Brenda Dohlen has been a travel advisor for 30 years. Dohlen caught the travel bug while on a gap year from college, travelling around Europe for six months through 15 countries.
One of my last pre-COVID travel talk presentations (before they all became virtual travel talks) was in the beautiful mountain town of Invermere, BC, where Brenda and her colleagues filled a conference room with travel enthusiasts keen to plot out their adventures around the globe. Since then she’s not let the pandemic stop her keeping people’s travel dreams alive — she has booked trips for clients to the Arctic, Baltics, a Peru private group, Spain, Morocco and is currently working on making ‘bucket list travel’ dreams come true with a booking for a Galapagos multi-sport adventure. Brenda is lovely to work with and super passionate about introducing her clients to G Adventures. For that I’d like to say thanks and recognize her commitment to her customers and changing people’s lives through travel.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been in the industry?
I’ve been a travel advisor for 30 years, and have had the pleasure of both working for Seven Seas Travel in Vanderhoof, BC for 10 years, and the last 20 years with Invermere Travel World as both Manager and Travel Advisor.
Why and how did you decide to become a travel advisor?
While I was in college, I took a gap year and headed to Europe for six wonderful months, travelling through 15 countries. Hence the travel bug started. Five years later my husband and I packed up and left for a yearlong trip around Asia, Australia, New Zealand and the South Pacific. I then started to call this the five-year itch, because the travel bug hit us once again and we sold our house, quit our jobs, packed up our four- and six-year-old children and hit the road again. We bought a campervan in Australia and drove 30,000 km around the continent. From there we travelled through both the North and South islands of New Zealand, Fiji and the Cook Islands.
Upon our return to Vancouver, we went back to our jobs, mine as a pension plan manager and my husband’s as a forester. After the experiences of spending time in the Outback and small towns of Australia and New Zealand it wasn’t long before we decided that we wanted a small-town atmosphere. My husband’s career took us to several small towns in BC. At that time, I decided to re-evaluate my career and as my passion was travel, I enrolled with the Granton Institute of Technology, Travel Agent program. My spirit for adventure has led me to explore more than 70 countries, and we also arranged and led a group through the magical countries of Laos and Cambodia, taking the path less travelled.
What’s your favourite part of being a travel agent?
As a brick-and-mortar location I’ve enjoyed the benefits of one-on-one experiences with our clients. The excitement and pleasure of sitting face-to-face with my clients and helping them create the dream vacation that they have been working towards. The pleasure of hearing of their adventures when they return home with memories that will last a lifetime. With each and every booking I feel the same exhilaration and anticipation as when I’m planning my own trips.
What’s a key thing you learned during the pandemic?
Be patient. Things will turn around in the travel industry and we as Travel Advisors will be ready once again to provide those lifetime memories to our clients.
What will be your first post-pandemic trip and why?
South America has been calling to me as it is one of the continents that I have not visited. Hence, I have arranged a small group tour with family, friends and clients to the Galapagos, Machu Picchu, the Amazon and Lake Titicaca with G Adventures. With not having travelled for the last year, I felt I needed to make up for lost time and spend at least a month travelling. By combining the two tours, I will be able to experience the incredible wildlife of the Galapagos, some of which only exist in the archipelago, piranha fishing on the Amazon, and following the footsteps of the Incas to Machu Picchu.
Do you believe more people will use travel advisors after COVID-19?
Definitely. On a daily basis we have clients asking “When can I travel, where can I go?” New clients are contacting us and saying they’ve never used a travel advisor before, but now will only book with a travel advisor. They expressed the frustration over the experiences that they encountered with trying to cancel their plans, the long hours on hold and trying to receive refunds. People have been hearing how our office and other travel advisors have taken away the stress of rebooking cancelled flights, arranging for people to come home who were stranded in March 2020 due to the pandemic, phoning airlines in the middle of the night to try to arrange flights, pursuing insurance claims and relieving the time and anxiety that they experienced. Future travellers will be looking for that peace of mind that professional travel advisors offer “We’re always here for you, before, during and after your travels.”
From charging fees to re-evaluating which suppliers you will work or won’t work with in the future, how have you changed the way you work since the pandemic hit?
We are promoting tour companies, airlines, cruises, hotels that are offering flexible options for cancellations, no penalties or change fees, vouchers for future travel good for two years, complimentary COVID-19 insurance. As our clients start to travel again, they are inquiring about small groups or private tours. Some of their key interests are time to reconnect with family, staying away from crowds, exploring off-the-beaten path destinations while having the safety and security of an adventure organized in advance.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for travel advisors right now?
Keep travelling, and don’t be afraid to try somewhere new. The world is a huge playground to explore, learn other cultures, meet new people and experience sights that you can never imagine. Your passion for travel will only soar with each new adventure you undertake.
Do you have anything to add?
As travel advisors we are in unique positions where we can help influence and encourage people to discover how amazing the world is. Even if we haven’t been able to travel extensively, there are so many great courses and webinars that our suppliers arrange. Keep educating yourself as you go forward and continue to love what you do best.