FEATURED ADVERTISERS Travel Agents, this May It's all about you! Smaller corporate agencies and independents with corporate clients – listen up! INCENTIVES | CONTESTS | WEBINARS | PODCASTS | EVENTS | JOBS
As travel came to a standstill, Mary LaRocque found a way to keep her agency afloat by launching a travel and style boutique. Despite all the challenges that the pandemic brought, she continued to mentor and offer placement opportunities for travel and tourism and high school students. After 38 years in the industry, Larocque remains optimistic about what the future holds.
Mary is celebrating 38 years in the travel industry and 18 years owning Marlin Travel this year. Most recently she pivoted her travel business and launched Travel n Style Boutique. During COVID, she helped another agency owner set up a travel boutique to help create another revenue stream and offered many owners support throughout the pandemic. She continued to mentor and offer placement opportunities to travel and tourism students. She’s been a trusted expert in the travel industry and has offered advice and travel tips through local media, tv, radio and the newspaper. Mary is well regarded and respected by industry suppliers and the community of Peterborough.
I am nominating agent Mary LaRocque because in the short time that we have known each other, I have seen someone that despite the challenges that our industry has faced in the past few years, not only is still standing, but standing strong. Mary has not only managed to remain positive but also focused on planning a strategy for when travel resumes. I know she is ready to assist her clients to safely enjoy a trip of a lifetime and such resilience and determination must be cherished.
Tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been in the industry? Why and how did you decide to become a travel advisor?
I grew up in Mallorytown, a small town in the 1000 Islands east of Kingston. My father was a Dutch immigrant, and my mother was Canadian. My partner for the past 23 years is Kyle Craig and I have two children, Kristen LaRocque and William Craig and I’m grandma to Felix BeeBee LaRocque.
My summers were spent working at Ontario Travel at Hill Island, counselling tourists on what to see and do in Ontario. In the evenings, I sold Aloette Cosmetics at home parties for extra money. It was fun selling cosmetics and showing ladies how to apply makeup. I loved working on Hill Island, meeting people and giving them advice on what to see in Ontario. Talking about our attractions and mapping out their route to their destination was the beginning of my love of having a travel career.
In 1981, I attended Sir Sandford Fleming College Travel and Tourism Program and graduated in 1984. I was an active volunteer on the Student Administrative Counsel in my last year of college and was the Social Committee Chair in 1984. I was fortunate to be offered a full-time travel agent’s job my last semester where I did my placement. I have been in the industry ever since.
I began my career as a travel consultant with Dawn Travel in April 1984 and worked for various agencies in Peterborough. Marlin Travel, Goliger’s and CAA and Thomas Cook/Marlin Travel. I worked my way up to managing an agency very quickly and was responsible for some of our top VIP clients.
I also had an opportunity to be a Sales Representative with Regent Holidays many years ago, which gave me a true appreciation of the wholesale side of the industry. I purchased the Marlin Travel (formerly Thomas Cook) agency in 2004.
Celebrating 38 years in the travel industry and 18 years owning Marlin Travel this year, I have seen the best of the industry and the worst during this time. Supplier and airline failures, 9/11, Sars, H1N1, Zika virus, the Gulf War and now the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine. It is a volatile industry, and it certainly has its moments both good and bad. These last two years have certainly been the most challenging. It has been a roller coaster ride, but we have survived and will be stronger for it. One thing I know for sure is that our industry is resilient.
What’s your favourite part of being a travel agent?
I have been so incredibly lucky to have seen some fabulous places around the world and met some wonderful people throughout my career. I love to plan trips that are unique and one of a kind that really experience the destination firsthand. I have always been someone that likes to help people. Whether it be a customer doing a trip of a lifetime, my community service, or mentoring others. I enjoy being someone that people trust to get the job done. I absolutely can say without a doubt that I have the best job in the world. Owning a successful agency and travelling the world with groups has been my dream for many years. I have been incredibly lucky and fortunate to do something that I love for so many years. Success isn’t always measured in dollars and cents. When you love what you do, that is success. My memories of my career will last a lifetime and make me smile well into my later years.
What got you through the pandemic?
Most recently I pivoted my travel business and launched Travel n Style Boutique (in Oct. 2020). It was apparent that we needed to do something to stay in business and I had a small part of the agency that featured travel clothing for the past five years. During the summer of 2020, my staff and I sourced out Canadian companies, local artisans and products that were made in Canada to include in the store.
We sold most of our travel desks and became a full boutique with clothing, jewellery, bath and body care products, wine glasses, giftware and more. I joke that I pivoted from around the world tickets to PJ’s and pearls. My staff was an integral piece of this puzzle and every one of my staff helped create what we have today. Without their support and encouragement, I couldn’t have done this. This was a mental saviour as we went through the various waves and shutdowns.
During this time, I continued to mentor a Fleming College student and a student from Crestwood and helped mentor other business owners throughout the pandemic to encourage them to expand their business to other areas. I remained on the Franchise Advisory Committee with TDC to offer advice and expertise that I could considering we have never gone through something like this in the world before.
I have always been known for my exceptional customer service. My groups have a very loyal following and have continued to be the backbone of my business. Travel n Style has been built on this same principle. Customers love the store and really supported us throughout the pandemic.
My relationship with my suppliers is exceptional and I have spoken to many of them throughout the Pandemic and brainstormed ideas as well as monitored the situation as we went through each wave. These long-time relationships were key to getting us back in business when the time was right. I am very fortunate to know and respect many of these wonderful professionals for many years.
What trends are you noticing from the bookings you have?
We are seeing several inquiries for small group tours, bucket list trips like Kenya and the Galapagos as well as tours that are personally escorted are proving to be very popular. Having an experienced professional along with you gives customers that piece of mind, we are with them every step of the way.
We are seeing several customers doing River Cruises to Exotic destinations and making long range plans into 2023. Family vacations and All-Inclusive vacations tend to be booking well into the later part of 2022.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for travel advisors right now?
I know many are unsure of what the future holds. In the 38 years of being in this wonderful business I know one thing for sure; the relationships that are built with your customer, your friends, your staff, and your suppliers help you through the good times and the bad.
Embrace this industry and control what you can control.
Be a community volunteer and do what you can to support local businesses. Trust me, it will come back to you ten-fold. Take time to do those things that matter most to you, your family, your friends.
We learned over the past two years that you need to create a work/life balance. Appreciate the opportunity to do what many will never have a chance to do. See the world!
Can you share a special travel memory and what travel means to you?
There have been many experiences that have a special place in my heart but one of my first incredible memories of being in the travel industry was my first trip to Kenya. As we went into the Masai Mara I was awestruck with the sight of my first Giraffe, my first Wildebeest, my first Gazelle and of course the first Pride of Lions.
I honestly couldn’t believe I was there. Visiting the Maasai Village and meeting the people left me speechless. The absolute joy in the children’s eyes as we gave them balloons and showed them how to blow bubbles is a highlight for me every time. Although they don’t understand English, and I don’t understand Maasai, the squeal of laughter is universal.
Another special memory is also in Kenya. I was travelling with my group, the date November 11th. Remembrance Day. I asked our guides to stop in a small village where there was a garden so we could pay our respects and honour those that had fallen in the line of duty.
When the children of the village saw us, they came running, ladies carrying babies and some young men, curious to see what we were up to. As we stood there, reading in Flanders Fields, and having a moment of silence, they stood beside us quietly reflecting too.
So many wonderful memories, it’s hard to pick just one.
What’s still on your travel must do list?
I have been incredibly fortunate to have travelled the world. However, I have one destination that I have not been to and that is Australia and New Zealand. That is on my personal wish list for 2023. I am returning to Kenya and Tanzania in Nov 2023 as well. I celebrated my 25th birthday, my 50th and in 2023 it will be another milestone. I can’t wait to go back!
|Travel Agents, this May It's all about you!|
|Smaller corporate agencies and independents with corporate clients – listen up!|
|INCENTIVES | CONTESTS | WEBINARS | PODCASTS | EVENTS | JOBS|