’ve dealt with, though. There have been some frustrations and struggles, but when i’ve reached out, I’ve often received the support I required.
Can you share a memorable travel experience?
My gosh, there are so many — seeing the Serengeti for the first time, hiking on table mountain in Cape Town, an open door helicopter ride over volcanos on Big Island, a cooking class on the cliffs of Ravello, but one of the most unique/enjoyable/funny would have to be a Sunrise Fish Market Tour in Hoi An by Jack Tran Tours. My sister and I showed up and just so happened to be the only two who were there that day so it became a private tour. We boarded a boat where we witnessed a most beautiful sunrise, saw husband and wife teams fishing in basket boats… We were taken to the fish market and saw the vendors haggling for fish — selling their product. We were asked to pick a few items, and we were taught how to reel in fishing nets, and then re-embarked our boat. Prior to take off, our guides gave us a little comedy show, while one was swirling around, the other came barrelling at us unexpectedly, hopping along the water as though he were riding a horse!
Hilarious! We then continued our journey on the water where they cooked up our fish and served it to us for a delicious and freshly caught breakfast! Yum!
What advice do you have for aspiring destination wedding agents?
Don’t do it because everyone tells you it’s where the money is at. Sure it can be lucrative, but be sure it’s your thing. It isn’t always easy, it’s very transactional and time consuming — so be sure you understand what this entails and that it’s right for you. If it is, then my suggestions are —travel travel travel… and don’t wait for someone to offer a spot on a FAM trip to you. Create your own. Prior to doing this full time, I didn’t have the luxury of signing up for last minute FAM trips due to vacation scheduling at my full-time job. I created my own. On every personal vacation I scheduled two or three days with a transportation company to take me around the area I was in and set up site inspections for myself. The confidence that comes from having seen a product first hand, and meeting the staff, does not measure up to any amount of online searching. I attribute much of my success to investing in my travels and visiting many hotels and attractions so that I can properly match options to my clients based on their needs and interests. So travel, share, talk to and meet people — either attend existing trade shows or create your own. Lastly, offer the best possible service, stay connected with your clients and get them to review and refer you.
Do you have anything to add?
We will survive!