Marta Novkovic has been in the industry for 26 years! Before moving to Canada from Croatia, Novkovic spent her summers working at the local tourist office in a small island town. She decided to become a travel agent because she loved interacting with people from different countries.
Marta is an expert Travel Advisor, and her experience and dedication are exemplary. Marta sets a clear example of excellence, and she inspires her partners to go the extra mile to offer support and assistance.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been in the industry?
I came to Canada from my home country, Croatia, in 1993. It was hard at the beginning to accept and understand a new culture and the Canadian mentality, which was very different from the one I came from. It took a while to adjust and to stop comparing the two countries — that is what most immigrants do the first few years. Canada is my second home now, but half of my heart still remains in Croatia. I have been in the travel industry for 26 years and hold travel industry-recognized accreditations, CTC, ECC & LCS. So far, I have visited 30+ countries on six continents—only Antarctica still awaits me.
Why and how did you decide to become a travel advisor?
During the summers in Croatia, I used to work occasionally at the local tourist office in a small island town, dealing with incoming tourists. I loved interacting with people from different countries, so the closest profession to that was a travel agent. Eight months after graduating, I got my first job. I am forever thankful to the regional manager, Michael C., who took a chance on me. At the beginning, I really had no idea what I was doing. I had travelled in Europe, but I had never been to Vegas or Mexico, and I had no idea where Reno was. On my first day at work, when I was left by myself for a short period of time, I managed to book someone on a bus trip to Reno. Luckily, the client came with the brochure in her hand. She pointed out the trip she wanted and the phone number to call, so I phoned, got the booking number, and collected the payment. That is how everything started, and I have never looked back.
What’s your favourite part of being a travel agent?
My favourite part is dealing with my loyal clients, booking their trips, and waiting for them to come back to hear how they enjoyed their trip (they loved it!) My clients having a fantastic trip is the best reward for me, and that is what has kept me going for so many years. I love creating customized trips that require a lot of research. By doing that, you always learn something new. You learn something about a new destination, or a hotel you’ve never booked before. For example, I booked a rail trip that included the funicular in the Swiss Alps, which I never knew existed, and a boat trip in Thailand between Koh Lanta and Ao Nang for a specific boat type, time, and specific arrival dock.
Knowledge is power, and we empower ourselves everyday just by doing our job: which other job can do that for you?
What’s a key thing you learned during the pandemic?
I have learned to take one day at a time, to not take things personally, and to stay in constant contact with clients, especially those still at the destination and unable to return. It has been important to stay informed about all cancellation rules and regulations, which were changing every day, and to be patient and respectful while dealing with airlines, different suppliers and tour operators, who also were going through a hard time — many things were still unknown. While temporarily working from home, it’s also been important to stay in touch with my co-workers.
What will be your first post-pandemic trip and why?
My first post-pandemic trip will be Japan. Japan is a fascinating country — a mixture of old and new side by side. On one side, Japan has such advanced technology, and on the other side, people are governed by traditional values and etiquette. I was always intrigued by Japan’s culture and traditions, samurais, geishas, volcanic mountains, gardens, beautiful beaches, bullet train, sumo wrestlers, and amazing cuisine.
How have you changed the way you work since the pandemic hit?
Charging service fees will be a big challenge for me, but I know it is long overdue.
During the pandemic, I’ve spent hours and hours helping clients cancelling their trips and as a result losing commissions earned. Even though my clients value my help, knowledge and expertise, I need to start charging booking fees, plan-to-go fees, cancellation fees, trip customization fees, etc. I am working on that. I will definitely re-evaluate the suppliers I will work with in the future based on my experience during COVID-19. The majority of the suppliers were great, but a few of those that didn’t offer any help will definitely be taken off my list.
How have you adjusted your business strategy over the past year?
My main focus in the past year and some of this year was helping my clients with their cancelled trips, future credits, refunds, emergency flights home, insurance, etc. It was crucial to keep them informed about ever-changing cancellation policies and travel advisories. Thanks to ongoing vaccinations this year, I am focusing on marketing and continue to stay in touch with our clients. The majority of my clients are eager to travel, though in 2022; I have booked only a few clients for the end of 2021. Some clients have future travel credits, and I send them offers similar to their cancelled trips. I will focus more on group travel and create unique customized trips for groups and individuals.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for travel advisors right now?
My biggest advice is this: stay in touch with your clients, and stay positive and informed. Now is the time to take as many courses and webinars as you can and widen your knowledge. And of course — love your job!