At the age of 16 Michelle Brown travelled to London, England with her field hockey team which opened her eyes to the possibilities of travel. Since 1986, she’s been going to work at the same office as today.
Michelle is simply an awesome travel partner, always understanding her clients’ needs and supporting not only her colleagues over this past year, but also her preferred suppliers with her inspiring dedication to customer service excellence.
Can you tell us a little about yourself and how long you’ve been in the industry?
I started in travel as a Junior Agent on May 4, 1984, in Nanaimo, BC. No computer or printers yet. I can truly say I hand wrote airline tickets and typed the itineraries on an IBM Selectric typewriter. Information from tourist boards was by means of writing a letter to them and waiting for the information and pamphlets to arrive by mail. In May I will be celebrating 37 years in this amazing career of mine. This past August I had a milestone of being in the same building and office for 35 years. The agency has had two previous names and owners. I am currently fortunate to be with CruisePlus TRAVEL & TOURS in Qualicum Beach, BC for the past 5 1/2 years. I do love my hometown too. Born and raised on Vancouver Island. A true island girl!
Why and how did you decide to become a travel advisor?
When I was 16 I travelled to London, England with my high school field hockey team. We raised money for over a year. The journey opened my eyes to see what was beyond where I lived, and hard work gets you to travel. London and the surrounding cities were absolutely astonishing to me. The buildings, culture and people. I did not want to come home. Being next to Scotland and Ireland, I wanted to go there. I knew travel would be in my future. I distinctly remember being on that Wardair Flight and in 9 hours we were in a different country, 7,573 km away. I finished high school, attended a local college, then off to Vancouver Travel School in 1983. I have never looked back.
What’s your favourite part of being a travel agent?
Truly helping my clients plan their journey. From being trips of a lifetime, to generations of families gathering in one place. There is no small task that can make a client grateful for you being able to help them from start to finish. When clients return home and tell you how wonderful their holiday was, it makes me so very happy too. I have been gifted so many remarkable items over the years. I am grateful and blessed.
What’s a key thing you learned during the pandemic?
Be there for your clients. Keeping in contact with them this past year by making sure their refunds came through, assisting them to re-book their credits, listening to them about concerns, and those insurance claims. I will never speculate as to when all will be back to “normal”. Until then, I am available for my clients. We will get through this. The travel industry is a resilient bunch of professionals. I cannot even imagine a world without travel.
What will be your first post-pandemic trip and why?
Canada. I want to travel to Toronto and see this grand city. (I have had two airport hotel stays, countless connecting flights). I am a very proud Canadian, have visited many other cities in Canada, and after what our industry and country has been through, I will support it. Looking forward to the CN Tower, Blue Jays game, The Hockey Hall of Fame, Royal Ontario Museum, and so much more. Not to mention the places you can eat. I love ethnic food. Plus, I have to go see Niagara Falls.
Do you believe more people will use travel advisors after COVID-19?
Yes, I had people contact our agency who have never booked through an agent before, as they used an online booking system. The stories they have told me. An experienced travel advisor is worth their weight in gold! I will stand by that. I am hoping the agents that have been put on hold because of this pandemic will find their way back to an agency. They are a valuable asset to the industry.
How have you changed the way you work since the pandemic hit?
When making bookings now, it is a must that you know about the terms and conditions and sell that insurance. Clients need to be covered, and so do we when it comes to refundable deposits, and what happens at final payments, etc. Basically, what we have always been doing, but being extra cautious during the current events. Keep charging those fees. We are worth it, and it is okay to charge for our expertise. I am happy to report that the suppliers I work with have been very supportive and helpful. There have been a few challenges, all has worked out in the end.
How have you adjusted your business strategy over the past year?
The owners of our agency have been doing everything they can for their business and staff. It is vital to be in contact with other travel owners and representatives to be in the know of the updates of all travel situations. Also, advertise your agency, be it by social media, emails, or newsprint.
What’s your biggest piece of advice for travel advisors right now?
Take time for yourself. Be there for your fellow travel agents. One day at a time. This has been a year like no other and we have made it to the other side. Be proud of yourself to say you worked during an unpredictable situation that this world threw at us, and you did not give up.
Do you have anything to add?
I am grateful to our owners, Shelley Good and Dave Frinton, for the support they have given to all their staff. Have been there for us this past year and always. One more thing — we will pack our suitcases again with joy and excitement when the world says yes.